Once you have a sense of direction from the Job Market Exercise to Find Direction and Reflection Exercise to Find Your Direction, you are ready to seek experts who specialize in your portfolio topics, the ones who are demonstrating the skills and tools of your dream job.
How about a good book?
I always start with this traditional route, searching bookstores online. In my quest to figure out current e-learning best practices, I found E-Learning by Design by Dr. William Horton, available many places plus on his own site. Dr. Horton’s book of extensive experience has become my best e-learning cookbook. Not only did Dr. Horton provide recipes, he provided many published examples on his website.
From Dr. Horton’s examples, I created my first couple of e-learning courses to publish for a private portfolio. I used his book again and again in my next few jobs, as I tried new techniques and created new programs. I still reach for this e-learning cookbook on my shelf every few months, to tackle new problems and look for fresh ideas.
Seek professional organizations that revolve around your dream work.
In my search for professional organizations, I found The elearningGuild, a community for elearning professionals and their resources.
The elearning Guild is a professional organization used by many experts who work on a contract basis. By sharing and doing a little work for free, these contractors meet potential clients who may want to hire them for a contract job.
Through this community, I attend webinars, download books, look at samples, and read blogs from these experts. I often follow up with visit to the expert’s personal websites, and I always find inspiration in their portfolio examples.
Use Tools and Skills to look for Communities
Use the tools of your dream job to find the experts. I used the primary tools of my trade, TechSmith’s Camtasia, Adobe’s Captivate, and Articulate. All three tools are used to build e-learning courses, and my job market search showed me how popular these tools were in my region.
Experts are likely to be directly connected to your favorite tools. In checking out Articulate, I found the The Rapid E-Learning Blog Community hosted by Tom Kuhlmann. This community discusses many topics and ideas around elearning and instructional design.
Remember how we looked at that job market using LinkedIn? It is a great resource for every tool or skill you have on your dream job list. In LinkedIn, there are discussion groups for every tool or skill, for example, a Camtasia Users group, a technical writers group, or an instructional design group.
Research Your Experts
A little extra research on experts will you focus your direction in these communities. Once you start seeing experts you admire, check out their LinkedIn profiles or google them. Most of them will have public-facing LinkedIn profiles or personal profiles on their company websites. From their profiles, you can find even more LinkedIn groups and professional organizations.
Networking with the Experts
Today we network online just as much as we do in person. Watch how the experts, communities, and companies you find today are likely to lead you to networking events, both online and in person.
A Local Story
Here is how I followed my curious nose and found some wonderful peers and experts to meet in person. One day I was checking out a blog about the latest e-learning tools. Then I realized it was by an expert at a local software start-up company called Open Sesame. I found another blog on their company website about a free Meetup networking group.
The format was simple. Once a month, meet on a Tuesday night at a pub and talk about e-learning. Why not?
At my first Meetup, I met several instructional designers. Each person came in with a different story of what e-learning meant to them, their tools, their work, and individual challenges. One designer specialized in webinars. A couple of designers worked in academic learning. Others were deep into building extensive e-learning courses or LMS systems. Everyone shared stories. It was fantastic, extremely motivating, to meet everyone in person.
I enjoyed the Open Sesame Meetup group for a long time. When the leader moved away, I ended up being one of the voluntary leaders who kept the group running for another three years. There is nothing quite like meeting your local peers to help to motivate and inspire you to build a great portfolio.
An Online Story
My community is small, so local networking means a small group. You might have this problem too. Fortunately, today you can take it online and network with experts virtually.
Here’s an online example. Through The elearningGuild, I found a Twitter community who conducts a synchronous learning chat each week called #lrnchat. Each week on Thursday night, learning experts from around the world gather. The moderator poses us questions, and we answer them. Then we check out all the other questions and answers, discuss further, tell a few jokes along the way, and our discussion is published on lrnchat.com. At the end of each meeting, we are invited to give plugs of our work. Through plugs, I uncover more experts and blogs.
In the next phase, we will move on to planning and producing something for your portfolio.