- Sejal Mehta
Sejal Mehta’s journey to instructional design reflects the evolution of this expanding field. Originally from India, Mehta moved to the United States in the 1990s to study business management, though it wasn’t long before she shifted gears into school counseling, eventually earning both an M.S. in management and an M.Ed. in counselor education. Her commitment to developing innovative ways for people to learn eventually brought her to California, where she was hired as a training specialist at Oracle and later Cisco.
“At Cisco, I helped create e-learning and Web-based trainings,” she says. “I had to manage projects from beginning to end and manage communication timelines to make it all happen. I ended up learning some instructional design on the job, but I wanted to find a program that would offer more skills and knowledge.”
Enter UCSC Extension’s Instructional Design certificate program, which Mehta discovered a few years later, after she’d transitioned from full-time work to full-time mom. She was excited to build a foundation in the theories and concepts that affect the way adults learn.
“I like helping people learn, one way or another,” she says. “When I was at Cisco, I did things the way Cisco did them, but I didn’t really know the best ways to help people learn. The program was perfect filler for me. It was a good opportunity to learn how to design a program using which design models. When I finished the program, I was a much more confident instructional designer.”
Mehta appreciated the industry expertise of her instructors, and was impressed by how much was covered in each course. She also liked the exchange of ideas with her classmates, about half of whom were already working in instructional design, while the other half was new to the field.
“There’s as much peer learning as there is learning from the professor,” she says. “The professors really bring out a lot from their students. People brought in really rich experiences from their jobs and real-life experiences, which added a lot of value.”
The Instructional Design Practicum course offered Mehta the chance to design her own project from beginning to end and receive peer and instructor feedback. She drew on her background in academic counseling to prepare a workshop aimed at helping adults find jobs. She considered all the questions and concerns that her audience might ask, including how to write a resume and learn to network.
“The project made me explore how to design a workshop so it really maximizes their learning,” she says.
One of the challenges that instructional designers face today, she says, is addressing the ambiguity inherent to the field. As more and more instruction moves online, companies might expect their designers to deliver different skills.
“It is still not a very clearly defined field,” she says. “Some companies might say, you need to know how to use Flash, create audio, and develop more technical skills. Other companies might say, just prepare the storyboards, and we’ll provide developers who can develop the materials. There are a lot of great instructional designers out there. It’s important to be able to market yourself.”
She recommends that aspiring instructional designers compile their course work at Extension as a digital portfolio to use for work samples and job interviews. Since completing her certificate, Mehta has expanded her job search while holding down the fort for her family. She is excited to follow trends in online training and find new ways to help adults learn.
Read more UCSC Extension Student Stories.