Daniel Sylvester was once the subject matter expert as a teacher to middle schoolers; now he helps other SME's impart their knowledge to accountants and other tax professionals.

It’s not surprising that teachers—tasked with the great responsibility of inspiring us to learn and grow—are themselves inspired to keep learning and growing. And so it is with Daniel Sylvester. In addition to teaching US history, English, and literature to middle schoolers, he was also helping his school keep up with the latest classroom technologies and served on their professional development team. After nearly 25 years as a teacher, he was thinking about a change.

Daniel Sylvester stands hands in pockets with trees and lake in background

“I enjoyed the everyday, every year challenge of teaching. But I also really liked those other roles—the tech integrationist piece as well as the professional development piece. So I started looking around for other places to use some of those skills,” Sylvester said. 

Prompted by his wife, he decided to get more formal training in the University of Minnesota’s Instructional Design (ID) for eLearning Certificate program to bolster the transition to a new career.

What skills transfer to instructional design?

“So many of the things that I picked up in the ID course set me up for what I’m doing now,” says Sylvester, who was hired in early 2021 as an instructional designer for tax, audit, and consulting firm RSM. “I had a lot of background in teaching kids and, you know, adult learning is quite similar.” 

Instructional Design for eLearning is a 12-week course that readies participants to design inclusive, usable, and effective eLearning modules. Because the course is delivered entirely online, learners can complete the weekly modules on their own schedule, with plenty of opportunities to confer with the instructor and collaborate with others throughout the program.

“This program has helped a number of people who are completely new to instructional design gain their first ID role,” says course instructor Ann Fandrey. “It's also ideal for instructional designers who were self taught and would like more grounding in learning theory. The course attracts a lot of teachers, who are often a natural fit for an ID role after a career in teaching.”

Do instructional designers need to be subject matter experts?

Daniel Sylvester squats in front of a lake reflecting clouds and greenery

Where he once was the subject matter expert to his classes of 13- and 14-year-olds, he now helps other subject matter experts (SMEs) impart their knowledge to accountants and other tax professionals. “I don’t know tax, audit, or consulting and I don’t have to,” Sylvester says. “In applying the skills that I came with as a teacher and the skills that I picked up in this course, I work with SMEs to develop the presentation that will work best and be engaging and memorable for their particular audiences.”

“The ID course was invaluable in that it modeled how to create clean, measurable learning objectives in every week’s modules. You need to make learning relevant to people in their work and not make it feel like extra homework. The course instructor basically taught us by having us do what we were supposed to be learning. I love learning that way and, as a teacher and as a professional developer, those are my best lessons.”