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From the Classroom to Instructional Design: Adapting to Life’s “Other Plans”

Ali Parrish 2-25-15

Life doesn’t always go as planned, but differences can bring positive change. McKay School graduate Alexandra Parrish recently spoke to students about her experiences and her career: how she ended up becoming an instructional designer for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, what she does in this endeavor, and how students can use their education degree beyond the classroom.

Her Career Path

After a period of wanting to be the tooth fairy, Parrish has been drawn to teaching throughout her life. She explained how originally her plan was to graduate, get married, and be a stay-at-home mom. Life, however, had other plans for her.

She began teaching elementary school while also getting her master’s degree, but after seven years in the schools, she wasn’t sure what to do next.

Eventually she started taking surveys from BYU’s Counseling and Career Center. The results confirmed that she needed to pursue new opportunities. Finally, after seven years in the classroom, she made the change to instructional design.

While the pursuit has not been easy, Parrish is passionate about what she does now. She feels that designing for the Church is a privilege because it allows her to apply her interest and training in instructional design to share content that is significant and meaningful to her. “It feels nice to contribute to something I feel strongly about,” Parrish said.

The Instructional Designer’s Work

Ali Parrish 2, 2-25Instructional designers create resources for learning. When deciding how to implement a new learning curriculum or what skills to teach at a training program, someone has to make the decision of what will be taught, what the timeline will be, what materials will be used, and what the learner should take away.

“Imagine you are selling Buzz Lightyear. How would you want your voice actor to sound pitching the product? What kind of materials would you send to consumers? What’s your timeline like? Those are all things instructional designers decide,” said Parrish.

Instructional designers lead a team through a four-step process. First, the team generates ideas for a specific problem to be solved. Second, the team defines the product in a creative brief. The third step is mapping out production aspects such as cost, scope, and schedule. Finally, team members design the product and then create it. Parrish has followed this process while working on such projects as Online Seminary (used by more than 4,400 students currently) and an online training for newly called Seminary Teachers, which will launch in June and is anticipated to be viewed by more than 45,000 called and employed Seminary teachers.

Advice to Future Educators

Parrish said that many people graduate from BYU thinking they are finished with learning. For her, BYU was merely the beginning, instilling in her a pattern to continue learning and working in the light of the gospel. Parrish has four specific suggestions for future educators to help develop their skills and maintain a work/life balance:

  • Keep a journal or blog specific to insights and life lessons you gain through your teaching experiences.
  • Set boundaries. You'll be way more effective by remaining sane, rather than taking tons of work home with you.
  • Harness the power of technology to lighten your load. Computers can correct grammar, spelling, etc. and free you to do more meaningful work.
  • Realize that it’s OK if life takes you in other directions than full-time teaching.

“If you feel inspired to continue your path of learning, growing, and contributing to the world, allow yourself the freedom to follow those inspired feelings,” Parrish said. “Ultimately, trust that God will guide you. Don’t be afraid to follow His guidance.”

Writer: Whitney Wilcox

Contact: Cynthia Glad (801) 422-1922