Meet the Team: An Interview with AllenComm’s Nathan Hauke
Recently, we had a sit down with Nathan Hauke, one of our instructional designers here at AllenComm. We dug into a discussion of instructional design in a brief interview, which is transcribed here. Nathan shared his thoughts on effective learning solutions informed by his expertise, background experiences in education, and insights gained during the pandemic.
Interviewer: How many years have you been with AllenComm?
Nathan: I had my four-year anniversary in July.
I: In that time, what has been your favorite part of the job?
N: I think I’ve talked about this with folks for a while now, but my background is academia. And so for years and years – thirteen years – I taught. And that’s largely kind of a solo gig. And I loved that work, but one of the things that’s been really surprising and delightful at AllenComm is the collaboration that happens; being on projects with really dynamic and charismatic team members who want to push things ahead in really exciting ways.
I: That is an interesting career transition. How did you manage that leap?
N: Some of the skills that transferred over to instructional design for me were the ability to map out complex text and stitch patterns together from different conversations. A lot of the skills I had with teaching up in front of a classroom, with listening and answering questions, and with bridging people’s comments together – those have been really useful in working on projects with our clients.
I also used to do a lot of work with student groups and clubs. That transitions really well to the teamwork we do and the leadership that happens on the instructional design team. When you’re working with writers and artists [as an instructional designer], there’s a good correspondence between some of those [professorial] things that just felt really natural as I started to explore instructional design.
I: So, what does it mean to you to be an instructional designer?
N: I think [the definition of] being an instructional designer is something that’s been evolving for me in my time at AllenComm as I understand more what that work is. It involves a lot of listening to clients, helping them crystallize the patterns of their organizational needs, and then shaping a curriculum around those needs. You really learn to pick up on what people are saying and maybe what they’re not saying, and how to make smart and instinctual choices around what’s going to help their organization.
And again, those choices are always team-based at AllenComm, which is really cool. Collaborating with a project coordinator, other [instructional designers], project management, writers, programmers, and artists brings to life those needs in a way that’s really layered, textured, and multimodal. It’s all those things you’re trying to do as a professor in a classroom to engage with and reach out to different kinds of learners.
I: Is there anything you’ve learned through your experience in designing training and learning solutions that has surprised you?
N: That’s a good question. Honestly, I’m often surprised at the things we’re capable of at AllenComm. Part of what makes it an exciting place to work [is that] if you come up with a really wild idea, often somebody near you can help you understand how to make that happen.
I’ve been surprised a lot by the flow of ideas and the way that things change shape. Part of that also is that our work is collaborative with clients as well, and that’s probably a point I haven’t hit enough in our talk so far. [Another part of] my background is creative writing, and I’m really interested in constraints and open-ended processes, and that’s a cool way into working with clients. As [our clients] weigh in on things, as we consult their subject matter experts, as we examine the content that comes in [compared to] the abstract imagination of what the course might be, that project will inevitably change shape, and it will continue to transform. I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a project where the final shape of the product hasn’t surprised me because it has continued to evolve in the process of happening.
I: Shifting gears a little bit to talk about COVID-19, what, if anything, are designers doing to accommodate remote work?
N: Internally, there’s a lot of working we’re doing to stay connected as a team. As someone who mentors, a lot of the checking in that you’d [normally] do during the day in the office, you just do that online. I think [Microsoft] Teams calls like this are awesome because you can just hop in and out. I actually haven’t felt much loss in terms of that contact because of the technology of Teams and the way that AllenComm has set us up with that. Often, I’ll just kind of reach out to check on people during the day. At a certain point, as we model that, people know that they can just ping you to ask questions.
Being a part of the instructional design team involves a lot of collaborative problem-solving. In the office, we turn our chairs to talk through things or reach out to people who have expertise with a particular tool or process. And now, we just do [that same thing] on calls. That’s an interesting shift. We’ve done things to implement it, like [instructional designer] hangouts online, where we meet up [virtually] on Thursdays and just talk together about what’s going on. We’ve been finding ways to get that small talk that happens naturally in-person to happen in more agenda-esque spaces.
As we set up during COVID a lot of clients emerged out of that right away. My team; we do a lot of work with people in the food industry. We’ve been doing projects with people like Chick-fil-a and Panera, and we saw immediately a need for how we were going to handle instructor-led training for them in a virtual space. Project budgets changed as clients recoiled and tried to understand how to survive during COVID and how to adapt in a different environment. Some projects that had big components – some of those reeled back a little bit.
But then, the second course we did for Panera was really cool. Panera really cares about warmth. They’re a really wonderful organization to work with; they care about interpersonal connection a lot. They want to be in the same space, and so finding a way to emulate that in a virtual space was really key to that project. It was very interesting to start thinking through that. How do you set something up for somebody working in a virtual space that can transition back to a live space in the future?
We’ve seen that a lot in designs this year, where things are really uncertain and there’s a lot of trepidation. Even for clients who really value personal connection in live environments; those aren’t really reliable environments right now, so you have to have a backup plan you can shift to. We bring a lot of value to people with that.
And also, as a parent with a child in school, I think we also have to have a plan for that now. This is the big lesson. Now that this has happened, it has always happened. So we have to have a plan for how we’re going to take care of people.
I: That leads into a question I had. How do you anticipate these developments that have happened over the course of the pandemic impacting a post-COVID world?
N: I’m really interested in it. I think as devastating, challenging, and lonely as COVID has been, there’s been a lot of promise in this experience, too. We see it in the radical ways we’re reimagining what work looks like. At AllenComm for example, with this new flex policy, we’re splitting time between in-office and virtual work. I think we’re going to see changes across the board with everyone and we’re going to be rethinking things like, “What do our design workshops look like?” and “What does it mean to be in our daily standup meetings?” and “How do we collaborate from different places?” I think that’s actually really thrilling.
I love the idea of being able to be in different places and still be together. I love that you can shift in and out of those settings in ways that are dynamic. I don’t see this as something that’s going away; this want to have that kind of flexibility. I’m not just talking about AllenComm. I think continuing to understand ways to meet those needs and have those interactions that are fluid and seamless is going to be really important, and so is understanding that our learners are going to want that and have those needs, too. Understanding how to accomplish that for ourselves as an organization is really smart because it’s going to help us tap right into what other people are looking for.
I: I think that’s very insightful. And I did have just one more question for you, before we wrap up here. What is the biggest challenge you face as an instructional designer, and how do you overcome it?
N: There is this one thing I’ve thought about a lot lately, and I’ve talked with other folks who’ve had this happen. Something that can be difficult is competing priorities that emerge. Even when you are being really careful to schedule projects so that they don’t overlap in ways that are challenging, inevitably the shape of projects change, as we were talking about earlier. Deadlines can shift around, or clients will want to add new components to their project. Something that’s really challenging for instructional designers is when you end up with two really complex processes happening parallel to each other, and you’re trying to keep all that stuff straight and do your best work on both projects, and be the most responsive advocate for the client, and be an efficient worker on your team.
Things can come and catch you off guard. But if you’re being vigilant and watchful you can do a decent job at looking ahead and seeing where those instances of overlap might come and be proactive about it. And we have a lot of helpers at AllenComm. The way that we offer support to each other is really encouraging. There are so many things that happen because people in the background step in to make those things happen. Collaboration is key in those moments where things start to feel overwhelming.