It’s no secret, we all learn a little differently. How people learn has commonly been broken down into three main categories: seeing, hearing, and doing.
Meet Andrew Walsh, and welcome to his world of learning how other people learn.
At Johnson & Wales University, Walsh works as an instructional designer for the College of Online Education. Instructional designers at JWU spend their days working alongside faculty to build online courses. They’re the bridge between the experts and the students, working diligently to translate college-level subjects into digestible information through an online course. “On an instructional designer’s front, we understand where and what kind of activities any type of learner does that really engages the brain and turn on all of the lights to learning,” Walsh said.
But although Walsh loves what he does now, he admits that becoming an instructional designer wasn’t always on his to-do list.
Even prior to working in education, Walsh was familiar with notes … although the notes he practiced were of a musical variety. “Music sort of runs in my family,” he explained. From a young age Walsh said that he was surrounded by a family of musicians, many of which were gifted with their own unique musical abilities. “In fact, my great-grandfather used to sing in a barbershop quartet.”
In the sixth grade Walsh decided to try his hand at his own musical ability, and quickly he, too, was enamored. “I instantly became hooked,” he said. In high school, his love of music grew exponentially. So much so that he wanted to pay it forward. “I wanted to share the same passion for music and for band with future generations.”
With this desire, he went on to receive his bachelor’s degree in music education in 2009, before becoming a high school chorus and band teacher. “I was able to live out one of my passions in life and it was a wonderful experience,” he said. But after five years of teaching music and a growing family of his own, Walsh said he was wanted to find a career where he could better balance his time. “I needed to find a balance in my life,” he said. “I also wanted to continue enjoying music as a personal hobby and a place for me to escape and not burn out from it by teaching.”
But after years of teaching, Walsh knew that his love for music was just as strong as his love of learning. “I knew I belonged in education and love learning how people learn and designing lessons and activities.” So he found a way to do both without having to sacrifice any of his passions.
For the Love of Learning
After receiving his master’s of education in educational/instructional technology, Walsh came to Johnson & Wales in 2015 as an instructional technologist, helping to troubleshoot the technical aspects of an online course, before moving into his current role as an instructional designer, building and designing online classrooms. “We take our understanding of learning theories, meaning figuring out what the best practices of how people learn are,” he said. To do this, he said he spends his day asking himself the simple yet crucial questions. “What are the don’ts? How do people not learn? How do they not retain information?” he explained.
Then working with a faculty member, the two start with the end goal in mind and work backwards. He explained that for instructional designers and industry experts to collaborate, instructional designers need to “put their feet in the place of a learners.” Together the two use the teacher’s expertise on the topic and the instructional designer’s knowledge of best-learning practices to piece together a clear path to the outcome for the learner.
But although what Walsh is doing now is much different than his previous career path, he said that he still takes a lot of his previous experience into account when designing courses.
“Think about a class that you enjoyed in college—besides its topic why did you enjoy that class?” Walsh asked. For many people, the answer to his question is simple: because of how it was run. Walsh said that with keeping that in mind he can begin to piece together a seamless educational experience.
A Harmonious Schedule
Today, Walsh is happy with how things have turned out for him. Along with getting to continue his passion for education, his love of music doesn’t have to be left on the side-burner. Now he is a member of a community professional band, The America Band, playing the clarinet where he gets to get his fill of his very first love. “We rehearse once a week and play several concerts throughout the year,” he explained.
Along with that, Walsh said he enjoys spending time with his family on weekends and with his 3-year-old son who keeps him “very busy.” After all, his tiny mind is just beginning to learn and, yet again, Walsh has a front-row seat to learning how learning happens.