My name is Tom. Thanks for being here. I have been, what I consider, a successful online education developer for 18+ years. For many of these years, my head has been down and focused on the job I’m doing but I realized in the last couple of years that the job I can connect with and learn from so many others if I share.
One of the most interesting things to me is how a person determines what they want to do and like to do in life. This is what I consider “life education” and you don’t really know it’s happening. Hopefully, the story about my path can help you identify with yours.
Music and the outdoors were huge parts of my childhood. But I never really start thinking about my “life education” until college. I thought I knew what I wanted – to be a concert pianist – and so started college as a piano major. That lasted 1 year. After that, I realized living in a practice room my whole life would suck my soul out, of course, then my plan was shot and so I fell back on the other thing I loved – the outdoors.
Major change of education direction
Talk about a 180-degree change, I became a student of ecosystem management – which allowed me to learn about functioning environmental systems and take part in working with others to manage them. Growing up and living in an agricultural state showed me the benefit of moving sustainability forward both for farmers and the people who use their products. Following the outdoors path, I continued to an M.S. in horticulture after a B.S. in ecosystem management and worked on research for the nursery industry to optimize nitrogen use. I was feeling like where I wanted to be was close and had planned to continue with a teaching certificate for high school biology. I also wanted to see the world in the process so I had planned to do the first year of this teaching certificate in New Zealand and had made all the arrangements toward that end.
During college, I had started running and enjoyed it and so decided to train for a marathon. In 1998 I ran my first marathon, The Chicago Marathon, with a friend and completed it. Endorphins and accomplishment fueled me and I was hooked – planning for this to be a yearly event. The next was Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, MN in June 1999. A great run, but this run showed me what “hitting the wall” really meant (don’t ask). I was hooked though and started training for the next one. The runner’s high was a real thing.
Then one afternoon in the middle of my master’s program in early September 1999 everything changed. I was at an agricultural research station working on research and my father was with me for the afternoon. He had agreed to help with some manual labor because there was a lot to do. After the afternoon of doing work, we were driving through the countryside toward home, and as we crossed over a gravel intersection a pickup truck came out of nowhere at 55 miles an hour and hit our small station wagon, T-boning the vehicle on the passenger side.
I was in the passenger seat and bore the brunt of the impact. Luckily, I was the only one in the two cars appreciably injured. To make a long story short, I was life-flighted to a regional hospital where I spent a week in intensive care and other weeks in the hospital attending to and healing from parts of that accident. My doctors said I only survived because I was in such good shape from marathon training.
Hospitals are definitely a place to save lives, and I’m thankful for that. However, they are also a difficult place as a patient to be left alone with your thoughts. Especially after surviving a near-death experience.
My M.S. degree completion was delayed and my plan to study in New Zealand for the next year was gone. It took the better part of a year to get back to thinking straight and running again (there have been 4 marathons since). Fear of the unknown was ever-present during this time. My plans were completely derailed and I didn’t have a direction now. After being in my head for so many hours, I started to second-guess my choices for a teaching certificate. In short, I was flailing and both physically and figuratively trying to get my feet back under myself again.
While I was healing, I was doing more computer-based and education work for the horticulture department. I loved learning about building on the web, photography, and video. After finally finishing my M.S., I didn’t know where to go and a short-term job came up as a research manager in the Natural Resources department which I did for a year. I had a great time driving tractors, managing research projects outdoors, and also managing and building the department website at the time.
My first solid job was with the agriculture department at Iowa State University. They had a fledgling online master’s degree program – one of the first in the country – and I was eager to be a part of that. I managed the lab that created all of the content, graphics, and technology for the program. I was gregarious about learning everything I could about this process – graphic design, drawing, coding, animation, etc. The position managed several developers and worked with all of the subject matter experts in the department to figure out creative ways to help break down extremely in-depth ideas and information for students trying to learn them at a distance.
During this period of 10 years, I formed two separate businesses with some colleagues. One focused on online education and the other focused more on video capture and photography for online education projects. There were no tools yet like Articulate Storyline or Adobe Captivate – we built everything by hand with code and design. It was great fun but also difficult. If I’m being honest, I learned way more in these business ventures than I think I did in school, at least about navigating the rules society has made. It was great working with some great companies in finance, psychology, agriculture, and government.
Travelling was also a high for me. During this period I co-led several study-abroad trips for the university to China and South Korea in 2005, 2008, and 2011 and that was a great experience. It is amazing to go and connect with people on their turf.
After having been in academia for a decade, I wanted to learn more about how the business world worked and went to work at a Fortune 500 company (now Corteva). Our group was responsible for creating learning products and YouTube videos for internal and external company users. These pieces of training helped users maintain certifications and increase knowledge about agricultural information that was changing. During this time, I started a Ph.D. in curriculum and technology in online education.
After several years of corporate work, life caught up to me and I “hit the wall” of life due to the long commute, hours, travel, school, and having new children. During a period of downsizing in the company, I put my name in the hat for being downsized. At this point, I was scared I was making a poor choice and didn’t have a plan but knew that I wanted to continue the work I was doing.
I realized that I love seeing clients benefit both monetarily and socially through their online and blended education programs.
In 2016 I started solely consulting and working with clients to develop online and blended education for varied audiences both within and outside companies.
Since then, I have worked with non-profits, federal and state government agencies, and businesses to help them create training, courses, and programs aligned to their needs and their users’ needs. In 2020, I finished my Ph.D. just before Covid when everything went online.
Online education is a mixture of education, entertainment, and marketing. You need to market the need to learn the topic you’re educating about but in a fun or interesting way while adhering to sound educational principles.
I continue to work in the online education space. Covid has sped up the need for help with online education/courses and this is where I am today.
I am thankful for an amazing life. It has been full of (mostly mental) hurdles that get in the way of success. I hope that sharing my hurdles may help others reflect on theirs.
What I’ve learned
There are a few things I have learned during this time:
- Life is short. Make it count.
- Everyone has their own journey to take to realize this. For me, it came perhaps later than for others, but I’m grateful it came. At this point, I’m committed to living my life to the fullest and helping others do the same – the way I can do that is by helping others build and learn to build online education and make connections to learn myself.
- Don’t let fear get in the way of life. (still working on this)
- I spent many years flying under the radar on purpose because I was scared of what others would think of me (impostor syndrome).
- Live in the NOW and enjoy the things you do.
- I am married to a psychologist who focuses on mindfulness. This is an amazing tool to get the most out of your NOW.
- Don’t look at a whole project when considering completion.
- See completion as the goal, but take things in small, manageable chunks. Metaphorically, the marathon is a great example of this.
What happens now?
At this point, I want to help others achieve the goals they have for themselves. I have noticed during the last 18+ years that there is a big need to help clients improve their planning and frameworks, tool use, and development for creating exceptional training and courses for their users.
Now, there are many online course platforms available for this type of work as well as numerous video, animation, illustration, and courseware production programs. As this space continues to evolve, it becomes more confusing and there is a constant need for helping create straightforward and efficient courses that engage users. And to find the tools that will help the most easily at the lowest cost.
I have started this site to help small and medium businesses (and single folks making courses) who need information to make courses quickly, effectively, and with as little fat as possible for the user.
If you reached the end of this, I appreciate your time. If you feel like reaching out, please do. This site is here for connection and learning and I work hard to respond to all emails. I love hearing other peoples’ stories and connecting. I love seeing the ‘aha’ moment in someone’s eyes when something clicks for them. I love helping to create the materials and methods that help others get to these magical moments.
“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” – Benjamin Franklin