Still Curious S2E8 - Diego Boada

Diego Boada00:00

For me, the pandemic really changed everything in my life. I always need to have a plan, a five to 10 year plan in my head. It's like, okay, I'm going to do this and then that, and then that, and then... I need to have a plan. When the pandemic happened. There was no plan. Everything was uncertain. I lost my job, how am I going to pay for rent and how am I going to eat? There were just too many changes, cultural changes, like everything happened at the same time. I had to really learn how to deal with uncertainty.

Danu Poyner00:27

You're listening to the Still Curious Podcast with me, Danu Poyner. My guest today is Diego Boada who is an educator, researcher and instructional designer based in Bogota, Colombia. Diego started out as an English teacher and has over 15 years experience in K to 12 higher education and adult education.

He is a Fulbright scholar with a PhD in learning design and technology, has been an instructional designer at an online school for product managers, and is now an e-learning consultant at the Inter-American Development Bank.

In today's episode, we discuss Diego's trajectory through the many and varied parts of the education sector, and how the timing of his move back from the US to Colombia near the start of the pandemic forced his transition from the classroom to corporate environment.

Diego Boada01:14

These are topics that you're not familiar. with You feel like, what am I doing here? how can I help? But then I understood a lot of people know the content, but not a lot of people know how to communicate that and how to design, meaningful learning experiences.

Danu Poyner01:26

We talk about universal design, reverse culture shock, and how teaching English opens doors. And we end up reflecting a lot on the way teaching expertise is valued in traditional education versus instructional design and ed tech, and what that means for teachers' freedom and creativity.

Diego Boada01:43

For me, everything goes. It's like, you're the doctor that you look at the problem and then you prescribe X or Y depending on the situation.

And they just can't do that but typically they don't have the ability or the freedom to do that because they're restricted because of the format of education.

Danu Poyner01:59

We talk about how Diego is doing mentally and emotionally at this point in his career transition, as well as how he fills his cup and finds structure in uncertainty.

Diego Boada02:08

I'm grateful to be here and to be alive. I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow. I can do a thousand things in a day, but if I don't get to workout, I feel like I didn't do anything. And that day I don't feel as accomplished or productive. It just becomes part of your routine or a habit.

Danu Poyner02:20

Diego's experience makes him really well-placed to see how the global education landscape is evolving, and I really appreciated his insights. Enjoy. It's Diego Boada coming up after the music on today's episode of the Still Curious Podcast.


Part 1

Diego, how are you? Welcome to the podcast?

Diego Boada03:03

Hi, Danu. Thanks for having me. A little bit nervous, but I'm excited to talk to you.

Danu Poyner03:06

No reason to be nervous. I've got so much to ask you about, but first I have to rattle off your impressive and frankly intimidating list of accomplishments, and then we can get into it. So, you're an educator, researcher and instructional designer with over 15 years experience in K to 12 higher education and adult education.

You're also a Fulbright scholar with a PhD in learning design and technology. And you've completed a post-doctoral fellowship in pedagogy for culturally and linguistically diverse students. You've been working recently as an instructional designer at product school, which is a well-respected one stop shop for product management education.

And you're now an e-learning consultant at the Inter-American development bank. It's an impressive list of accomplishments. What would you say is the most important thing for someone to understand about what you do?

Diego Boada03:53

I feel like I've never left school, so I'm always learning. For example, like after my PhD I never imagined that I would go back to school, now I'm doing an MBA. I think that that keeps things fun and interesting when you keep learning.

In a way I still see myself as an educator.

At the core of what I do, I still think of myself as an English teacher.

Danu Poyner04:11

Well, that's really interesting. And I like the phrase you've never left school. It sounds like you've really taken that lifelong learning phrase and really run with it. As you say, you've started out as an English teacher in Colombia, teaching English to speakers of other languages. What was attractive about that path for young Diego?

Diego Boada04:29

When I was little, I wanted to become a medical doctor. I actually applied for med school twice and didn't make it. And then I thought to myself, what is something that I really liked doing and something that I enjoy and I've always liked learning languages. I have a natural ability for teaching.

So then, I applied for that program and I got in first time. It's been really crazy because it's something that I really enjoy.

And for me, It gave me a different way to see the world. In Spanish we speak in very long sentences and sometimes one paragraph is just one single sentence. There is no, no periods. And I think the same applies to French and all the romance languages and in English, everything is very short, concise. It helped me to think more clearly in a way, and it's open opportunities like my scholarship, to go to the United States, do my master's PhD, job opportunities, all of that. English has really opened doors for me. And I like to share that with my students, so it's fun to get to know people, also because you are working with a language.

So the content is, it's like, what did you do last weekend? I feel like I really get to connect with people and see them grow in different ways. And also the fact that we're talking about also culture. Teachers in general, we say that we're more than teachers, because you teach math, whatever it is, but you're also teaching culture and all of these different things, especially if you are an English teacher.

Danu Poyner05:46

That's really interesting. I like what you say as well about being more than teachers and especially with language teaching, there is a lot of. Being immersed in the culture and sharing that and other people we've had on the podcast have talked a bit about that as well, I'm curious if you can share anything about Colombian culture.

That might be interesting for people who are not familiar.

Diego Boada06:07

Something that sometimes people don't know is that we don't have seasons. We are on the equator and so basically the same season all year long. The weather, it depends on the altitude of the city. We have the Andes and so we even have glaciers in Columbia, because if it's really high, then there'll be a glacier.

So my city where I live right now, Bogotá, it's kind of cold, but if you traveled two hours by car, then you're in a very hot place. If you travel two hours up the mountain, then it's very cold. And so you get all types of weather in Colombia.

I think that it has some cultural implications as well, because, I've heard these theories before. People would say in Europe or whatever, a thousand years ago, you would have to plan very carefully and save in the summer, so that way you can have food and stuff to eat in the winter.

And also the daylight is different, sometimes it gets darker very early, sometimes it doesn't. So that has a very huge impact. I believe on culture because here we're more relaxed, maybe, we didn't save as much. We don't think about the future as much because we can get anything we want at anytime during the year.

Danu Poyner07:10

Thanks for sharing that. You became interested in technology and education together and, if I understand correctly, that's what led you to subsequently go on and do your master's and PhD looking at learning design and technology.

What was it about technology that made you go in that direction?

Diego Boada07:27

Being a classroom teacher, I started using technology and I would notice that my students would have more fun and they will learn better. So I really wanted to learn more about technology. So then I decided to pursue a master's and then a PhD. But then the more I learned about technology, the more critical I became about it.

And, I learned, you know, after like, 8 years, 10 years off of school, I learned that technology does not matter. And there are many studies, for example, that compare, like students learn with iPads versus no iPad. They compare like whatever you're teaching with technology versus without technology and all of these studies, they typically have no significant differences at the end.

So this is a statistical concept, which means that nothing really changed. Students in one group versus the other one, they didn't do any better because it's not about the technology is really about how you use it when you use it, why? And it has to make sense. Sometimes, I'd rather have pencil and paper and have a really great lesson and not just use very fancy technology that really doesn't add any value.

Maybe sometimes communication harder or right now, for example, during the pandemic, sometimes we feel more isolated with technology. You have to be very careful about the way you use technology. Really ask yourself about the value. Every time there's a new invention, new iPad, whatever there is, it's like, oh, this new instrument tool will revolutionize education. And then it's been like 50 years, a hundred years. And at the core, nothing has really changed much.

Danu Poyner08:57

That's really interesting, the critical side of technology, and I want to dig more into some of your perspective on that, given where you sit but I understand that universal design for learning is something that's important to you. What can you tell me about that?

Diego Boada09:12

Right now what I do is that I create online courses for people, right? There are many different names for what I do. Like instructional design is very common in the US, in Europe, I've heard like learning designer. In the tech industry now they like to use, learning experience designer, and so there are many different names, but basically what we do is, we create this online experiences for people.

When you're designing things, it can be challenging because sometimes, when you're teaching something, you teach based on the way you learned, and based on the things that worked for you. So if you're a more visual learner then you'll somehow use that in the way you design, right?

If I learn this way, that's what I'm going to use. If I think that I need to repeat this 10 times for me to remember, then that's what I'm going to do when I I'm designing a course for others. But then as a designer, you cannot do that because then it's not about you anymore. It's about what's best for people and what is best for everyone.

This idea of universal design, typically the picture you will see is like a picture of stairs that also has a ramp. And so then, the stairs are good and accessible for people that want to run an exercise. And maybe also for people that have knee issues and maybe use a walking stick or people in a wheelchair. It's not like one size fits all approach, but it's accessible and is good for everyone. So when you're talking about learning is like, how do you make this, really universal. Some of the things they'll say is you need flexibility in terms of the material, the media, you need to have audio video on different types. Another thing is having flexibility in terms of the assessment, because typically, as educators, instructors, we say, you're going to learn this.

And you're going to show me that you have learned by doing this activity specifically, a quiz or whatever, but is that the best way? The student should be able to choose how they wanted to demonstrate that they've learned based on their interests and their needs.

Having that flexibility in the assessment, that's also important. And so there are some principles like that, that they, discuss universal design for learning on how to make learning more accessible to a general audience.

Danu Poyner11:11

Thank you for explaining that. That's really clear. My naive question in response goes to a little bit, what you said about the one size fits all approach. I can imagine that by trying to cater to everyone inclusively, it might be frustrating for different people. How do you actually navigate that creation of something that is accessible to everyone while still being the best experience for everyone individually in their preferences.

Diego Boada11:37

Well, that's a hard question and I think we're still trying to figure it out, but the idea on what research shows is that when you're designing for minorities or whatever, then the final outcome is better or is the best thing for everyone. For example, right now I see on TV, I am an English language learner.

So I like to watch captions, sometimes I don't understand it in words or accents, but now that is not exclusive to English language learners. A lot of my American friends, English friends, I went to their homes and they watch TV with captions.

And I'm like, why, you know. It's because maybe you design based thinking about people that. are learning English, but maybe other people will enjoy that and benefit maybe because at night that will not disturb their partner. For example, if they're watching TV. There are many different reasons.

Instructional universal design for learning can be fun for everyone. Also with technology, you can customize your experience. We have adaptive learning, for example. And so based on your answers on a question or an activity, then our system can suggest what's next, based on your skill set on your interests.

It allows for customization. And sometimes if you're face to face that wouldn't be possible. Like If you're a teacher with 50 students or 2030 students in your classroom, then you're gonna come up with a single path or a single way for every student because you just can't, not possible, but with technology that makes it a little bit more doable.

Danu Poyner12:57

Thank you for that. Something. I ask everyone who comes on the podcast is to explain a key technical term as if to a 10 year old. I'm curious if you can explain instructional design or what's the difference between all of those terms? You mentioned instructional design, learning, experience design, and being, say a teacher.

Diego Boada13:14

I love that. And that's a great question. Being able to explain things clearly, like, to a 10 year old, sometimes it's not easy. I'll do my best. So instructional design is a field that started in the 1920s. When the radio started, a lot of people started learning or going to school through the radio and the big boom of instructional design was during world war two, because there was a need to train people and soldiers. This was a problem that needed to be solved. So they consulted with psychologists and scientists in different areas.

That was the boom of instructional design. If people are in education, maybe they've heard the name Gagné before and the nine events of instruction. The core of what we do is use learning theory to solve problems. These problems can be performance based or they can be instructional problem. If you work at McDonalds and you need to teach people how to make burgers, and so somebody needs to train them. That's the other thing, instructional designers, they do not only work in schools and universities they work in the industries, because companies need to train their employees.

Maybe you don't need a course on how to make burgers that is six months. Not everything requires a course. It can be an infographic that they have available at their work station that shows them how to make a burger in simple steps.

When a company or institution has a problem, then they come to us and then we look at the problem, because sometimes people don't know what they need and usually companies will come to you, like, Hey, I need a course on that because I need to improve my sales, but then it's, okay, what is the problem really? So we look at the problem and do we need training for that? Do we not need training for that? Then instructional designers, we work with companies with the governments, with the military, with schools, and then we solve problems using pedagogy, using education and learning theory and that would be my short explanation what I do.

Danu Poyner14:59

It occurs to me while you're talking that more than teacher applies very much to this space as well, because you're taking on subject matter expertise and listening to client needs and really co-designing with them, learning to solve problems, if I understood you correctly.

Diego Boada15:16

Correct. That's why I said at the beginning, I still see myself as a teacher because, my expertise is on how to teach, how to get people, to learn something, how to engage students, how to teach online. That's what I do. That's what I bring to the table.

If you hired me to create a course on engineering or something, like astronomy, I don't know anything about that, but then I know a lot about how to get that information to students in a way that makes sense to them, in a way they understand it and they will remember that

in a way that it's meaningful. That's why collaboration is so essential and it's fun because then, when you were with a different person, then maybe that person will bring a perspective that you haven't considered yet, or has a different way to approach a problem.

Danu Poyner15:54

It seems instructional designer is pretty much the sexy new role that everyone in ed tech is aspiring to. Meanwhile, product management is a hot role in tech that everyone wants as well. I want to talk to you about product school, because here you are doing instructional design for product management.

What can you tell me about that?

Diego Boada16:13

I've learned a lot about product management and I had no idea what that was a few months ago. I'm going to answer your question in two different parts, because the first one has to do with instructional design and everybody wants to do it now.

And then the other one has to do with product management. So the first thing is yes, I think instructional design is a very hot topic right now. I see that in my LinkedIn, everywhere that a lot of teachers are looking to maybe transition out of the classroom and then they're looking for roles in instructional design or learning and development. I'm excited in a way, but also sad because these are great educators that love what they do, but because of their problems with the system and because they're not very well valued on paid, they get burnt out and now they're looking for other opportunities. In my case, it was kinda weird because I ended up doing this masters and PhD in these area.

But I saw myself as a professor in academia, but then I'd been another pandemic. I lost my job. Then I had to jump to the industry in a way, cause I had to make a living. So it wasn't like, It wasn't very intentional my transition, but I know that a lot of people and teachers are doing this and there are support groups on LinkedIn where you can get advice from other teachers on how they transition, how to create a portfolio to show to potential employers. And I think that

there is a lot of opportunity for that because I saw this quote, I don't know who said, but it's something like,

" The thing that is more expensive about training your employees is not training". That was the quote, because like all of the industries, we're in constant change right now for the pandemic, things are changing rapidly. There are always new tools, new ways to do things and companies need people that know how to teach and people that can create these courses and solve these problems for them.

And that has a huge impact on the business and the return on investment. That's one thing you know about instructional design, the other thing that was new to me is product management. A product manager is someone who oversees.

a digital products. Some examples are like Facebook, Google, Uber, all of these websites that have apps and mobile apps that people use to access their services. The product manager will look at these apps, but there's more than that because they need to understand how engineering works.

But they also need to understand the market. They need to understand the strategy behind it. They need to prioritize the features that they want to release. They collect a little data, so, okay. People are not using this feature. Because they don't see where it is or they don't find value.

They need to come up with a strategy to get people to use that tool. and They really have to have a very good perspective of looking at everything, like the business, the strategy, the roadmap, the engineering part. It's a really great role to look at everything in perspective. And at the end of the day, the mission of the product manager is to represent the customer or the user so that you need to advocate for their needs, for their pains and make sure that they find value and that you offer a solution that is good to them because people are not looking for new apps and websites.

People are looking for a solution to a problem they have. Your role as a manager is to understand their needs and in a way, advocate for them, for the. It's been really great to learn about product management, because it gives me a different perspective on learning design.

When you create an online course or online learning, we always talk about, for example, student centered learning, you want students to be at the center of the processes and these. But then, sometimes it's kind of boring, you will see pre recorded lectures sometimes, professors looking for an hour, two hours, and then has the student really understood of the process.

I don't know, they check out after 10 minutes of listening to something. So, product management is like, okay, we're talking about us as a user now. What is the user journey when you opened your app and you're open your online course, what is the first thing that you see?

How can I help you adopt these new features and how can help you understand this because when you use a new app, you don't know how to use it. It has to be very intuitive, user friendly. You can have prompts on the screen to guide users. And so they track even how you feel.

If you feel frustrated at the beginning, how to improve that. They really think about the experience of the user. And so like Taking that into education really works as well, because then if you think this student is logging in today's learning management system, this platform, and they just listened to two hours of this professor talking then it was maybe not the best experience, right?

Danu Poyner20:31

Yeah. So, product school, they have certificate courses and workshops and networking and mentoring, eBooks, basically everything you could want for learning about product management and either getting into that career or going further with it. I'm curious what some examples of your work as an instructional designer there have been, it sounds high pressure, designing, learning materials for product managers who have a very critical eye of what that process is in the first place.

Diego Boada21:00

Before I answer that question, something that I wanted to mention is that there is also a huge growth for product managers right now, because traditionally these positions are for people in Silicon valley, like big tech company, facebook and all of these companies, but right now, like every major industry, every company needs to have a digital product. If you own a restaurant, whatever your business is, you need to have an app. You have to have a way for customers to connect with you.

For example, last weekend I ordered take out. I order some food. And so, you always know how to use it but you don't realize what they're doing. So there was the striker showing me like where the person was and the different stages, okay, the restaurant is preparing your meal and they send me emails saying, Hey, your food is ready. And please rate your experience and it's very high tech, the platform was really very clean, very easy to navigate. I'm like, wow, they have a really good product manager working in this company.

And so All of these companies now they have the need to transition because right now, after the pandemic, that's the way things are going. I talked to the CEO of They create online resources for teachers. They were formerly known as ESL library.

And then they started creating PDFs and printable worksheets. That was their business. They still have those because a lot of teachers want those. They want to be able to print, but now they have to create digital products on flashcards and fully online lessons.

So now product management is not longer something that happened in Silicon valley, but it's something that happens across every industry that needs to have a strong digital presence. What do I do for product managers? They are wonderful at what they do, but they don't necessarily have training in education or how to teach people or how to create a course.

That's where I come in. I sit with them and we'll think about, for example, one of the things we did at Product School was that we created a skills taxonomy because product management is not a formal field. You don't go to school for that necessarily.

There isn't like a degree, a master's and undergraduate degree that prepares to do that. Also this role looks very different from company to company. In some companies, the product manager, maybe it's more of project manager, even some other companies, they do more marketing, maybe some other companies, they do more, engineering.

We started with, let's create a skills taxonomy of what is it that people need to do to become a successful product manager. And then we create a certificate for people that are aspiring, people that don't have a role right now, and then they want to become product manager.

So, what is it that they need to learn? Then? I know the certification for current product managers. I've met people that they learned on the job. They don't have formal training in product management, but then they were just thrown into this field.

I've learned some of the language. The personas are the people that use your product. So they'll look up different personas. We create certifications for them. So that's one of the things I do. Another thing I do is I created a morning course for instructors because they don't know how to necessarily teach because that's what they do.

And so it's, okay, what is it that they need to learn in terms of the pedagogy or the approach to guide a successful cohort or to facilitate online learning. We have this education department now that we take care of all of those things.

And, we also partner with other companies to create micro certifications. And so right now I'm doing one for a product led growth

And so I get to learn a lot by working with these people and designing their courses. It's like an added benefit of being an instructional designer because you're always learning.

Danu Poyner24:20

Absolutely. That's like doing this podcast. I learned so much from just talking to people, doing random things. So that's great. I want to come back to what you were saying before about teachers leaving the profession and maybe being interested in going into instructional design and the kind of recognition in business that we need people who know how to teach things. There's seems to be. A gap in recognition of value there. Traditional teachers are very underpaid and overworked and not always appreciated as a profession. But on the other side, in this instructional design profession, it seems that the value of that function is really well-recognized and well remunerated, have a perspective on that from your own experience and people you've seen moving around?

Diego Boada25:05

Yeah, I would agree with you, that teachers are attracted to these field because they feel more valued and also you can, at the end of the day, you can close your computer and then you can be home with your kids, with your family. Teachers, we don't do that.

There's always something that you need to grade to prepare, to listen, plan to, take care of. That's why it's becoming really attractive to many teachers but that doesn't mean that it's easy. Some people said that there are two types of instructional designers, the ones that work in education, like schools, universities, that kind of thing. And then the other ones are working in the industry, for banks and car makers and for health companies. Sometimes it's hard because they want the teacher experience on the expertise, but they also want someone that understands the industry.

If you're working for car makers, it's, okay, do you have previous experience, do you know what we do? Sometimes it's a little bit hard to jump, but it's possible and I've seen so many success cases of teachers that they put together, their portfolios on the examples of whether they can do.

And then they're able to get a full-time position as instructional designers. For me, if I'm a good teacher, my students benefit from me and my expertise, but it's only my students, 20 of them or 40 whatever, how many you have.

But then when you are instructional designer or when you work in ed tech, you're able to scale that up to thousands, if not millions of people. If you design a course, we're going to have a huge impact on the students where people at our company and then, instructional design really lets you have a bigger reach.

So it's great because that's what you want to do as a teacher. Anyway.

Danu Poyner26:37

Yeah, true. That's why teachers do what they do. Do you think that gap in value has anything to do with the fact that instructional design is about solving problems and it's practical and urgent and immediate. Whereas teachers at schools it's diffuse and everyone knows great teachers are great, but it doesn't really connect to tangible outcomes straightaway. It's a really interesting distinction to me about how we value teaching expertise.

Diego Boada27:07

What you said, I think it's true, but it doesn't even depend on the teacher. Sometimes as a teacher, you're just given a textbook, you're given a syllabus or given that this is what you're teaching. We have this exam at the end of the year. Your students need to pass or our school won't get any funding.

So there is something about the system that doesn't necessarily help teachers to grow or flourish or be more flexible. As a teacher, you have to follow the lead of your school principal and whatever the government says or the ministry of education. Instructional designers, You do whatever, because it's about solving a problem and, talking about this as a teacher, the different learning theories, for example, one is behavior is, um, meaning that you learn through repetition.

There is cognitivism, and he's all about what happens to your brain and maybe coming up with strategies that will help you remember things more easily. There is constructivism that is about, building and co-creating knowledge. And so if you're learning English is more about practicing and using that in context.

If you use the language, then that's how you learn it instead of just repeating sentences. We have different schools of thought. And then as a teacher, I felt like behaviorism it's not good anymore. You cannot use that in your classroom because nobody likes repetition.

Isn't that. But then maybe there was a misconception that I had as a teacher, but right now I am like, that's internation