How to Become an Instructional Designer
If you’re considering kicking off a career as an Instructional Designer, there is no better time than now. In fact, instructional design has even been referred to as the ‘hottest job in higher education’ – and there is good reason for this. The career outlook for Instructional Designers is bright, with demand only expected to increase in the coming years.
There are various other reasons why you should consider an instructional design career. One aspect that makes this an attractive career choice is that it requires such a diverse skill set. So if you have an interest in various disciplines, such as technology, people, communication and learning, a career as an Instructional Designer may be a great fit.
In addition to the variety of skills required for the role, the fact that the field is growing so quickly is another reason why many are drawn to a career as an Instructional Designer. If you’re someone who enjoys learning new technologies and taking on new challenges, instructional design could be a rewarding career path for you.
In this article, we’ll dive into what it takes to become an Instructional Designer, as well as look at some key information about the career outlook.
What does an Instructional Designer do?
Instructional Designers play a pivotal role in shaping learning processes and supporting organisations with meeting their learning and training objectives. They are responsible for designing, developing, managing and evaluating learning curriculum, tools, systems and processes.
One of the core responsibilities of an Instructional Designer is developing new courses and training materials. Therefore, an important part of the job involves goal-setting, researching and planning. This will require drawing on instructional design models and theories in order to create an optimal learning experience.
In addition to researching and planning, Instructional Designers are also responsible for creating and developing learning materials and processes. This involves using various learning techniques and technologies to meet the learning objectives. It will usually also involve collaborating regularly with Subject Matter Experts who advise on curriculum.
A further responsibility of Instructional Designers is managing and evaluating the learning processes and instructional materials. Continuously analysing and optimising these processes and materials to ensure learning objectives are being met is an important element in the role.
In terms of where Instructional Designers typically work, they can be employed in a variety of sectors, including business, government and non-profit. However, the majority of Instructional Designers work in larger companies or in higher education.
Skills and knowledge required
Instructional Designers need to have a varied skill set and possess knowledge from a range of disciplines. They will typically require some knowledge of learning theories, graphic and UX/UI design, user experience design and cognitive theory. As Instructional Designers use various tools and systems in their roles, they will also need to have working knowledge of the latest educational technologies.
Below is a list of hard and soft skills that can help an Instructional Designer be successful in their role:
- Project management
- Teaching skills
- Visual design
How to become an Instructional Designer
As instructional design is an emerging discipline, there are various career entry points and pathways. It is also a multidisciplinary field, so Instructional Designers often come from diverse backgrounds and have various specialisations.
For example, one Instructional Designer may have transitioned from teaching, while another may have previously worked as a graphic designer. Many graduates also start off their careers in instructional design as opposed to pivoting from another field.
Because a career in instructional design is accessible to both career starters and changers, it makes the career such an attractive choice for professionals at all levels. However, while there are various entry points, you will still be required to have some fundamental skills and knowledge of instructional design to work in the field.
Below are the typical steps to become an Instructional Designer:
1. Obtain relevant education
Some Instructional Designers hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree in instructional design. However, many will first obtain a university degree in another discipline and then get a professional diploma or certificate in instructional design. And some do not have a university degree at all, but just a professional diploma or certificate.
As there are so many pathways, it is important to choose the education program that fits you. If you are already working and looking to make a career change to instructional design, a part-time certification program may work best for you.
However, when choosing a program, it is important to ensure the course is recognised, comprehensive and practical. This way, you are learning the methodologies, theories and practical knowledge you need to succeed in the job.
2. Gain practical experience
Once you’ve obtained knowledge of instructional design theory and methodology, you’re going to need to acquire real-word experience. Depending on your individual background and professional experience, there will be different pathways to starting a career as an Instructional Designer.
If you are a recent graduate and just starting out your career with no prior work experience, an internship may be the best way to get your foot in the door. However, if you’re a career changer with prior transferable skills and experience, you may be able to already obtain either an entry level or intermediate role as an Instructional Designer.
Being able to highlight any transferable skills or experience, such as teaching, technological skills or project management will be highly beneficial when searching for your first instructional design role.
3. Keep learning and upskilling
With the field evolving so quickly, it is imperative that instructional design professionals continue to learn and upskill throughout their career. Staying up to date on industry trends will ensure that you are ahead of the curve and keep your skills relevant.
One way to stay informed on what’s trending in the industry is by following other instructional designers on social media. Another way to keep up your industry knowledge is to get involved with the university department or institute where you received your instructional design training. Educational institutes and universities often hold webinars or send email newsletters that contain information about industry news, thought leadership or job market insights.
Job outlook and salary
With the advancement of eLearning technology and the increase in online instruction over the past few decades, Instructional Designers have increased in demand. The job outlook for the profession is bright, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting a 10% career growth rate.
The median annual salary for Instructional Designers in the U.S. is $63,740, or around €62,500 per year. However, depending on the organisation, sector and your individual level of experience, it is possible to earn more. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics, the highest 10% of Instructional Designers earn more than $101,090, or €99,250 per year.
Instructional Designers play a critical role in any organisation with a training or learning function. They use their technical, design and pedagogical skills to ensure the instructional content and curricula achieves learning outcomes. And for this reason, Instructional Designers are a valuable asset across various organisations and sectors.
A career in instructional design is in demand, rewarding and continuously evolving. So if you’re passionate about learning, technology, innovation and design, a career as an Instructional Designer might just be the perfect fit for you.
Inside Higher Ed (2020) The Hottest Job in Higher Education: Instructional Designer. https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/blogs/education-time-corona/hottest-job-higher-education-instructional-designer
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2022) Occupational Outlook Handbook https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/instructional-coordinators.htm#tab-1