How to Become an Instructional Designer

How to Become an Instructional Designer

If you’ve always wanted to combine your educational background and innovative thinking with your love for teaching, you may have found your dream career: becoming an Instructional Designer (ID). Instructional Designers are experts who create well-thought-out and effective courses for learners of all ages and backgrounds. Their role is to align the educational theory with the needs and goals of the learners, while applying the latest tools and technologies to create engaging and interactive learning experiences.

To become an ID, there are several steps you need to take. First, it’s important to have a strong foundation in education. Whether you have a degree or a certificate in a specific educational field, such as psychology or instructional design, it will provide you with a solid base of knowledge. However, becoming an ID doesn’t necessarily require a formal degree. Many Instructional Designers have successfully landed this role with a background in teaching or a related field.

If you’re considering a career in instructional design but aren’t sure where to start, Pepperdine University’s Master of Science in Learning Technologies program is a great option. This program offers a comprehensive curriculum that includes courses in instructional design, e-learning development, and learning analytics, among others. It provides a well-rounded education that will prepare you for a successful career as an ID.

While a degree or certificate is valuable, there are also many free or low-cost resources available online that can help you learn more about instructional design. From blogs and forums to webinars and tutorials, there’s a wealth of information out there for aspiring Instructional Designers to tap into. By exploring these resources, you can gain a deeper understanding of the field and hone your skills.

Whether you work for a corporate organization or as an in-house ID or as a vendor, the future looks bright for Instructional Designers. The demand for skilled IDs is growing, as more and more companies recognize the value of effective training and education for their employees. By following a well-thought-out and strategic path, you can become an ID and make a positive impact in the world of learning and development.

Understanding Instructional Design

Instructional design is a field that focuses on creating effective and engaging learning experiences. It involves the process of designing and developing educational materials, courses, and programs to help learners acquire new knowledge, skills, or competencies. Instructional designers work in various settings, including educational institutions, corporations, government agencies, and e-learning vendors.

One of the paths to becoming an instructional designer is to have a background in education or instructional technology. However, it is not a strict requirement. Many successful instructional designers come from diverse disciplines such as psychology, communication, graphic design, or computer science. What is most important is having a passion for learning and a desire to help others engage with new information.

If you’re considering a career in instructional design, there are several skills and qualifications that can help you land a job in the field. These include a strong understanding of instructional design principles, the ability to analyze learner needs and align instructional materials with learning objectives, and proficiency in using instructional design tools and technologies.

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If you’re currently working in a different field but want to transition into instructional design, there are a few steps you can take to make the move. First, familiarize yourself with the field by reading books and articles and exploring online resources. Next, gain practical experience by volunteering for instructional design projects or developing your own learning materials. You can also leverage your existing skills and experience by highlighting the transferable skills that are relevant to instructional design, such as project management or content creation.

To increase your chances of landing a job in instructional design, it’s important to build a strong professional network. Attend industry events, join relevant professional organizations, and connect with other instructional designers and educators on platforms like LinkedIn. Networking can help you learn about job opportunities, gather insights from experienced professionals, and get recommendations or referrals.

When applying for instructional design positions, make sure to tailor your resume and cover letter to highlight your relevant experience and skills. Be sure to showcase any instructional design projects you have worked on, whether as a part of your formal education or in a professional capacity. If you don’t have any formal instructional design experience, consider creating a portfolio of sample projects to demonstrate your abilities.

One of the key tasks of an instructional designer is to create meaningful and engaging learning experiences for learners. This requires a creative mindset and the ability to think outside the box. Instructional designers often collaborate with subject matter experts and stakeholders to gather the necessary content and then use their expertise to design instructional strategies and activities that effectively deliver the desired learning outcomes.

As an instructional designer, you’ll also need to be proficient in using various tools and technologies that facilitate the design and development process. These may include learning management systems, authoring tools, multimedia editing software, and collaboration platforms. Familiarize yourself with these tools and stay up-to-date on the latest trends and advancements in instructional design technology.

Instructional designers play a crucial role in the success of e-learning initiatives and other educational programs. They ensure that the content is presented in a clear and organized manner, that the activities and assessments are aligned with the learning objectives, and that the learners are able to engage with the materials effectively. This requires a solid understanding of instructional design principles, effective communication skills, and the ability to adapt instructional strategies to different learning styles and preferences.

Whether you choose to work as a full-time instructional designer for a corporation or an educational institution, or you decide to be self-employed and work as a freelance instructional designer, there are many opportunities and paths to explore in this field. As technology continues to advance and social learning becomes more prevalent, the demand for skilled instructional designers is expected to grow.

Steps to Becoming an Instructional Designer

Becoming an instructional designer requires a combination of education and experience. While a master’s degree is not always necessary, it can greatly benefit your career and open up more opportunities for you in the field. However, there are other pathways to becoming an instructional designer that don’t require a master’s degree.

Step 1: Gain the Necessary Skills and Expertise

To become an instructional designer, you will need a wide range of skills and expertise. This includes a solid understanding of instructional design theory and principles, as well as knowledge in areas such as graphic design, multimedia development, and project management. Taking courses or earning certifications can help you develop these skills and make you a more competitive candidate.

Step 2: Get Educated

While a master’s degree isn’t always required, it can be very helpful in the field of instructional design. There are several schools that offer graduate programs in instructional design or related fields. These programs will provide you with the knowledge and skills needed to excel in this field.

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Step 3: Gain Experience

In addition to education, practical experience is also important in becoming an instructional designer. Look for opportunities to work on instructional design projects, whether it’s in-house at your current job or by volunteering to help a non-profit organization or educational institution. This hands-on experience will help you develop a portfolio of work that you can share with prospective employers.

Step 4: Network and Engage with the Instructional Design Community

Networking and engaging with the instructional design community can also help you land a job in this field. Attend conferences, join professional organizations, and participate in online forums or social media groups related to instructional design. Connecting with other professionals in the field can provide valuable insights and help you stay current with industry trends and best practices.

Step 5: Keep Learning and Stay Innovative

Instructional design is a constantly evolving field, so it’s important to keep learning and stay innovative. Take advantage of any professional development opportunities that come your way, whether it’s attending workshops or webinars, or pursuing additional certifications. This commitment to lifelong learning will make you a valuable asset in the field of instructional design.

Step 6: Find Your Path

There are many different paths to becoming an instructional designer, and what works for one person may not work for another. Whether you choose to pursue a graduate degree, earn certifications, or gain experience through on-the-job training, it’s important to find a path that aligns with your goals and strengths. The most important thing is to be proactive and take steps to continually improve your skills and knowledge in the field of instructional design.

Key Skills for Instructional Designers

Instructional designers play a crucial role in shaping the future of education and training. They are responsible for creating effective instruction that meets specific learning objectives and helps learners acquire new knowledge and skills. In today’s competitive job market, landing a job as an instructional designer requires a wide range of skills.

Developing Instructional Content

One of the most important skills for instructional designers is the ability to create engaging and effective instructional materials. They must have a clear understanding of the subject matter and be able to design instruction that meets the needs of their target audience. Instructional designers must also be skilled in conducting needs analysis to identify the goals and objectives of the instruction.

Furthermore, instructional designers must have strong writing skills to create clear and concise instructional content. They should be able to communicate complex information in a way that is easy for learners to understand and apply.

Technological Proficiency

In today’s digital age, instructional designers must be proficient in using a variety of technology tools for designing and delivering instruction. They should be familiar with learning management systems and have experience in developing e-learning modules.

Collaboration and Communication

Instructional designers often work in teams with educators, subject matter experts, and other professionals. Therefore, strong collaboration and communication skills are essential. Instructional designers must be able to work well with others, gather and incorporate feedback, and present their ideas effectively.

Furthermore, instructional designers should be skilled in managing projects and meeting deadlines. They should be able to prioritize tasks, work efficiently, and adapt to changing circumstances.

Continual Learning

The field of instructional design is constantly evolving, with new technologies and methodologies emerging. Instructional designers should be committed to staying up-to-date with the latest trends and best practices in the field.

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Earning a certificate or a master’s degree in instructional design can be helpful in further developing skills and staying competitive in the job market. Continuous professional development through workshops, conferences, and online courses can also be beneficial.

Tips for Aspiring Instructional Designers

If you are interested in becoming an instructional designer, there are several tips and strategies that can help guide you towards a successful career in this field. Whether you have background knowledge in education or are completely new to the field, following these tips can greatly enhance your chances of becoming a highly skilled and effective instructional designer.

1. Tap Into Your Creative Skills: Instructional design is a highly creative field that requires the ability to think outside the box and come up with innovative solutions. Being able to apply your creativity to design meaningful and engaging learning experiences is essential.

2. Learn a Wide Range of Skills: Instructional designers need to have a wide range of skills, including project management, eLearning software proficiency, graphic design, and multimedia production. Taking courses or pursuing degrees in these areas can be helpful in gaining these necessary skills.

3. Network with Other Instructional Designers: Building a network of other instructional designers can be highly beneficial. Not only can you learn from their experiences and expertise, but you can also share ideas and collaborate on projects. Look for local instructional design groups or join online communities to connect with others in the field.

4. Further Your Education: While a degree is not always required, having a higher level of education can be highly advantageous in the competitive job market. Pursuing a master’s degree in instructional design or a related field can provide you with additional qualifications and make you stand out among other candidates.

5. Gain Hands-On Experience: Employers often prefer candidates who have practical experience in instructional design. Consider seeking internships, freelance opportunities, or volunteer positions to gain experience and build your portfolio. This will demonstrate your ability to apply your skills in a real-world setting.

6. Stay Up-to-Date with Industry Trends: Instructional design is a field that is constantly evolving. Staying informed about the latest technologies, trends, and best practices is crucial. Engage in professional development activities, attend conferences, and follow industry experts to stay current and continue learning.

7. Seek Mentorship or Guidance: Finding a mentor or seeking guidance from an experienced instructional designer can be invaluable. They can provide advice, share their experiences, and help you navigate your career path. Consider reaching out to professors, industry professionals, or colleagues who can offer guidance and support.

By following these tips, aspiring instructional designers can greatly increase their chances of landing a fulfilling and successful career in this field. Becoming highly skilled in instructional design requires a combination of education, experience, creativity, and a passion for creating effective learning experiences.


What is an instructional designer?

An instructional designer is a professional who creates learning materials and experiences to help people acquire new knowledge and skills. They use instructional design principles and techniques to analyze, design, develop, implement, and evaluate educational and training programs.

What skills do you need to become an instructional designer?

To become an instructional designer, you need a combination of technical, creative, and analytical skills. Some of the key skills include: strong written and verbal communication, instructional design knowledge, project management skills, multimedia design skills, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and familiarity with educational technology tools.

How long does it take to become an instructional designer?

The time it takes to become an instructional designer can vary depending on factors such as your educational background, relevant work experience, and the amount of time you can dedicate to learning and skill development. On average, it may take several years to obtain the necessary skills and experience to work as a professional instructional designer.

Are there any certifications or courses that can help me become an instructional designer?

Yes, there are various certifications and courses available that can help you become an instructional designer. Some popular options include: Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP), Certified Instructional Designer (CID), and Master Instructional Designer (MID) certification. Additionally, there are online courses and programs offered by universities and e-learning platforms that can help you develop the necessary skills and knowledge in instructional design.

Dave Pennells

By Dave Pennells

Dave Pennells, MS, has contributed his expertise as a career consultant and training specialist across various fields for over 15 years. At City University of Seattle, he offers personal career counseling and conducts workshops focused on practical job search techniques, resume creation, and interview skills. With a Master of Science in Counseling, Pennells specializes in career consulting, conducting career assessments, guiding career transitions, and providing outplacement services. Her professional experience spans multiple sectors, including banking, retail, airlines, non-profit organizations, and the aerospace industry. Additionally, since 2001, he has been actively involved with the Career Development Association of Australia.