eLearning is increasingly in the spotlight thanks to the development of new instructional technology tools and a rising need for instructors and professional trainers. Consequently, the instructional design field is fertile ground for new eLearning developers, instructional designers, and training and development specialists.
This projected growth also means increased competition to enter the field. Further developing your skills and knowledge base through graduate degrees can provide a helpful advantage that sets you apart from other designers.
In fact, most employers in both education and private industry expect applicants to have at least a bachelor’s degree. Those with master’s degrees fare even better, as advanced degrees earn instructional designers more per year in salary and better position instructional designers for promotions.
Here are the vital professional skills you can develop and the career paths that are available to you should you choose to pursue an instructional design degree.
Build common skills required for instructional design
The more professional eLearning and instructional design skills you can develop, the better you can successfully position yourself as a job candidate who creates engaging and impactful experiences for your learners. Instructional design degree programs will assist you in mastering the following skills.
Program design skills — Your fundamental role is to design, develop, and deliver instructional programs and courses. This can range from collaborating with faculty on making course delivery decisions within a learning management system (LMS) to full curriculum development and storyboarding for eLearning courses or corporate training. No matter your focus, you’ll need a thorough understanding of important instructional design models and how to apply them.
Project management skills — As a designer, you’ll need to work with other professionals and subject matter experts while managing client expectations. Good project management skills will be essential for keeping projects on track, within scope and budget, and delivered on time.
Training skills — You may not be the person teaching a course or delivering training, but you will design and develop courses and training. To do this well, you should be able to determine the scope and sequence of a learning experience, communicate learning objectives, and recommend instructional strategies and course delivery methods that keep learners engaged.
Visual design skills — You need working knowledge of visual design standards to communicate effectively with a cross-functional team of graphic designers and eLearning developers. These skills will also help you express your vision and produce storyboard mock-ups of your course design.
Instructional tools and technology skills — Modern design for online and eLearning requires a working knowledge of popular design tools and software. The two most important instructional design software tools are Adobe Captivate and the Articulate 360 suite, which includes Storyline 360 and Rise 360. Both Storyline and Captivate have their own sets of features and advanced functions, so whichever you use may come down to personal or employer preference.
Outside of authoring software, instructional and eLearning professionals need to be familiar with a variety of technology tools for creating instructional materials and collaborating with others. Generally, this includes a:
- Working knowledge of conferencing software such as WebEx, Zoom, and Google Meet
- Mastery of productivity tools including spreadsheet, word processing, and presentation software, such as Microsoft Office or Google Workspace apps
- Familiarity with additional design tools and supporting technology such as Camtasia, Canva, and Audacity
General professional skills — Instructional designers are lifelong learners so you’ll want to continue developing and building on your professional skills, which should include:
- A persistent curiosity about trends and best practices in the field
- An ability to adapt quickly
- Excellent written and oral communication skills
- Strong problem-solving skills
- The flexibility to work both independently and collaboratively with others
Advance your career in instructional design
Building your skills and establishing your credentials puts you in a better position to qualify for higher-level career opportunities, depending on your areas of interest and where you’d prefer to work. A bachelor’s degree in instructional design is essential for most of these positions, and a master’s degree is generally preferred.
If you’re interested in public and higher education, then your possible positions can include:
? Learning consultant — Also referred to as an educational consultant, you’ll evaluate existing curriculum and resources, analyze performance metrics, and then make recommendations to educators so they may implement new or updated learning initiatives to improve results.
? Instructional technologist — You’ll work with faculty to determine which technology tools can enhance the curriculum and meet the needs of diverse learners.
If you’d prefer to work in the corporate sector or for private organizations, then you could find success as a:
? Corporate trainer — You'll provide training directly to employees; designing and developing programs aligned with the organization's learning and development goals.
? Training and development specialist — You’ll plan, conduct, and administer corporate programs related to employee training and development. This involves evaluating current training programs and researching the potential of new technology tools and resources to meet training needs.
You could also choose employment in government or non-profit fields, as a consultant who works with different clients, or even across various industries. Positions include:
? Instructional designer — You’ll oversee the effectiveness of instructional and training solutions, from a high-level project management approach down to curriculum development and course design. This covers everything from working with subject matter experts, collecting and analyzing data, integrating technology into teaching and training environments, and evaluating program outcomes.
? eLearning developer — You’ll focus on digital instruction and be responsible for designing and developing interactive and engaging online courses using authoring software and other learning technologies. You’ll need experience using multimedia development tools and software to create instructional content for multiple learning modalities.
Prepare for a career in instructional design
Whether you’re just starting your instructional design career or are thinking of transitioning into the field, here are some tips to help you apply for jobs and degree programs.
Create your instructional design portfolio. A portfolio showcases your knowledge and skills. You’ll want to include context on the projects you’ve developed, share some thoughts about your experience, and your passion for the work. When possible, include testimonials from collaborators and clients.
Network with other designers and learning professionals. Establishing contacts in the field can open up employment opportunities, connect you with potential collaborators, and introduce you to helpful mentors. You'll need to reach out in professional and educational settings, and through online events and various social media platforms.
Build your knowledge base. Continually learn on your own through informal online learning resources or enroll in an instructional design degree program. When looking at degree programs, take the time to evaluate them through the details listed on their website and contact the admission advisor. Some helpful things to ask include:
- Is the program available online?
- How will it work with my schedule?
- What tools and software will I use in the program?
- Does it offer project-based learning that can help me build a portfolio?
- Does the program prioritize learning through practical experience?
You can better accomplish all three of these goals and build up your skills and experience if you attend a master’s degree program that works for you. To begin exploring your possible future as a learning designer, we welcome you to consider the University of San Diego’s Master of Science in Learning Design and Technology degree.