Most job postings for L&D professionals request higher education, as well as a mix of skills and experience that reflects the digital age we live and work in. But how much education, what areas of study, and whether advanced degrees garner significantly higher wages are all questions that Jane Bozarth, The eLearning Guild’s research director, investigated when researching her annual L&D salary report.

Bozarth reviewed job postings from multiple popular job sites and found no postings that did not ask for at least a bachelor’s degree, yet, she found, “people without degrees are indeed working in L&D roles. More than 10 percent of 2018 survey respondents held less than a bachelor’s degree, with an average salary of $74,600.” Those with bachelor’s degrees earned almost 12 percent more, and those with master’s degrees garnered more than 15 percent more than those with no degrees, averaging $86,171 in the US.

Going for that advanced degree might be worthwhile, especially if you’re among the 42 percent of respondents whose employers provide tuition assistance or reimbursement. But where should you focus your studies?

Skills likely to be in demand

Digital skills are highly prized, especially those relating to audio and video production, game design, and app design. The emerging role of learning engineer requires additional skills that might provide hints as to where to deepen knowledge and skills. According to Bozarth’s report, the role “melds learning science, data science, and computer science.” Skill areas where learning engineers might need expertise include:

  • AI and machine learning
  • Data and analytics
  • Learning ecosystems
  • Learning science
  • Experience design

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has established a consortium, ICICLE, to establish standards for this new role.

What about certificates?

Microcredentials, such as digital certificates and badges, are an increasingly popular way for workers in many fields to upskill, advance, or simply keep up with the changing demands of their professions. L&D professionals are no different.

In 2018, Bozarth’s salary report found that certifications had little impact on salary but contributed significantly toward bonuses, possibly because certifications are often earned during employment, making existing employees more valuable.

Bozarth reports that few 2019 job postings requested certifications, though some did stipulate skills that a variety of professional certifications could attest to, such as project management or L&D industry training certifications.

Career paths

Instructional designers or eLearning developers seeking to advance professionally might be stumped when seeking advice on how best to move up. “In reviewing postings, it was difficult to pinpoint what sets a senior role apart from the basic,” Bozarth wrote. Years of experience might be a key differentiator, as might supervisory experience or work as a team or project lead.

Bozarth suggests that ambitious L&D professionals:

  • Work on their soft skills
  • Never underestimate the power of networking
  • Create a portfolio that illustrates storytelling and problem-solving skills

Learn more

Find out more about the in-demand skills and education for L&D professionals and how that affects their compensation. Download eLearning Salary & Compensation: Advice for Workers, Recruiters, and Hiring Managers today! The report goes beyond salary data and explores what recruiters look for and why L&D professionals love their jobs—as well as what could induce them to leave.