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Courses, Instructional Design

The 9 Best Instructional Design Master’s Degree Programs (2024 Guide)

Thinking about entering an instructional design masters program or its equivalent? Check out this guide.

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By Scott Winstead

instructional design masters programs

If you have a bachelor’s degree and are contemplating taking courses to grow your instructional design skills, you’ll be happy to know that there are certificate and master’s programs that offer flexible scheduling and options for designing a study plan to meet your needs. A master’s in instructional design can be valuable and can help increase your salary as an instructional designer. In fact, the average master’s degree holder will earn about 15% more than a bachelor’s degree holder over their lifetime.

My own journey through the always-evolving world of instructional design has involved continuous learning, unlearning, and relearning. With several years of navigating the eLearning industry, crafting digital learning experiences, and witnessing the transformative power of well-designed educational content, I’ve come to appreciate the impact that a solid foundation in instructional design can have on one’s career and the learners we serve.

I’ve put together this list of the best instructional design masters programs with picks from Emeritus, University of Tampa, University of San Francisco, and more. I’ve taken into consideration factors like program length and cost, curriculum depth, student feedback, and instructor qualifications when ranking these programs (click here to learn about our entire Editorial Process & Methodology for product reviews).

Note: If you’re pursuing a career as an instructional designer, you should download your free copy of An Instructional Designer’s Notebook from iSpring as it’s filled with great resources to help you on your journey.

An Instructional Designer's Notebook An Instructional Designer's Notebook

Instructional Designer’s Notebook is a free collection of the most useful guides on becoming an instructional designer and creating eLearning content to facilitate every step on your eLearning trajectory. It includes lists of ebooks, YouTube channels, blogs, tips from top experts, interactive checklists, and more.

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The Best Master’s Degree Programs in Instructional Design

1. Professional Certificate in Instructional Design (Emeritus) →

Best Overall
Emeritus Professional Instructional Design Certificate | Online Certificate Course Emeritus Professional Instructional Design Certificate | Online Certificate Course

Gain firsthand expertise in instructional design principles and methodologies through this unique Professional Certificate program. Create impactful learning solutions and improve people's ability to learn.

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Location: Online
Study Type: Online
Price: $3,500 total (early-bird discounts may be available at certain times during enrollment; flexible payment options also available)
Duration: 5 months

Are you considering a career in instructional design, but looking for more experience and knowledge to make yourself stand out? Look no further than the Professional Certificate in Instructional Design from Emeritus!

In just 5 months, you can get the training you need to earn a certificate and launch your career as an instructional designer.

With experienced instructors covering industry-relevant topics, you’ll gain insights into analytics and methodologies that will help you create impactful learning solutions for your students or colleagues.

This intensive immersive program provides participants with a deep dive into the foundations and cutting-edge approaches of the learning design field.

Students will gain the core analytics skills needed to create impactful learning solutions and design, assemble, and deliver instructional modules that culminate in high-quality learning experiences—no matter which platform or tool is used.

With a strong focus on research-based strategies, learners emerge prepared to create solutions with measurable impact.

This course is perfect for teachers and educators, recent graduates, early-career instructional design professional, or anyone considering moving into an ID career.

I also appreciate that this program offers excellent opportunities for networking and professional development that can help get your foot in the door when seeking career openings.

From integrating technology into classrooms to developing training programs in companies, this course is exceptionally useful for transitioning into the field of instructional design.

By joining this course from Emeritus, participants can gain the skills and experience needed in order to build valuable relationships with colleagues and clients alike.

As a student with Emeritus, you join an enriching learning community dedicated to collective growth and success. Together with a tight-knit cohort, you embark on an educational journey, navigating course materials and supporting each other’s progress. You have the chance to collaborate and share insights, while sharing supplemental resources to help ensure no one falls behind. This powerful combination of community and resources empowers students to master new skills and transform their lives.

As part of your enrollment, you’ll also receive a complimentary one-year subscription to Emeritus Insights, an innovative app that provides access to a vast collection of condensed lessons and lectures spanning a range of disciplines.

With over 5,000 resources distilled from top universities and publications such as Harvard Business Review, Emeritus Insights enables lifelong learning and professional development through on-demand exploration of subjects including data science, marketing, leadership, strategy, and business communication.

Stay ahead of trends and advance your career with this invaluable learning companion.

Click here to learn more about the Professional Certificate in Instructional Design from Emeritus.

You Will Learn:

  • Theories of instructional design
  • Approaches to instructional design
  • The major instructional design models
  • Applying instructional design to projects
  • Task and goal analysis
  • How to develop clear objectives for ID work
  • Course implementation and iteration best practices
  • How to create engaging learning experiences

Best for:

Teachers and educators, recent graduates, early-career instructional design professional, or anyone considering moving into an ID career.

2. Master of Science in Instructional Design and Technology (University of Tampa) →

University of Tampa

Location: Florida
Study Type: campus-based and hybrid
Price: $709 per credit hour (36 credit hours)
Duration: 18 months

The University of Tampa is a private institution founded in 1931 and accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Instructional designers are the architects behind impactful learning experiences, and this program empowers them to comprehend and utilize technologies as both a product (like web-based courses) and a process (such as iterative and formative approaches to learner assessment). The curriculum is designed to equip students with the skills to develop effective, cross-media curricula that resonate with diverse audiences across various environments.

The program is tailored for individuals aspiring to carve out careers as experts in the design, development, implementation, and evaluation of instructional resources. It caters to candidates from a wide array of backgrounds, including communications, psychology, management, and education, all bound by a shared interest in crafting innovative solutions to learning needs.

Some of the courses offered in this master’s program include:

  • Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology
  • Theories of Learning and Cognition for Instruction
  • Open Learning Environments in the 21st Century
  • Principles of Learner Motivation
  • Design of Online Collaborative Learning
  • Introduction to Distance Learning
  • Multimedia Design and Development
  • Management of Instructional Development

You Will Learn:

  • Theories
  • Instructional design and technology trends
  • Distance learning
  • Developing multimedia instruction
  • Program evaluation

You will also complete a capstone project that will enable you to put classroom knowledge into practice and develop a professional instructional design portfolio.

Learner Feedback:

Graduates of the program describe the environment as supportive, with mentors who care about students

Best for:

Learners seeking an environment that allows them to customize studies to fit their career interests.

3. Master of Science in Educational Technology (University of San Francisco)→

University of San Francisco

Location: California
Study type: Campus-based program meeting on alternate teaching weekends
Price: First year: $1,275 per unit, Second year depends on the rate for that year
Duration: 24 months, including summer sessions.

USF’s M.A. in Educational Technology is not merely a master’s program; it’s a journey through the dynamic landscape of educational technology, where educators are sculpted into technologically adept, pedagogically sound leaders. This program immerses you in a world where your educational practices are intertwined with technological advancements, ensuring your strategies are not just current but future-ready.

The curriculum dives into a plethora of tools, especially those that are cost-effective, ensuring your tech-integration strategies are scalable and adaptable to various educational contexts.

One of the things I like about this ID master’s program is that it’s steeped in practicality. Every theoretical concept is tied back to its practical application, ensuring that you’re not just learning, but also applying, evaluating, and iterating your practices in real time.

The University of San Francisco, originally known as St. Ignatius Academy, is the city’s first University and was established in 1855. It is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University.

You Will Learn:

  • Digital technologies for teaching
  • Pedagogy and technology
  • Technology leadership

In the capstone project, you will have the opportunity to demonstrate skills learned in your classes by using technology to design instruction and reflecting on your experiences.

Learner Feedback:

A graduate who came to the program without background in education indicated that the program taught him how people learn and how to help others use technology.

Best for:

The program is a logical choice for individuals seeking a program with an emphasis on technology. The weekend schedule is well-suited for working adults.

4. Master of Science in Instructional Design, Development, and Evaluation (Syracuse University) →

Syracuse University

Location: New York
Study Type: Full-time campus-based hybrid, part-time evening study, and fully online program.
Price: $1,683 per credit (30 credit hours)
Duration: 12 months (full-time). Part-time study varies.

The M.S. in Instructional Design, Development, and Evaluation from Syracuse University combines both technical and software skills with theoretical knowledge, planning acumen, instructional processes, and collaborative problem-solving strategies in the realm of instructional design.

Students get fully immersed in a curriculum that allows them to design, create, implement, and evaluate both non-technology and technology-supported instructional solutions, ensuring their skills are versatile and applicable in a range of contexts. The program offers a blend of theoretical and practical learning, ensuring that every concept learned has immediate applicability in real-world instructional design scenarios.

What sets this program apart is its flexibility and inclusivity. It offers both fully online and traditional campus-based formats, allowing students to choose a learning path that aligns with their needs and preferences. The online format requires no on-campus commitments, providing students with the liberty to learn from anywhere, while the campus-based format allows students to immerse themselves in the vibrant Syracuse University community.

Syracuse University, located in Upstate New York, was established in 1870 and is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

You Will Learn:

  • Technical skills
  • Theory to create engaging learning experiences
  • Instructional processes
  • Problem solving

Your student portfolio will feature work created in the courses and document your reflections on your learning experience.

Best for:

Students who enjoy social events, study groups, and other campus activities. The program works well for students wishing to develop advanced skills in the technical and theoretical aspects of instructional design and is convenient for working professionals who seek an online master’s degree in the field.

5. M.Ed. in Instructional Design and Technology (Liberty University) →

Liberty University

Location: Lynchburg, Virginia
Study Type: Online
Price: $415 per credit hour
Duration: 12 months

With the M.A. in Educational Technology program at Liberty University, students are welcomed into a realm where the fusion of technology and pedagogical theory is not only encouraged but celebrated.

Liberty’s approach is unique, offering a curriculum that doesn’t just explore educational technology but immerses you in it, ensuring that every theoretical concept is not just learned but lived, applied in practical, real-world scenarios that enhance your expertise and your career trajectory.

With a focus on developing dynamic learning environments, the program ensures that you’re not just a spectator in the world of educational technology but an active participant, shaping, influencing, and enhancing the learning experiences of students in diverse educational contexts.

Liberty is a private university founded in 1971 and located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains on the banks of the James River. The University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

You Will Learn:

  • Technology to create digital learning experiences
  • Online teaching
  • Higher education finance
  • Course development
  • Learning evaluation

Learner Feedback:

Graduates describe the school as affordable, with good research resources, and supportive faculty. The University ranks in the top 1% of over than 2,100 online colleges and universities for quality academics, accessibility, and affordability.

Best for:

Liberty’s Master of Education in Instructional Design and Technology is best for aspiring instructional designers looking for a program at a school with a history of success in online classes.

6. M.Ed. in Instructional Design and Technology (Regent University) →

Regent University

Location: Virginia Beach, Virginia
Study type: Online
Price: $565 per credit hour (30 credit hours)
Duration: 24 months

Regent University’s M.Ed. in Instructional Design & Technology guides educators down the path to becoming pioneers in the realm of educational technology.

The curriculum is a blend of theory and practical application. The program doesn’t just prepare you for the present but also for the future, ensuring that your skills and knowledge are not just relevant but also forward-looking, preparing you for the evolving landscape of educational technology.

Regent University was founded in 1978 and situated on a 70-acre campus in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The University is accredited by The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

You Will Learn:

  • Research design
  • Emerging technologies and digital tools you’ll use as a professional instructional designer
  • Educational statistics
  • Multimedia design
  • Growing up in a media-rich world

Learner Feedback:

Graduates of Regent describe their experiences as positive, including support from staff. Regent ranks as one of the top universities in Virginia based on student feedback and other metrics.

Best for:

The program is best for individuals seeking an online program with shorter course lengths.

7. Master’s in Instructional Design for Online Learning (Capella University) →

Capella University

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Study type: Online
Price: $460 per credit hour (48 credit hours)
Duration: 12 months

Capella University’s M.S. in Education, specializing in Instructional Design for Online Learning, stands out for its competency-based curriculum, designed around competencies established by the International Board of Standards for Training, Performance, and Instruction. What does that mean? It’s means that your learning isn’t just comprehensive but also aligned with globally recognized standards.

The program offers a unique professional development plan, which you create in your first course, ensuring that your learning journey is not just informed but also strategically aligned with your professional and personal development goals.

This Instructional Design master’s program makes sure you’re not just learning theory but also getting your hands dirty with real-world applications. It’s all about making what you learn super usable in actual instructional design and tech situations, boosting both your know-how and hands-on skills.

Capella University offers a study plan known as “Flex-Path” where you can earn a master’s degree in 12 months or less. Capella is a for-profit online university and is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

You Will Learn:

  • Principles of instructional design
  • The instructional design process
  • Project management for eLearning
  • Application of learning theories to instructional design
  • Evaluation and assessment

Expect to participate in regular class discussions. You will engage with faculty and peers during weekly discussion posts.

Learner Feedback:

Capella graduate students describe course rooms that are easy for students to navigate with helpful resources.

Best for:

Students who will benefit from setting personal timelines within courses. The flexibility of Capella’s Master of Education makes it a logical choice for busy working professionals.

8. M.Sc. in Instructional Design and Technology (Full Sail University) →

Full Sail University

Location: Winter Park, Florida
Study type: Campus-based and online
Price: $534-850 per credit hour (36 credit hours)
Duration: 12 months

Full Sail University’s M.S. in Instructional Design & Technology is your personal workshop where you get to explore, create, and innovate with tools and methods to improve instruction. With a focus on how people learn and get motivated, it ensures that the content you create isn’t just informative but also incredibly engaging and inspirational for online curricula.

This master’s specialization is crafted for professionals across various platforms – be it traditional or online settings, educational institutions, corporations, healthcare, government agencies, or the military – aiming to elevate their expertise in instructional design and development.

The curriculum is all about gearing you up, the hands-on instructional design practitioner, to skillfully create educational interventions, all while grounding your approach in the solid foundation of field theory and practice.

Full Sail began as a recording studio and center for recording arts in Ohio. It moved to Winter Park, Florida, in 1980 and began offering degrees online. It is accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges.

You Will Learn:

  • Learning theory
  • Strategies for learner engagement
  • Music in instructional design
  • Filmmaking principles
  • Media asset Creation

You can complete a final project where you can demonstrate innovation as you combine your instructional design skills with filmmaking and music.

Learner Feedback:

Full Sail students express appreciation for hands-on, real-world learning that opens up many career options. Full Sail is best for a student who prefers a program that will teach them outside the box instructional design skills.

Best for:

This program is for individuals who want flexibility and a curriculum that is project-based with multidisciplinary learning opportunities. Full Sail students learn to integrate instructional design with entertainment to create dynamic learning programs that incorporate music, animation, and cutting-edge elements into designing instruction.

9. M.Sc. in Instructional Design and Technology (Walden University) →

Walden University

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Study Type: Online
Price: $680 per semester credits (30-36 semester credits)
Duration: Varies with specialization

With an MS in Instructional Design and Technology from Walden, you’re not just fueling your passion for aiding others in learning but also becoming a maestro in crafting educational experiences. Dive into a journey where your skills evolve at the cutting edge of instructional design, utilizing the latest technology to sculpt engaging, content-rich, and multimedia instruction, all while unraveling the mysteries of how and why people learn.

Walden’s online master’s program in instructional design and technology doesn’t just prepare you but propels you into roles like instructional designer, curriculum designer, education coordinator, or instructional coach across diverse industries – be it education, government, corporate, military, or healthcare settings.

The University is a for-profit institution founded in 1970 and is accredited by the higher learning commission. The program at Walden offers you three areas of specialization: general, online learning, and training and performance improvement. The generalized program requires 30 semester-credits, while the online learning and training and performance options require 36 semester credits each.

You Will Learn

  • Apply principles, theories, and research to instructional design
  • Develop instructional materials
  • Supervise instructional technology
  • Evaluate instruction
  • Ensure access to instructional materials for diverse learners

In your capstone project you will have the opportunity to apply the skills learned in online classes in real-world situation.

Learner feedback:

One of the comments about the Walden MS in Instructional Design and Technology program is that it teaches individuals “how” to train people.

Best for:

The school is best for individuals who desire an online master’s program in Instructional Design and Technology with a choice of specializations.

Other eLearning Programs to Consider

In addition to the best instructional designer masters programs, you might find the following universities have something to offer:

Euclid University

Euclid University is an international institution established in 2008 for government officials and civil servants of member states. The University offers degree programs to the general public, including an online Master’s in Distance and Open Learning

North Central University

North Central University in La Jolla, California, was established in 1996 with the working professional in mind. The school offers weekly start dates and individual classes in its Master of Science in Instructional Design program.

Western Governor’s University

Western Governor’s University is an online university serving several states. The institution offers a Master of Education in Instructional Design. Students progress through the program at the competency-based program at their own pace, saving time and money.

5 Questions to Ask When Choosing Masters Program in ID

Block Question

1. Is there a balance between theory and practice?

Some instructional design programs emphasize design over development. However, when you look for an instructional design job, you will find that many organizations seek employees who can design instruction, develop software, and work with course authoring tools to bring content to life.

2. In addition to loans, are there other financial aid resources available?

The financial aid office at the school you choose may be aware of resources that can help you complete the program without incurring excessive debt from student loans. You may be able to save more on tuition costs if you enroll in an accelerated, self-paced program. If you plan to study full-time at a campus-based program, there may be graduate assistant opportunities available.

3. What is the average salary of graduates?

After you have worked hard to earn your master’s degree, you deserve a boost in pay or a promotion. Consider a program with a track record of having sought-after graduates who attain leadership positions and higher salaries. If the program offers assistance with job placement, that can help you land a position where you can put your skills to work immediately.

4. Do you accept transfer credit or offer credit for life experience?

Transfer credits and being able to take exams to demonstrate competency not only save you money, but you will move through the program faster and avoid taking courses in areas where you already have expertise.

5. How flexible is the program?

If you work full-time, being able to design your own learning experience makes it possible for you to stay with a program. It can be difficult to remain with a cohort group when you have a job and family responsibilities. Many graduate programs have rolling admissions and start dates that enable you to begin your courses any time during the year rather than waiting for the start of a new semester.

Final Thoughts on Choosing an Instructional Design Master’s Degree Program

Pursuing a master’s degree in instructional design isn’t just about acquiring a title or ticking off a box in your educational journey. It’s about diving deep into a field that is perpetually evolving, where technology, pedagogy, and innovative design converge to create impactful learning experiences.

Whether you work in education, the nonprofit sector, or in a corporate environment, the best instructional design masters programs and online instructional design classes are available to you, no matter where you live.

Maybe it is time to move beyond the contemplation stage and enroll in one of the best masters in instructional design programs.

You may be surprised how soon you put your skills to work in designing dynamic online learning resources.

Have any questions about entering an instructional design degree program? Comment below and we’ll help.

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