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Instructional Design

How to Become an Instructional Designer: Step-by-Step Guide

Embark on a rewarding career path with insightful tips and guided steps to becoming an accomplished instructional designer.

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By Scott Winstead


how to become an instructional designer

Are you looking for guidance on how to become an instructional designer? Wondering what steps you need to take to break into this growing field?

Instructional designers are more in demand than ever before, and the industry is showing no signs of slowing down. A career as an instructional designer can be very satisfying and lucrative, and by following the steps below, you can be on your way to this exciting career in no time.

Did you know that with the right qualifications and education, you can become an instructional designer in as little as 5 months in some cases?

I have a background in instructional design that spans nearly 20 years, but I remember how daunting it was starting out in the field. I’ve leaned on my own personal experience to put together the comprehensive guide below where you’ll get an in-depth look into everything that goes into becoming an instructional designer, the qualifications and skills you need to succeed, and even how to land your first job.

Understanding the Role of an Instructional Designer

An instructional designer is responsible for creating educational materials and programs that are engaging, effective, and tailored to the learning needs of the intended audience. They work closely with subject matter experts to develop content, design and develop interactive learning activities, and create assessments and evaluations to measure learning outcomes.

Instructional designers work in a wide range of industries, including educational institutions, businesses, government agencies, and nonprofits.

They need to be creative problem-solvers who can think critically about how best to present educational materials in various digital formats.

In addition to their technical skills, instructional designers also need to be excellent communicators and collaborators, as they work with a variety of stakeholders such as teachers, administrators, executives, and vendors to ensure the success of their projects.

Instructional design plays a crucial role in shaping the learning experiences of students. Effective instructional design is not just about providing information to learners, it also involves creating an engaging and interactive environment that encourages learners to explore, ask questions, and participate actively.

When instructional design is done right, it can lead to more effective learning experiences, higher levels of student retention and comprehension, and better outcomes overall.

The impact of instructional design on learning experiences is significant, as it can make the difference between a forgettable lecture and a truly transformative educational experience.

Why Become an Instructional Designer?

Everybody’s reason for becoming an instructional designer is different. For me, instructional design is a passion. It all started back when the internet was first gaining popularity in the late 90s. I saw a world of possibilities with the internet, realizing it was going to revolutionize the way we learned. For years, I dove headfirst into all things eLearning, and eventually, I started taking some online courses in instructional design and got the training I needed to work in the field.

However, I realize not everyone has a burning desire to become an instructional desire purely out of passion.

The truth is that instructional design is an exciting and fulfilling career path for those who enjoy combining creativity, technology, and education. This field is all about designing learning experiences to meet specific goals and needs, whether through traditional classroom instruction, eLearning modules, or other digital media.

Not only is it a fascinating way to help others acquire knowledge, but it also offers a range of benefits and rewards for those who pursue it.

Instructional designers typically enjoy above-average salaries, with opportunities for growth and advancement. Additionally, this career allows for flexibility and the ability to work independently or collaboratively with a team.

Most importantly, the impact that instructional designers have is immeasurable as they help to shape the minds of future generations.

If you have a passion for education and a desire to make a difference, then a career in instructional design could be the right choice for you.

5 Steps to Becoming an Instructional Designer

Now that you have a better idea of what they do and the perks of being one, let’s break down the step-by-step process of how to become an instructional designer. This is the same 5-step process I followed as I broke into the field.

Step 1: Research and Self-Assessment

Before diving into the world of instructional design, it’s essential to take the first step: research and self-assessment.

This initial stage involves delving deep into the field of instructional design, learning about its fascinating history, various specializations, best practices, and more.

It also involves looking into the different job opportunities that exist for instructional designers across a range of industries. Do you want to work for a corporation or as a freelancer? Do you want to work in a nonprofit/charity setting or the education sector?

These are all important questions to consider before taking any further steps.

At this stage, you’ll also want to take some time to assess your own skills and interests as it relates to instructional design. This involves taking a good, hard look at your personal skills, interests, and educational background to identify where your strengths and weaknesses lie.

What skills do you have that could be beneficial in the field? Are there any areas where you need more training or education?

It’s only once you’ve got a clear picture of both the field and yourself that you’re fully equipped to embark on the exciting journey toward becoming an instructional designer.

Step 2: Acquiring the Necessary Education and Skills

The second step in this process is getting the necessary education to learn the skills required for the job.

Ray Schroeder, a nationally respected and connected leader in higher education online learning and UPCEA Senior Fellow, told us that it’s important to “Engage in learning about learning and discover how people learn. Pursue an understanding of models of teaching and learning. Get familiar with the tools and technologies that are currently used to deliver, reinforce and assess learning.”

You might think this involves going to college, but as I learned through my own experience breaking into the industry, there are a number of online instructional design certification programs available that can help you get the training you need.

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Our personal favorite is the Professional Certificate in Instructional Design from Emeritus. This 5-month program covers all the basics and provides a comprehensive education in all aspects of instructional design.

The field of instructional design is growing rapidly, and the Professional Certificate in Instructional Design program is the perfect way to gain the expertise needed to succeed in this dynamic industry.

Through this program, you’ll learn all aspects of instructional design, including how to incorporate technology into your teaching strategies and create custom training programs for businesses and educational institutions.

But it’s not just about gaining knowledge; it’s also about forming relationships.

As an Emeritus student in the program, you’ll have the opportunity to build connections with fellow students and instructors, enhancing your professional network in the process.

And as part of the Emeritus community, you’ll be surrounded by a supportive and interconnected group of individuals who are all working toward the same goal: excelling in the field of instructional design.

Click here to learn more about the program and request a free brochure.

Step 3: Gaining Practical Experience

Building real, hands-on experience is an essential step in the journey to becoming a successful instructional designer. While education provides the necessary theoretical foundation, it is through practical application that you as an aspiring professional to hone your skills, develop your unique style, and showcase your expertise to potential employers.

Creating a portfolio of instructional design projects allows you to demonstrate your capabilities and creativity. It provides a tangible representation of your skills in designing and developing instructional materials, such as eLearning modules, training programs, or multimedia presentations.

A well-curated instructional design portfolio showcases your ability to analyze learning needs, design effective learning experiences, and apply instructional strategies tailored to specific audiences.

Seeking internships or entry-level positions in the instructional design field is a good way to get invaluable hands-on experience.

Working under the guidance of experienced professionals exposes you as an aspiring designer to real-world projects, collaborative environments, and industry best practices. This experience helps you understand the practical challenges and considerations involved in instructional design, such as project management, client communication, and working within budget and time constraints.

It also allows you to build connections and learn from mentors who can provide valuable guidance and feedback.

I’m also a big advocate for engaging in freelance or volunteer opportunities as another effective way to gain practical experience and showcase skills. Freelancing offers the chance to work on diverse projects for different clients, which enhances versatility and adaptability. Volunteering for nonprofit organizations or educational institutions provides an opportunity to contribute to meaningful causes while gaining practical experience.

These experiences not only demonstrate a commitment to the field but also allow you to refine your problem-solving skills, adapt to different project requirements, and build a professional network.

Step 4: Networking

Networking plays a crucial role in the journey of becoming an instructional designer. These activities help you stay updated with industry trends, expand your knowledge and skills, and connect with like-minded individuals.

Joining professional organizations and attending industry conferences provide valuable opportunities to network with fellow instructional designers, educators, and industry experts. These events foster knowledge exchange, collaboration, and mentorship.

By actively engaging in these professional communities, aspiring designers can gain insights into emerging instructional design practices, share experiences, and build relationships that can lead to career opportunities.

Additionally, professional organizations often offer resources, workshops, and certifications that enhance professional growth and credibility.

I’ve also found that articipating in online communities and forums dedicated to instructional design is a good way to connect with a global network of experts and peers.

Dr. Nancy Rubin, a ¬†participant at many conferences, published in educational journals, and the Associate Managing Editor for the¬†Journal of Literacy and Technology, said it’s important for aspiring instructional designers to “join conversations on Twitter, engage in Twitter Chats (there are many each week,) [and] build [their] personal network on LinkedIn.”

These platforms provide spaces for discussions, sharing best practices, and seeking advice. By actively participating, individuals can gain diverse perspectives, receive feedback on their work, and stay updated with the latest industry advancements.

Online communities may even sometimes offer opportunities to collaborate on projects, explore job openings, and establish a personal brand within the instructional design community.

Step 5: Landing the Job

You’ve reached the final step of becoming an instructional designer — landing a job.

As I’ve preached countless times on this site, it all starts with having a great instructional designer resume and writing engaging cover letters that showcase the skills and experiences you have acquired throughout your journey.

Once your resume is ready, it’s time to search for a job. Start by looking into educational institutions or private companies that specialize in eLearning solutions and instructional design services.

You can also reach out to recruiters who specialize in instructional design positions.

I highly recommend checking out our guide to the best sites to find instructional design job opportunities as it’s loaded with tons of useful resources that can help you land a great job.

After a while, the interview opportunities should start rolling in. As an instructional designer, preparing for a job interview can be nerve-wracking. However, adequate preparation can help you ace the interview and land your dream job.

Make sure to research the company’s mission, values, and products to get a better grasp of what their expectations are for instruction design.

Practice answering common instructional design interview questions and think of scenarios that demonstrate your ability to design effective learning environments.

Lastly, be confident, maintain eye contact, dress professionally, and express enthusiasm for the potential opportunity.

Final Thoughts on How to Become an Instructional Designer

Becoming an instructional designer requires dedication, hard work, and a willingness to learn.

The good news is that with the right resources and commitment, anyone can join this exciting field and develop a successful career.

Above all, the best piece of parting advice I can offer is to never stop learning — new technologies are being introduced to the field continually. Always be open to progress and embrace change as it can help you create truly innovative learning experiences.

Good luck on your journey to becoming a successful instructional designer!

Have any questions about how to become an instructional designer? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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