10 Qualities of the Ideal Instructional Designer

People employed as instructional designers come from wildly varied educational backgrounds. I’ve met writers, teachers, media specialists, psychologists and programmers who somehow have ended up designing web-based and instructor-led courses.

For the past several years, blogger Cammy Bean has had an open survey asking her instructional design readership whether they have a degree in instructional design. Although the survey doesn’t use a scientific sampling method (basically, whoever happens upon the survey can respond), the results cannot be ignored.

The survey results are no longer available, but in 2009, these were the results:

  • ~ 60% do not have a degree
  • ~ 38% have a graduate degree in Instructional Design
  • ~ 1% responded that they have an Instructional Design degree (level is unspecified)

Do Instructional Designers Need a Degree?

There is an ongoing debate within the US instructional design community as to whether a degree is needed to be most effective in this field. Sure, having a solid foundation in learning theory and cognitive science enables the designer to adapt learning strategies to varied audiences and content. On the other hand, there are degreed instructional designers who create poor learning products.

Perhaps what is most important is that the instructional designer is a self-didact. That the designer is motivated to read cognitive psychology, instructional design and eLearning textbooks, trade books, journals and blogs. That the person takes advantage of tutorials, podcasts and certification programs. That he or she can learn something in a completely different field and transfer this knowledge to instructional design. As professionals in a learning field, we should be able to get the knowledge needed to fill in our gaps as well as to grow and expand.

Top 10 List

So, what does it take to be an effective and innovative designer of online courses? Having been in the field for 20 years, I have managed, mentored, learned from, watched and analyzed the skills of many instructional designers. As a result, I have distilled the qualities, knowledge and skills I think the ideal instructional designer should possess or develop into a Top 10 List. This list focuses on instructional design for eLearning.

The successful instructional designer should:

  1. Conceptually and intuitively understand how people learn.
  2. Know how to connect with an audience on an emotional level.
  3. Be capable of imagining oneself as the learner/audience member.
  4. Be obsessed with learning everything.
  5. Brainstorm creative treatments and innovative instructional strategies.
  6. Visualize instructional graphics, the user interface, interactions and the finished product.
  7. Write effective copy, instructional text, audio scripts and video scripts.
  8. Meld minds with Subject Matter Experts and team members.
  9. Know the capabilities of eLearning development tools and software.
  10. Understand related fields—usability and experience design, information design, communications and new technologies.

What qualities would you add to this list? Comment below.

12 Lesson eCourse on Breaking Into Instructional Design

If you’re interested in learning more about a career in instructional design, grab my free eCourse at Breaking into Instructional Design. You’ll get two lessons a week explaining what instructional designers do, whether you need a degree, the best places to network online and in person, and instructional design books to read.

Related Articles:
35 More Qualities Of The Instructional Designer (An updated and crowd-sourced list)
Is This Instructional Design?

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  1. Camille B. Price says

    Three comments:
    1. I was delighted to see this list. It made my day to go down the list, check off the items, and puff up my ego. I’ve been doing ISD for over 20 years and I’ve been told I have many of these qualities to a fault. While I don’t have a degree in Instructional Design, I do have an undergraduate degree in secondary education and a Master’s degree in communication (emphasis on organizational communication and empirical research design) which I have found VERY helpful. I’ve worked with many instructional designers over the years with master’s degrees in instructional technology who don’t have a clue when it comes to training needs assessment. That brings me to my second comment.
    2. I notice your list did not contain expertise in Flash and other software tools. So many of the job postings I see for “Instructional Designers” these days want an MS in Instructional Technology with extensive background in authoring and graphics tools. In my experience, core aptitudes for designer/writers and multimedia developers are seldom both gifted to one individual. I have a great deal of empathy for individuals cast in this “one man band” role by employers and I wish employers would stop defining positions like this. Granted, a clear familiarity with the capabilities of mm tools is critical for good instructional design, but I have found that mastery of a particular tool often constrains and limits design ideas. 3. SMEs are not instructional designers and IDs are not SMEs. These two roles are required to balance each other in the instructional development process. SMEs often are unconsciously competent. They don’t know what they know. The role of the instructional designer is to extract information from SMEs, structure and organize it in a way that makes it easy to learn. SMEs cluster and sublimate knowledge and they have often forgotten critical links and paths that helped them make those associations. The ID has to ask these structured questions to forge the path from novice to expert. Too much of a mash-up of roles leads to a product that learners endure and disregard rather than retain.

  2. Connie Malamed says

    Wow! Your insights are deep. Thanks very much. I actually do think it’s great to know some of the MM tools and personally, I love the production end of things. I see what you are saying that it can limit design ideas and this is something of which IDers should be aware. But still it’s great to know PhotoShop, Illustrator, Flash, Captivate, etc. if you have the inclinication. On the other hand, it didn’t make my top 10 list because there are so many designers who are not inclined in that direction and I don’t think it’s a requirement. I like your points on SMEs. We could write a book on how to work with SMEs!!

  3. Jessica F. says

    Love the article!!!! I have a M.Ed in Instructional Technology and have not been able to get an ID job. I decided to become a teacher because in 2006 when I graduated with the M.Ed many job postings wanted experience in the classroom. Now looking again many job postings say you need to know Flash, PhotoShop, Captivate, etc. So I’m taking refresher courses to update my technical skills. I also have created Instructor Led Training and have been a trainer. How do I prove that I can do this? I’m in the process of trying to create an ePortfolio. Not only do I teach, train, but I teach online courses which helps me understand the needs of the online learner. I’m not sure if my extensive experience in the classroom is hurting or helping me obtain an ID position. Any help or suggestions would be great!!!

  4. Connie Malamed says

    I’m sure it will be helpful that you are updating your technical skills. You may know of these two sites that have job boards related to ID and eLearning, but just in case you don’t: the eLearning Guild (you may need to sign up as a free Associate member to access) and ASTD (free registration may be needed). You might also build up a portfolio by checking out the freelance ID jobs at eLance and possibly Bintro. Do any readers have other suggestions for Jess?

  5. Nancy J. Edmonds says

    Great information. I have a have a MA in Instructional Design and find it very interesting that over 60% of the people who identify themselves as instructional designers do not have formal training.

    I have discovered that to be effective in the field of online learning you need to be proficient in three areas; instructional design, instructional technology and project management. I always like to compare this situation to a three-legged stool— if one leg is missing or shorter than the other it is very difficult to remain seated.

  6. Kayleen Holt says

    Love the Top Ten list (especially #4)! I’d add “be able to conduct research and synthesize information from a variety of sources.”

    To Jessica: make sure you’re on LinkedIn. Check the job postings there and list yourself as a consultant. While you’re teaching, you could line up some consulting work to get a foot in the door and some ID “meat” on your résumé.

  7. Chris Barnes says

    Great list!

    I’d add to your #4: Be obsessed with learning everything… but be prepared to take action before you have learned everything you might want to know, and be courageous about the choices you will have to make.

    Also, to gain resources and influence decisions, it’s helpful for IDs to be skilled advocates for learning, for the audience, and for an effective process.

  8. Connie Malamed says

    Chris you’re right! There is a certain amount of courage required to dive into the boiling pot of content and take action even before you really understand or know everything. Thanks. And being an advocate is also a good point. I’ll add these to the next 10 list (with proper attributions, of course).

  9. Karen Rich says

    When I came across this site, I was intrigued by the title, “10 Qualities of the Ideal Instructional Designer. After all that was the area in which I had planned to obtain my masters degree. I felt good when I saw the variety of backgrounds from which designers come, which includes my background of teaching. The advice is priceless to someone who is new in the field. The survey really opened up my eyes to the types of backgrounds people have who work in this field or who are pursuing degrees in this area. The top 10 list along with the comments from others gives a newbie like me an opportunity to see what it will take to be a successful instructional designer. I am looking forward to be being a regular reader of this site.

  10. Vijaykumar says

    Thanks for providing the list of top 10 qualities for an ideal instructional designer. I would like to add some more things to the list.
    11. Good analytical skills.
    12. Ability to write well-defined objectives based on the need of the learner.

    I feel more than a degree in Instructional Designer, an ID should have some experience as a teacher and lots of experience as a learner. There should be a passion for learning and that will automatically translate to a desire to help others learn.

  11. Steve Churchill says

    This is a really good list. I would add the ability to be an architect of training programs, products, devices, outcomes.

    One point that may be worth considering is to ask if there is a difference between Instuctional Designers and Instructional Developers. If we were to specialize along those lines, then attributes 1, 2, 3, 5, 8 and 10 might most closely align with designers. Attributes 6, 7 and 9 may fit developers more closely. Attribute 4 probably fits everyone. Advanced degrees may be more necessary for the designer group. Regardless of sorts of degrees or degrees at all, skilled writers, editors, technologist/programmers and graphics folks can contribute greatly as developers of effective learning products. We’ve never been able to succeed without leveraging both sets of attributes.

    It’s been my experience that large organizations can specialize along these lines. Smaller firms tend to need folks who can do it all. When possible to specialize, I’ve found it easier to attract team members who significantly contribute in a rapid fashion because it is fairly rare to find someone who comes to team with the total package of skills. It happens, but not often.

  12. Connie Malamed says

    Thanks for adding to the list, Vijaykumar. I do plan to extend it with everyone’s comments. And Steve, it would be interesting to make two separate lists, one for designers and one for developers. You’re right, it’s difficult to find someone with all the design and development skills and a manager often needs to hire two, not one person to get it all. Both design and development skills and mind sets are important to have in a good team.

  13. April Hayman says

    Hi Connie! I don’t know how many times I’ve read your post but I keep coming back to it. Well done! I agree with everything on the list, including the tech parts. As someone who has worked on a small team of IDs, we have always been responsible for developing our own interactions, graphics, etc. While I would agree that it is not the focus of the designer, using the technology has certainly given me an understanding of what is doable or not. A colleague and I joke around that we are the MacGyvers of e-learning!

    As for adding to the list, I would say that any ID would need to be a facilitator at heart too. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to teach a SME how to use a technology or demonstrate a new technique. It also helps guide design choices when you know how to facilitate (either f2f or online, synch or asynch).

    Thanks for the great post!

  14. Brian Wrest says

    Very nice list and I wholeheartedly agree with them for they are at the core of the ID’s qualifications. Many of the experiences/jobs I get is a result of the combination of both my ID and authoring tool skills. These jobs are typically referred to me because a company has hired a web developer to produce a course. So, I’m then asked both to fix a course instructionally (sp?) AND technically. Very frustrating work at times… but it keeps the bills paid!

    So… said and done, I believe having a background in education coupled with curiosity and a love/hate relationship with technology is a perfect marriage for successful ID career. Great post!

  15. Diane Ouellette says

    Great list! I’d add that any ID worth their salt needs to be able to put their ego aside when necessary and accept client feedback openly and non-defensively. It’s good to take ownership of our work but all too often I’ve seen IDs get far too argumentative about issues that sometimes shouldn’t matter. We need to stay true to good instructional design and explain to the client why, for example, it’s important to have well-constructed objectives in a lesson. But it’s also important to know when to give a little. If the client wants to change the phrasing, or omit graphics that don’t work for them, so be it. I guess, in a nut shell, I’m trying to say that we need to nurture good client relationships.

  16. Punam Medh says

    Based on the recent experiences I have had, I would like to elaborate on point which has already been mentioned — communication. All of you have given very valid aspects of communication that IDs need to have. I would like to mention — advocacy as an important competency for all IDs.

    There are times when training sponsors want a ‘quick course’ or ‘a 2-hr course’ etc. We believe that the learning objectives and their levels should decide the duration of the course. Here is where advocacy plays a role. Being able to engage with the sponsor and enable him/her to see the importance of a certain duration of a course in order to achieve certain performance outcomes requires that one is assertive and clear and have the ability to advocate the cause of ID.

    That’s all — thanks.

  17. Connie Malamed says

    Yes, being an advocate for the learner can be a deep motivation for becoming an instructional designer. This is an important competency so thanks for adding it, Punam.

  18. Derek Cunard says

    Great article — As Dean of American Heart Unviersity, I am just getting ready to post a position for Instructional Designer here and found the content useful.

    We have multiple instuctional designers that work closely with me as the Dean but also have to communicate with subject matter experts in our 19 schools of learning. Additionally, there is coordination of projects with two full-time interactive learning multi-media designers. It really takes a special individual that can take content (perhaps a policy, an article or a huge boring powerpoint) and create a fabulous online custom course that is interactive and meets the standards for our very discerning students.

    Not sure about other coporate universities, but our “course design engine” has many moving parts and process including validating content, helping the multi-media designers find images, creating fun online games, writing scripts and selecting voice-over / video talent to actually testing the course in our LMS. Done… nope, I’ll ask you what ideas you have to promote (and sell the concept) of this new course to our students! LOL it’s a blast!

    I personally love this side of the learning business and try to excite my intructional designers to the possibilites — it’s creative, it takes focus and organization to keep the many balls in the air… you got to have tact and political savvy to keep all the stakeholders happy and it takes a passion for adult learning — that will ALWAYS be obvious when the course is completed. Long gone are the days where the job is just sitting and writing a course — it requires juggling hats and this is what makes it fun!

    Can’t wait to find the right person to help us in this role! Thanks for the inspiring article.

  19. Sara M says

    Thanks for the top 10 list, I found it very interesting! I am currently enrolled in a master’s program to earn my degree in Instructional Design. This past week we have learned the importance of understanding how the brain processes information. I was happy to see that it was listed at the number 1 slot on your ranking! In my current job as a corporate trainer for a health care company, we tend to struggle with this issue. The majority of our trainers are subject matter experts without any expertise in teaching or instructional design. Many times our training materials end up being informational power point presentations, rather than interactive learning modules. I struggle with illustrating the importance of learning processes to the SME’s. This week in my class has motivated me to better educate our trainers about this valuable material. I believe that sharing with them the basics of Cognitive learning theories; we could quickly enhance our programs. Learning the importance of encoding, retrieval, and metacognition will help them to better reach their audiences. I also plan to share this blog posting with my colleagues. Thank you again!

  20. Shireese Perez says

    Thank you for including required credentials for an instructional designer. Although you mentioned that earning a degree is not necessary, do you think that certification in instructional design is a helpful and sought after credential?

  21. Connie Malamed says

    Hi Shireese,
    Although credentials are not required, I think it’s a good idea to get them if it can work for your personal situation. I think it will give you an edge in employment and (hopefully) the program will provide the learning theory/cognitive psychology background that can help you better understand learners. I personally think a certificate program is a wise choice, but I have no data to base this on … it just makes sense. In my personal experience, having a masters degree opened up many doors. But so did continuing independent self-study too. I wish you the best whatever you choose.

  22. Angela Mason-Epper says

    I was very interested in this discussion of whether or not instructional designers need a degree.

    I am someone who believes there is a lot of natural talent involved when it comes to being creative, whether it is in instructional design, art, interior design, or another medium. I am, however, a huge advocate for education. For many years, I was the one who was working twice as hard to prove myself because I didn’t have the degree. When looking for new jobs, one of the first checkboxes is your level of education. If you don’t have the degree, you may not even be considered for the job. The author of The Elearning Coach mentions “10 Qualities of the Ideal Instructional Designer”. I think having a degree in instructional design is like a launching pad to most of these skills. While I don’t think everything can be taught, I believe having the education supports all of the ideas the author was describing, including conceptually and intuitively understanding how people learn. I was shocked at the statistic that 60% of instructional designers do not have a degree! Do I think you HAVE to have a degree to be a successful instructional designer? No, I don’t. Personally though, I think it will make me a better one that is more aware of the strategies, tools, etc. that the author discusses.

  23. Leddy says

    I’m still pretty new to blogging but I do like your site’s Top 10 List on being an effective and innovative designer of online courses. I’m only hoping I can obtain all those qualities some day, even though I’ve had sme great teaching experiences. I taught whil on active duty and currently I’m in school for my Master’s in Instructinl Design. I’m still learning whether at work or in school about designing learning requirements but I’m finding a lot of useful knowledge in the blogging world. I don’t want to make the mistake of overloading a class with ‘death by power point’ which happens a lot in presentatons that I attend. I’m still practicing with Captivate and want to master other creative software too.

  24. Andrea says

    I loved the top ten list. I think that it would be important for instructional designers to know each student’s interest and how they learn best. Also, we must understand that all students are not the same. Implementation of an interest inventory or needs asessment would be valuable for instructional designers. Understanding what the learner knows and what areas need to be focused on more gives instructional designers insight into what needs to be taught.

  25. Connie Malamed says

    Hi Andrea,
    I think you’ve raised an important point regarding student interest and learning preferences. Of course, this is hard to do in eLearning. Could possibly start with a survey and then provide suggestions on how to make best use of online learning.

  26. Joni says

    I am writing to ask the “experts” for some advice. I am 53 years old and currently unemployed. I am researching careers and again (as I did 10 years ago) came to Instructional Design. I am resistant to going back to school and wondering how I should approach acquiring the knowledge, skills and experience in this area.

    My background includes:
    1) Engineering and Drafting Technology (early 80’s)
    2) BA Psychology / Philosophy – some Ed. Psych..( 90’s)
    3) Computer Systems Programming – Diploma (2001 graduated but dotcom crashed and couldn’t get job so returned to career in social services
    4) 2011 – ESL Certification and currently teaching ESL to Adults as Volunteer (excellent experience)….

    The vision that emerges when I am daydreaming about my ideal day includes….designing and producing (actually doing the writing and graphics) curriculum for ESL learners both in traditional print form as well as online. I would love to produce and manage an e-learning business.

    I get bored very easily and require variety in tasks…yet on the other hand I am extremely analytical and can sit for hours trying draw a face in adobe photoshop!!! (laughing)..

    So, do I sound like someone who coud transition into this type of a career? I would be willing to get further training on line….not sure whether I should focus on the media graphics end or the theoretical/academic educational psych??? Any suggestions???

  27. Connie Malamed says

    Hi Joni,
    You do sound like a good person for ID because it takes both analytical and creative thinking to do the job. You may get to work on different projects too, but some of the projects could take several months. In terms of which angle to take, I say both. When producing media and graphics for instructional purposes, it’s good to have an understanding of how people learn. Please check out these articles for help in breaking into the field:
    Joining the eLearning Tribe
    Finding Your Place in Instructional Design
    I hope this helps.
    Best of luck,

  28. Joe Kirby says

    I think your top ten list points up the need for some level of education or training for instructional designers.

    To me, the hallmark of an instructional designer is the use of the systems approach to instructional design. The fact the systems approach didn’t make the list – points out the reality that anyone can say they are an instructional designer and yet be totally unfamiliar with the basic methodology of the discipline.

    BTW, I love your blog. As you can tell I am rummaging around reading “past issues”.

  29. Connie Malamed says

    Hi Joe,
    I think you have a good point. True, the article was referencing “qualities” more than knowledge, but it’s good to remind everyone of the systematic approach.

  30. Samantha Davis says

    I have a question. I’m thinking of going into instructional design myself and I am curious to what the salary range is. Anyone know?

  31. Connie Malamed says

    Hi Samantha,
    The eLearning Guild has an annual salary report for careers in eLearning here: http://www.elearningguild.com/research/archives/index.cfm?id=154&action=viewonly, but I believe you have to be a member to download. The average salary in the U.S., according to this report, was $76,000. I’m sure this is for someone with at least a few years of experience and not someone just starting out. In addition, it depends on your part of country or world. I would say that it is a well-compensated field in general, though I’m not sure what starting salaries are like.

    I have a few resources that might interest you.
    1. Instructional Design Programs (a collection of masters programs, both classroom and online and certificate programs): http://theelearningcoach.com/resources/instructional-design-programs/
    2. Breaking into Instructional Design (a free 12-lesson eCourse about the field, job resources, etc.): http://breakingintoid.com

    Best of luck with your decision!

  32. Angela Graham says

    Thank you so much for this Top 10 List. As a new student in Instructional Design, this list gave me insight on exactly what’s necessary to learn while in the program. I believe that you cannot learn enough. There will always be a new technology to learn. After researching training positions in the workforce, I have found that most employers prefer that their instructional designers have degrees with at least two years of experience. My current employer requires their trainers and education managers to have instructional design degrees.

  33. Beth Dannemiller says

    My name is Beth and I just recently started taking masters classes online in Instructional Design and Technology. I recently found your page when researching for different blogs about Instructional Design. First off, I was shocked that anyone could even get a job as an Instructional Designer without having a degree in the field. If you want to work as a Teacher, Doctor, or Engineer you need to obtain a degree, why should being an Instructional Designer be any different. Having a degree means you are certified, knowledgeable, and qualified to carry out the duties of a job, and I think Instructional Designers need to have a degree just like every other occupation. I am a Special Education Teacher, and I have heard teachers say before that teachers could be Instructional Designers, but I have to disagree. Just from taking two masters classes, I have learned a lot about Instructional Design and I would never have been qualified with just having been a teacher. I look at the survey results above from 2009, and I am astonished at how many people are doing something in Instructional Design and do not have a degree, 60%. Now, I understand that was almost three years ago, and I hope the times have changed, but even then, that is a big number of people who are doing a job and they might not really know what they are doing, or they might not have the right characteristics or qualities for the job. I hope in the next few years, everyone is required to have a degree if they are pursuing a job in Instructional Design.

  34. Connie Malamed says

    Hi Beth,
    It’s great to read your opinion on this matter. On the one hand, I totally understand your perspective. On the other hand, I have seen gifted designers who don’t have a degree. My big issue is how will non-degreed designers learn the cognitive psychology and learning theory that is required to do the job. If they really have the discipline to study these subjects on their own, that would help immensely.

  35. Terry says

    It’s good to know that only 38% of ISDs have a graduate degree in the field, since people do ask if a degree in the field is important. The best ISDs I’ve hired have been former trainers or educators with a passion for learning technologies; with one exception, they lacked ISD degrees but they had seat-of-the-pants training in the many ways in which learners learn. The trend in ISD education seems to be an emphasis on packaging and technical skills, which is sad–while we are definitely responsible for knowing the best development technologies and for packaging content effectively (from graphics to animations to navigation to functionality), a crucial part of our role is ensuring that the content is instructionally sound and engaging–and to recognize and avoid the bells and whistles that work against retention and transfer. I was very glad to see writing skills on this list, since these are essential, and ISD programs often de-emphasize these. I’ve actually interviewed candidates who blithely said “I don’t like to write. That’s the SME’s job.” Scary!

  36. Laura says

    This was a great article and proves that a degree is not needed to be a good ID, and when looking for designers, these are the very qualities I look for.

  37. Connie Malamed says

    Hi Laura,
    Thanks for your perspective. Well, qualities aren’t the same as knowledge. But anyway, welcome to the debate on whether a degree is needed. It’s been going on for lots of years :-)

  38. Susan Heckman says

    I agree completely that instructional designers need to understand how people learn. A big part of designing effective courses is the implementation of practice. Much is made today of the “gamification” of our society.

    “Gamification” did not initially sound “positive” to me, but as I thought about it I realized how it does relate to learning and learning theory. Games often require practice in order to improve, and practicing skills and applying new information is a huge part of the learning process. I’ve sat through so many training sessions where information was presented and then we were dismissed. Practicing using the new information toward the designated goal, with or without a “cheat sheet” needs to be addressed. The instructional designer is ultimately hoping to achieve a goal. If the learner doesn’t master the information in such a way as to be able to “use” it, then the goal will not be met. Often I’ve attempted to create “cheat sheets” as I sat in training sessions that included no time to practice the new information or skill in the hopes that when I was on my own later that I would be able to indeed truly use what had been presented to me. Feedback and practice are two areas that are often forgotten amongst the “bells and whistles” of the design world, yet I believe they are two of the most important for a designer to consider.

    However, as Paul reiterates in her article “The Myth of Practice Makes Perfect,” there is more to the notion of simple practice (2012). I’ve also sat in training sessions and been told to implement some type of information or another, and I’ll admit, often I did not take the “practice” to heart; I simply looked busy. Paul quotes discusses Anders Ericsson’s 1993 paper that makes that point that practice by the learner needs to be “deliberate.” In order for practice to be effective, the learner must be invested in overcoming weaknesses and improving. The learner needs to believe that the objectives of the instruction are valuable. This concept speaks to that emotional aspect of the learning process.

    Thank you for your down-to-earth approach.


    Paul, A.M. (2012). The Myth of Practice Makes Perfect. Time. Retrieved from http://ideas.time.com/2012/01/25/the-myth-of-practice-makes-perfect/

  39. Raj says

    Excellent list.
    I particularly liked number 8: “Meld minds with Subject Matter Experts and team members.”

  40. Yolymar Cruz says

    Hello Connie,

    Excellent blog! I am a fan of your blog. You always keep us up to date and give us news about what is going on inside the ID world. I am a current student of Instructional Design and created my first blog about it. I am so thrilled about learning everything I can!. I loved this posting because many reasons. First I know that we as instructional designers need to be obsessive to learn, thankfully I am a forever student and a geek and nerd toward almost everything. I am also a Music and English teacher who loves to create always new things for my students. We as Instructional Designers need to be also learners because we don’t know everything and sometimes the best experiences we have is when we share our knowledge and exchange with others new ideas and creations. We become leaders, teachers and also students at the same time. I have just took on course in ID and I am already thrilled and thinking to the future of my professional career. We must learn, teach and lead but always keeping in mind to be accessible to listen and reflect on the job we do. Our goal is to give knowledge to others by giving them the best experience they could have. And mostly living in a time where we have knowledge at our hands that experience should be greater than years ago.
    If we as ID bring excellence to our learners the experience is greater. I would always think that in our hands is the creativity to new kinds of knowledge, we must construct over what we already know.
    I have found some interesting sites for the ID community:
    1. A journal for ID’ers. http://www.jaidpub.org/

    In this blog we would find excellent resources for ID communities.
    2. http://act.uwstout.edu/~sveume/portfolio/elearningportfolio/5–instructional_design.html

    Good job in your blog. I am looking forward to read more from you.



  41. Brenda says

    Hi Connie.First I want to say I have searched and found many instructional design blogs.Yours is among the most impressive and informative. Here Iam learning some good information. I am a student enrolled in Instructional Design Certificate degree. I have completed an Online Teacher certificate earlier this year. I found that it is essential for an instructor to have input and expertise in designing curriculum. This week my online course discussed the brain and learning. One topic was how important it is to understand learning as an instructor. Well also discussed information processing and problem solving.
    You mention the characteristics of the effective instructional designer I would like to add strong people skills, capable to learn quickly and analyze information ,be proficient with many standard office equipment, be an expert on learning technologies and as you indicate we must possess troubleshooting competencies. I enjoyed you work here this has been a learning experience and I expect it to continue.People will learn depending on what they are taught and how they are taught. Your methods of teaching are designed to achieve the learning objective. I will enjoy being your student.Thank you for the invitation and resources.

  42. Leslie says

    @Jessica, I know this message is going to be received rather untimely,
    but I would highly suggest updating your technical skills using Lynda.com They are the go to resource for multimedia education.

    Wish you the best of luck!

  43. Monique says

    Great article.
    In reviewing your list on what a successful instructional designer should be I was trying to pick out one or two that are more important than the rest, and I couldn’t. In a traditional teaching setting you can have the luxury of being a content area specialist and how to impart that content, but as an instructional designer, I have found that wearing multiple hats and learning every step of the process is key. Understanding the learner, the delivery, the connection between the content and the media choices or interactives, along with understanding the platform as a developer and a user. Continuity of design, branding, and creating a vehicle for easily accessible help when you are not online to assist is also paramount.
    Again, great article.

  44. Mark Bear says

    Great article. While I realize I am awfully late to the party, I need to ask a question and hope anyone here can assist: I have just been granted acceptance into a Learning Technologies program, and need to determine a specialization.

    Can anyone here articulate for me, in concrete terms the key differences between an instructional designer and developer? How disparate, if any, are these two careers? Is it safer to obtain a development specialization, or are the two fields really not that discrete? Finally, is there are large salary difference between the two? Thanks in advance!

  45. Sabah Ahmad says

    I would like to know “can instructional designers become project managers?’ if so what are the responsibilities, the pay, and how long will a person take to get there or the highest position possible?


  46. Connie Malamed says

    Hi Sabah,
    Many instructional designers move into project management positions as a result of their experience in the field and/or through education. Sometimes one person plays the role of the PM and also the lead instructional designer. See the eLearning Guild salary report for salary data. Also, see these articles about PM for our field:
    1. Finding Your Place in Instructional Design: Possibility #7 is Project Manager
    2. How to Avoid Project Failure: Discusses PM issues

  47. Sabah Ahmad says

    Thank you for your response earlier, I also wanted to know, I do not exactly know what it is that I want to do with ID but I do know that I want to deal with higher end of the ladder. I am looking in to internships so that I can start somewhere and start my career experience since I only have experience in retail for the past 5 to 6 years. Can I use that somehow to my benefit? I am a full time student since I graduated from high school and then graduated with my bachelors in Biology, also have an associates in Biology, and working on my masters in Global e-Learning or in other words… Instructional Design. Thanks again for your advice!


  48. Connie Malamed says

    There are lots of opportunities in instructional design for people with biological knowledge (if this still interests you). I’d consider getting involved in the medical education industry (there is a lot of continuing ed for doctors and nurses); the pharmaceutical industry; higher education in the sciences (helping faculty create educational media); or training for lab specialists. I have worked in most of those industries myself, without any science background (although I love the sciences). I’m sure having the background will make you stand out!


  49. Monica Goddard says

    I always enjoy your blog posts and have it linked in my resource section on my eportfolio. I am also receiving your mods on Becoming an Instructional Designer. I have to agree that knowing and what motivates a learner is much more important than knowing how to use an authoring tool. Many employers (especially in education) get caught up in the bells and whistles and forget that every learner is different and has different motivations for learning. So having the coolest technology will not necessarily guarantee learning.

    Right now I am a frustrated job seeker. I’m not alone in this, a friend recently interviewed for an ID position and was told that she was competing with people with Masters and 10yrs of ID experience. As she said, they want you to wear many hats, but pay you peanuts.

    I have a Masters in Instructional Technology/Online Instruction and I am pursuing a graduate certificate in Elearning/Online Teaching, so I have the education. Couple that with 14 years of teaching in K-12 (I do resource), talk about being flexible and thinking on the fly. I have also worked as an adjunct professor. As I look at job descriptions, many want 3-5 yrs of experience and multiple authoring tool experience. This does get discouraging. I am a member of ASTD and I continue to look for opportunities to practice ID in nonpaid positions in the hope that this networking will catch a hiring manager’s attention and to build my brand.

    I look forward to future blog topics.

  50. Connie Malamed says

    Hi Monica,
    I am very sorry to hear you are a frustrated job seeker. I wonder if you can expand your search nationally and look for contract work until you find that full-time position. Please get involved with the largest of the LinkedIn industry groups if you haven’t already. And I’m hoping that someone who is reading this might have something for you.
    Best of luck to you,

  51. Stephen Sunguro says

    Great Article! A very good list of qualities of an Instructional Designer, however, in my opinion besides acquiring degrees in ID it is more of experience that matters. While degrees are relevant and important in getting someone to get a job, that does not necessarily make him/her a good instructional designer.

  52. Gayle Morris says

    I’m so glad I came across this blog! I’m just beginning my endeavors in the instructional design world, so any reading I can do on the subject is helpful. The first thing I’d like to address is the issue of whether or not designers should have degrees. Where I work, you cannot become a senior-level designer without a master’s degree in the field. With that being said, you do not have to have a degree in the subject to become a junior-level designer. The requirements state that you must have a certain number of relevant credits, but a degree is not necessary. There is a lot of on-the-job training done in my office, and I’ve noticed that the managers seems to think that if you are a quick learner and have the capabilities necessary, you can become a designer.

    While I agree with the items on your top-ten list, I’d like to add a more vague quality that I believe is necessary: a designer must be a people person. I’ve come across many designers who have their own agenda and are more worried about their own opinions. They don’t get along with the SMEs or the other designers on their team. I have actually watched a designer be thrown under the bus by a manager simply because the manager disagreed with his choice of creating a scenario-based module. Everything else on the list is well stated, and I’m happy to say that many people I work with exude these qualities.

  53. Sarah says

    I’m seriously considering going back to school to get my Master’s in Instructional Design and Technology. I’ve heard so many good things about it and it sounds exciting. I have been teaching elementary school for 14 years. I do enjoy learning and try to incorporate as much technology as a I can into my classroom. However, I am a little concerned that I may not really be ready to go into this field, because I am not tech savvy? It seems almost overwhelming with the choices of what I could do with this degree, but not sure what to look at or where to go first in deciding if this is really for me or not? I do not know any ID myself to talk with them about their jobs. I only know what I have read (which is very little) about them and their job descriptions.

    Any advice from those that have experience in this field on where I should begin?


  54. Connie Malamed says

    Hi Sarah,
    I don’t think you are in an uncommon situation. Many instructional designers come from a teaching background. If you go to school, learning the technologies should be part of the program and it will ease you into it. I suggest you read “The Accidental Instructional Designer” by Cammy Bean to dip your toes into the water. Then read “Design for How People Learn” by Julie Dirksen. Also, you may enjoy listening to my podcast interviews to start learning about issues and trends in the field. Finally, you may want to sign up for my free course about the career: Breaking Into Instructional Design. (Also, if you haven’t seen this yet, I have a list of ID programs you can check out.
    Best wishes on your journey. And stay in touch.

  55. Vsmans says

    Any suggestions for schools offering online classes/degrees in Instructional Design & Instructional Technology?

  56. Graphic Designer says

    Instructional designers are great with instruction and content, but they need to work with graphic designers. The problem is too many of of them think they are graphic artist. I have never ever seen an ID design something that looked good and that is because you have a different brain and you don’t have the years of training in the graphic design field.

  57. Connie Malamed says

    Hi GD,
    I agree that IDers need some graphic design training and that working with a graphic designer is ideal. But there are many instances where designers are working on a one-person team or their company can’t afford a graphic designer. That’s why I wrote Visual Design Solutions. I have definitely seen some good work by IDers, but usually it’s because they have some background in GD or are self-taught. I appreciate your comment.

  58. Michael Davis says

    I liked number 8 on your list of instructional designer essentials. I had a very difficult experience initially with some union SME’s who were paid on Per Diem i.e. by the number of items they produced. It made it difficult for me to garner time with them because that meant losing money. One tact that helped was lunch, I would buy pizza and in exchange for a free lunch I would get useful information in the time while they were not being paid.

  59. Connie Malamed says

    That’s really interesting, Michael. I’ve never heard of that issue. Good to know of the Pizza Strategy. Some of us might need that some day. Thanks for sharing.


  1. […] I was researching online and I found an interesting article about the 10 qualities of an Instructional Designer. It is from the ELearning Coach and was written by Connie Malamed. According to the author, the list is focusing on designing eLearning. The full article can be found at http://theelearningcoach.com/elearning_design/10-qualities-of-the-ideal-instructional-designer/#resp… […]

  2. […] Malamed, “The eLearning Coach,” says that a good instructional designer must be able to imagine him or herself as the the learner or the audie…. Just as an instructional designer thinks of the way in which each choice made in the design phase […]

  3. […] 10 Qualities of the Ideal Instructional Designer: The eLearning CoachI notice your list did not contain expertise in Flash and other software tools. So many of the job postings I see for “Instructional Designers” these days want an MS … […]

  4. […] ideal qualities of an Instructional Designer. For example, Connie Malamed’s article titled, 10 Qualities of the Ideal Instructional Designer is an excellent place to start. As an Instructional Designer, I think it also important to […]

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