Whether you choose to follow a career in Instructional Design or just happen to fall into it, there’s no reason to be a square peg in a round hole. You’ll discover there are numerous paths you can follow in this field.
The roles and responsibilities can be so diverse and varied, that you might not even recognize there’s an instructional designer behind the curtain. Here are ten of the many twists, turns and directions you might want to consider. Help us out by adding more in the Comments section.
1. Designing for different learning experiences
Some instructional designers specialize in designing for one particular type of media or learning format and others are comfortable designing for all types. One might get involved in designing for online training (synchronous or asynchronous); educational games; video; television; instructor-led training (print and PowerPoint); self-paced guides; electronic performance support systems; audio only (podcasts and CDs); and social media, including wikis, blogging and micro-blogging.
2. Corporate, nonprofit, academic or government
The workplace mission and purpose can make a big difference in the type of work an instructional designer performs. For example, a corporate environment might be geared toward developing custom work for clients, whereas designing in an academic or educational environment often involves training and working with faculty and teachers. Government work might involve managing vendors who create the courses. And nonprofit work, such as that for an association, might involve designing and delivering classroom training to member sites around the country. Bottom line: there’s lots of choice and variety.
3. Internal, client-based, or commercial products
Many organizations hire instructional designers to create internal training for their own employees. Others create custom content for external clients or develop education and training products for the marketplace. The pressures, deadlines and focus of each of these approaches will affect the intensity of the workplace environment.
4. Content specialist
Instructional designers are typically content neutral, but some concentrate in one field. This usually occurs when they start out as Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) and transition into Instructional Design or when a designer works solely in one content area for years. If you have a special area of interest or knowledge, this path might be for you.
5. Authoring specialist
Although most instructional designers focus on the design aspect, quite a few migrate partially or wholly into the technical development side. This usually involves gaining competence in several authoring tools that produce eLearning and perhaps learning website development.
6. Media specialist
In smaller organizations and academic centers, instructional designers wear many hats, which might include audio and video production and editing, as well as graphic production. Some fall in love with this side of the industry and become specialists in this area, using their instructional design know-how to ensure their productions are instructionally sound.
7. Project management
All design and development projects require management or supervision and some instructional designers are naturally good at creating and following through on project plans. Those interested in this path should get supplemental training, as project management often requires exceptional people skills, financial savvy and knowledge of PM applications.
8. Curriculum design
Through instructional design one can take a big picture view and help school systems, higher education and organizations develop curriculum for online and instructor-led courses. The curriculum designer analyzes the standards, goals and purpose of a curriculum and devises high-level learning strategies to meet these goals. Curriculum designers might also be involved in selecting textbooks, defining certification requirements and creating assessments.
9. Managing an LMS
Some organizations and institutions are so large, they require a full-time person to manage their Learning Management System (LMS). Technically-minded instructional designers are capable of taking on this position. Large LMS products can be complex and require special training from the vendor to make full use of the program’s capabilities. The LMS manager ensures the system is running smoothly, trains others in its use, creates standards for the many detailed issues that arise and troubleshoots technical problems.
10. Community Manager
As social media for informal learning becomes increasingly accepted by organizations, there will be a need for online community managers. These individuals need to understand the cognitive benefits of learning through groups that share common interests. The community manager oversees online relationship building, content creation and the use of social media tools, like forums and microblogs for learning. See the book, 18 Rules of Community Engagement, for more on this topic. Also see my interview with a community manager.
There’s no reason to be a square peg forced into a round hole. You can find the space that’s right for you. For more about a career in Instructional Design, you can sign up for my free 12-lesson course: Breaking into Instructional Design.