Finding Your Place In Instructional Design

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.

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Comments

  1. Adam says

    Very interesting!

    There’s also the age for which you’re designing: K-12, undergraduate, graduate, corporate training, and others. Also, experience level of the students: mainstream education, special education, remedial/credit recovery, supplementary training, and more. I think these audience characteristics change the nature of what you’re creating quite a bit.

  2. Rachel says

    Thank you for this overview, Connie! Having fallen into this field recently, I’ve found your list interesting and useful in getting a wider vision of what I’m actually doing or trying to figure out how to do! :-)

  3. Mark Burke - Accurate Assessments says

    If you are talking about career paths, I think that #1 is one of the biggest decisions to consider. Your medium choice will really affect where you go, the type of clients you engage with, and what services you offer to others. As for the others, including Adam’s posting and good catch, these are all important aspects of ID to think of.

    Thanks, Connie.
    -Mark

  4. Gina Evans says

    Great overview of career possibilities, Connie. It’s good to be reminded that this is a broad field and we have choices.

  5. Lisa says

    This is a really helpful post Connie. Like so many people at the moment (it seems) I have fallen into ID via another career path. Trying to get up to speed quickly through reading blogs and other resources totally stressed me out! Depending on which site you read, ID can be technical, academic, creative or managerial – sometimes all at once!

    It’s certainly clear to me that ID is still very much a field that is seeking to define itself. I personally love the combination of creativity and analysis, and I think it’s the most exciting field out there at the moment. However, it is nice to know that I don’t need to sign up to 3 different degrees just to get started!

    Thanks again.

  6. Connie Malamed says

    Great perspective, Lisa. You’re right–the field can be all those things and you don’t need a degree or lots of experience in every single one of them. So glad to clarify this!

    Connie

  7. Sheraill says

    Thank you, this is great information for those following the path of an Instructional Designer. This is an excellent field for those who love education and design. I discovered my passion for this field a year ago, and am trying to absorb as much information as possible. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Gina says

    I am about to graduate with an ISD Masters Degree and am still not sure how to get where, I think, I want to be. I know that I do not love designing on-line classes. I am much more of an extrovert and can not sit in front of a computer all day long. I enjoy analysis type work (especially HPT type), I love designing soft skill stand-up trainings however, I am not sure how to break into that field. I have an undergrad degree in Criminal Justice and would love to teach in that arena. I have been a stay at home Mom longer than any other ‘career’ so I guess you could say I am a career changer of sorts. I have really enjoyed the applied ISD program I have been a part of and am looking forward to actually building a career with these skills.

    I appreciate the article on how it showcases all of the areas that an ISD can go in. I am a little older and would love to work in a venue that I really enjoy. I would rather not jump from place to place. I am very open for suggestions on where to go from here.

  9. Connie Malamed says

    Hi Gina,
    I think there are many organizations that would be thrilled to have an IDer who can write and give stand-up training. That’s a fairly standard job and if you are living in an area that is not too depressed, I’m pretty sure you can find work in that area. I didn’t mention it in this article, because I’m more focused on eLearning. Some places to look for those types of jobs are the ASTD job board, the eLearning Guild’s job board, and searches in all of the online job boards, like INDEED and Craigslist for “trainer” and “instructional designer” and set up alerts in INDEED. Having your ISD degree will be a wonderful bonus for any employer. If anyone has other suggestions for Gina, please chime in.

    Best of luck,
    Connie

  10. Gina says

    Connie,

    Thank you for the advice. I know a few of those places you mentioned. I am looking forward to looking at the ones I did not know about that you pointed out.

    I know in my heart I will land where I am supposed to be. Age has taught me that stressing about ‘whatever’ does not change a thing. :)

    I look forward to keeping up with your site.

    Have a super day!

    Gina

  11. Esoul57 says

    Thanks Connie for your very extensive list of all things ID. I fond your article offered a very good look at all the possibilities for an ID/e-Educator. To other students of ID like myself, I would add Older Adults as a target group to design for and about specifically. I offer simple computer classes in a synchronous virtual classroom. I also provide remote one-on-one training. I geared my courses toward those with very limited computer skills, as well as persons who are computer-phobic. If a student can at least open email then they can engage in, and benefit from my courses. I find that most of the students especially suited for my classes are Older Adults.
    Older adults are the fastest growing segment of the population in the United States and Europe. By the year 2000, the World Bank estimates that 20% of the population in countries with market economies will be over 60 years of age. It is known that as people age, their cognitive, perceptual, and motor abilities decline, with negative effects on their ability to perform many tasks [5]. Computers can play an increasingly important role in helping older adults function well in society. Despite this, little research has focused on computer use of older adults. Worden, Aileen Worden, Neff Walker Walker, Krishna Bharat Bharat, and Scott Hudson Hudson. “CHI 97: Making Computers Easier for Older Adults to Use: Area Cursors and Sticky Icons.” Welcome — SIGCHI. Web. 14 Nov. 2010. .
    I find my students are most likely to be within the demographic 55-85 a growing population that has interest and resources to develop basic computer skills. In particular, the high use of computers in our survey indicates that it is worth-while considering older people in design. Goodman, J., Syme, A., & Eisma, R. (n.d.). OLDER ADULTS’ USE OF COMPUTERS: A SURVEY.

  12. ID Dean says

    Thank you, Connie, for a very interesting article. I actually feel into my current position as an instructional designer simply because I know Adobe Flash. With an Art Degree and a background in design, the transition to the educational field has been quite an experience. With over four years of experience in instructional design, I recently decided to return for my M.S. in Instructional Design & Technology. Your article has been eye-opening to the possibilities that are available to ID professionals. I have linked your site to my blog that I have set up for class and look forward to continuing to scour through the wealth of information that you provide.

    Thanks again!

  13. Lorisa Taylor says

    I am currently a corporate training specialist and my sole responsibility is to facilitate material created by our ID team to Associates within the organization. I entered the field of training as a SME. Now that I’m in the field my desire is take my skills incorporate it into online learning environment. I enjoyed this post because it gave me ideas of other areas I may seek employment once I complete my degree plan and my skill set as designer is sufficient. At this point, new in the area of ID, my dream is to work within the public school district and assist in developing material for children that need additional help in math or reading. Since our classrooms are max at 30+ students and one teacher, I feel those that are struggling in math and reading may not get enough time to meet district and state standards to move to the next level. My only challenge of finding employment in this field; Instructional Designers in public school are required to be a teacher prior to a curriculum designer. If this site is still monitored, can you recommend some ways I can get my foot in the door without being a teacher first?

  14. Connie Malamed says

    Thanks for your comment Lorisa. I’m sorry that I don’t know much about getting into a public school system. I think I’d start out with informational interviews with a few key people. It’s possible that the curriculum development office will use instructional designers. Best wishes for fulfilling your dreams. I’m sure you will, even if they end up different than you originally envisioned.
    Connie

  15. Sandra A. Gonzalez, SPHR says

    Hi Connie!

    Thanks for your post. It was very informative.

    I am currently working towards my MS – Instructional Design & Technology with a concentration in Online Learning. I have been an HR practitioner for 30+ years and am now seeking to “transition” into this area. Your post certainly gave me much food for thought. I did not realize that there were so many potential “niches” available for someone such as myself.

    As an HR generalist, I have always favored the training and development/corporate education area. I look forward to exploring the new ID methods and technologies and joining the ranks of ID professionals.

    It’s great to know that you are making information such as this available through your website/blog.

    Thank you.
    Sandra G.

  16. Anandadeep Sen says

    Hi all, I am a graphic design instructor and currently doing BFA(Bachelor in Fine Arts) through Distance Education.I’m planning to do a course on ID(Instructional Designing).Does my previous designing experience and BFA is gonna help building up a successful career in ID ?

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  1. [...] drop by to read about my struggles and triumphs as a novice online instructor who aspires to be an instructional designer.  Leave a comment.  Feel free to share about your own processes of learning  …  because [...]

  2. […] 2).  The second blog is “The eLearning Coach” by Connie Malamed.  In her blog she looks at the many different technology learning opportunities within different organizations and how they should be designed and developed for the clients.  She shows many different job opportunities for Instructional Designers and also offers a free 12 week course that is called “Breaking into Instructional Design”.  http://theelearningcoach.com/elearning_design/find-your-place-in-instructional-design/ […]

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