People employed as instructional designers come from wildly varied educational backgrounds. I’ve met writers, teachers, media specialists, psychologists, programmers and all types of subject matter experts who somehow have ended up in an instructional design career.
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If you’re interested in learning more about a career in instructional design, check out my free course at Breaking into Instructional Design. You’ll get two lessons a week via email that explain what instructional designers do, whether you need a degree, the best places to network and find jobs and instructional design books to read.
Do Instructional Designers Need a Degree?
There is an ongoing debate as to whether one needs a degree to be most effective in this field. Having a solid foundation in learning theory helps instructional designers create solutions based on proven learning strategies. On the other hand, learning designers with degrees may create poor learning products.
Perhaps what is most important is that the instructional designer is a self-directed learner. If the designer is motivated to study, they will share, collaborate and discuss subjects related to learning theory and design.
Anyone in this field can gain from studying subjects like cognitive psychology, design thinking, user experience, visual communication, user interface design, mobile design, video production and writing.
Anyone can take advantage of relevant tutorials, podcasts, conferences, associations and certification programs. As professionals in a learning field, we need to be resourceful in how we fill in our knowledge gaps and continue to grow.
Top Ten List
So, what does it take to be an effective and innovative learning designer? Having been in the field over 20 years, I have managed, mentored, learned from, and observed the skills of many instructional designers. These are the top ten qualities, knowledge and skills I think the ideal instructional designer should possess or develop. This list focuses on instructional design for eLearning.
The successful instructional designer should:
- Study learning theory to understand how people learn.
- Know how to connect with an audience on an emotional level.
- Be capable of imagining oneself as the learner/audience member.
- Love to learn because you’ll be working with many different subjects.
- Brainstorm creative treatments and innovative instructional strategies.
- Visualize instructional graphics, the user interface, interactions and the finished product.
- Write effective copy, instructional text, stories, audio scripts and video scripts.
- Meld minds with Subject Matter Experts and team members.
- Know the capabilities of eLearning development tools and software.
- Understand related fields—usability and experience design, information design, communication and new technologies.
What qualities would you add to this list? Comment below.
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