I’m no career counselor, but I do get many emails from people who are considering a career in instructional design.
I realized it might be helpful to share these with those of you who have similar questions.
I often qualify my responses with the fact that I offer only one opinion and to be sure to ask others. If you’re an experienced designer, please share how you would respond to any of these questions in the Comments below. Now, here are common questions I receive and a composite of the answers I’ve given.
I’m an experienced teacher but would like to transition into a career in instructional design. Do you think I can find a job?
Although there is some overlap, I’d say that a career in the design of learning experiences is quite different from one as a classroom teacher. Unless you are seeking a job as a trainer, a typical career in instructional design focuses on designing materials, support and experiences to guide learning rather than interacting directly with learners. Ideally, learning designers do interact with sample members of the audience during design and development, but it is to a much lesser extent. So first, think about whether you would find this type of work fulfilling.
Although your background is a good start—because you have spent much time thinking about how people learn—I would look into professional short courses or university certificate programs that provide a foundation in cognitive psychology, learning theory and instructional design (analysis, design and evaluation). See my list of Instructional Design Programs. Scroll down for the certificate programs. Also, I have courses relevant to instructional design newbies if you’d like to check that out. Many members are in academic programs and find my courses to be complementary. See Mastering Instructional Design.
I would also recommend getting familiar with multimedia design (rudimentary sketching, prototyping, storyboarding and scripting) and production tools. Depending on what you are seeking, jobs for workplace training may require familiarity or competence in this area. Finally, stay current with the latest trends in social media and newer technologies. In some ways, our field is changing quickly.
I have a Masters degree in Communication. Should I go back to school and get a second Masters in Instructional Design?
Similar to communication, a big part of instructional design involves knowing how to get a message across in visual and written or spoken language. In workplace learning, however, we are also concerned with how people retain information and skills and transfer them to new situations.
Depending on your background, you may already possess many of the skills needed, but you will need to understand the psychology and theories of how people learn. When someone has a Masters degree in a field that overlaps with instructional design, I suggest looking into professional or university level certificate programs for learning this. Of course, going back to graduate school is a personal decision based on your financial situation and available time. You may find relevant information to help you make your decision in the yearly salary survey from the eLearning Guild (available to those with a free membership).
If you would like more information on starting a career in instructional design, you can sign up for my free 12-lesson course on this topic: Breaking into Instructional Design.
How can I get my first job in instructional design? All the listings ask for 3 years of experience.
It must be very frustrating to finish school and then find it difficult to get a job. I recommend two strategies for these situations: create a portfolio and increase the time you spend networking. A portfolio will demonstrate how your skills will benefit the organization where you are interviewing. Use the work you did in graduate school. Offer to create a training program on a volunteer basis for for a local nonprofit. Or create short lessons on noncontroversial topics that are relevant to workplace learning, such as team work, technical security tips or writing business emails. See the links in the next answer for articles about portfolios.
If your finished products do not look professional, you can show design plans, prototypes and storyboards. Make sure you go beyond conventional page turners (if developing eLearning) to create something innovative, such as a plan to provide spaced learning, meaningful and interactive scenarios or performance support resources.
As to networking, there’s nothing like meeting with other professionals in person, through chapters of the ASTD or other groups. If there isn’t one in your area, perhaps you can start a Meetup. Network online by joining one of the larger LinkedIn groups for instructional designers and stay active. Create a personal learning network through social media (you can connect with me on Twitter via @elearningcoach). Also, listen to this interview with Joe Fournier for advice on getting a job in instructional design.
I went for an interview for an instructional design position, because I’ve been developing training for years. The company wants a portfolio. What does that mean?
Similar to an artist’s portfolio, the hiring company wants to see examples of what you’ve done in the field. Pull together the best of your training plans, design documents, storyboards, manuals, and anything you have that shows how you shine.
Here are four relevant articles or series about portfolios. Some of these are several years old, so please take that into consideration and find updated information as you need it.
- Building Your eLearning Portfolio by Mike Taylor
- Why You Need an eLearning Portfolio by Tom Kuhlmann
- Instructional Design Portfolio Resources by Christy Tucker
- About Portfolios by Leigh Anne Lankford
- How to Develop an Instructional Design ePortfolio by April Hayman
What instructional design program graduate program do you recommend?
There is no way for me to know which programs are best, so I suggest you look through my list of graduate and certificate programs, both online and on-site. For any program, check that the full curriculum seems up-to-date and includes a foundation in cognitive psychology or learning theory as well as practical skills. Once you find several programs that may suit you, consider joining one of the larger LinkedIn groups for our field and asking others if they would recommend the programs you are considering. Most people in this field are awesome and will recommend their favorites too!
I’m looking into getting a certificate in Adult Education. Is that the best route for a career in instructional design? And what about those short professional courses?
Perhaps you should look into a program that is completely geared toward instructional design. There are many certificate programs. See my list of programs and scroll down for the certificate ones. I’m sorry that the list is US-based, but many programs are virtual anyway. I think the short professional courses are effective if you have some type of experience or background knowledge in the field already. This is just my opinion. Compare the offerings closely and consider your regional job market and your skill set.
I’m a student and would like to know if there is an online platform for instructional designers to use for showing portfolios? I’m using free authoring tools.
Some less expensive sites where people are hosting portfolios include WordPress (their hosting or your own), Square Space, Padlet; Wix, Weebly and I’m sure there are many others. Then place your eLearning and other files on a storage platform and link to them. Storage platforms include Amazon S3, Scorm.com or Google Drive. For anyone using Articulate 360, here’s a forum thread on how to set up Amazon S3. Also, if you use WordPress and want to upload directly to your site, use the eLearning Freak plug-in for SCORM files.
If you want to find out more about a career in instructional design, download my quick read eBook below.