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How to become an instructional designer

Step into the world of instructional design. Discover the pathways, essential skills, and steps to launch your career in this dynamic field.

2 min. read • Sera Özkıvanç

The field of instructional design is booming, reflecting the growing importance of e-learning in today’s digital age. Behind every effective online course, there’s often an instructional designer working behind the scenes to create engaging learning experiences. If you’re passionate about education and technology, here’s how you can embark on this rewarding career path.

An instructional designer’s roles and skills

At its core, instructional design combines the science of learning with the art of content creation. This role demands a mix of creativity, multimedia proficiency, project management, collaboration, and a commitment to lifelong learning. Mastery in instructional theories and models is essential for designing effective courses that resonate with learners.

Becoming an instructional designer

There are several routes into the field of instructional design. Some enter directly after completing formal education in the field, armed with degrees that have honed their understanding of eLearning principles. Others transition from related careers, such as teaching or corporate training, bringing valuable experience but facing a learning curve in adapting to the digital format. Regardless of the starting point, gaining practical experience and building a portfolio of work are essential steps. This could involve volunteering to design training materials, networking to land small projects, or creating sample e-learning modules to showcase your abilities. 

Launching your instructional design career

Learning instructional design principles

First, you’ll need to gain deep understanding of instructional design principles. This lays the foundation for creating impactful learning experiences. You must learn about and explore different instructional models and theories. ADDIE, Bloom’s Taxonomy, and the SAM model are a good place to start. 

Learning visual design basics

We cannot overstate how important visual design is. A well-designed course doesn’t just look pretty. It captures and retains learners’ attention, and promotes easier comprehension of complex information. 

Gaining experience

Dive into real projects, even if it means starting with volunteer work or small freelance gigs. This hands-on experience will give you valuable knowledge on the nuances of project management, learner engagement, and the iterative process of design and feedback.

Building your portfolio

Your portfolio is a powerful tool. Think of it as a story of your growth and versatility as an instructional designer. Include a variety of projects that demonstrate your ability to design engaging and effective learning experiences. A diverse portfolio includes e-learning samples, storyboards, interactive quizzes, and other design projects. This will show your ability to create compelling learning experiences across different formats and platforms. 

Explore instructional design in e-learning: models, principles, and benefits
Read our guide

Navigating the job market

The demand for instructional designers is high. You’ll come across jobs in corporate, higher education, government, and nonprofits, to name a few. Your sector can greatly impact your day-to-day: you could create compliance training for corporations or online courses for universities. (Very different things.) Whether you prefer a full-time position or freelance work, a well-built portfolio will do wonders for your job search.

The changing role of the instructional designer

The role of the instructional designer is evolving. No longer just content creators, today’s instructional designers wear many hats—they’re coaches, managers, quality assurance specialists, and collaborators. They work closely with subject matter experts, guiding them in creating effective learning materials. They ensure the didactic quality of courses to enhance the learning experience. This marks a shift from being creators to being facilitators of learning. In our view, this only heightens significance of instructional design in the future of learning.

About the author

Sera Özkıvanç is the content manager at Easygenerator. Over the last four years, she’s written marketing content for various SaaS brands around the world. These days, she’s doing her best to embrace the rainy weather in Rotterdam.

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