How To Become an Instructional Designer (with FAQs)

Updated 28 April 2023

Instructional designers play a vital role in the development of new materials for educational purposes. The role can involve working in a wide array of industries and settings, with room to create materials anywhere where there is something to be taught. Learning about what an instructional designer is and how to become one is the first step on your path to what can be a lucrative career. In this article, we explain how to become an instructional designer and answer some of the most frequently asked questions.

Related: How To Become a Teacher in the UK

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How to become an instructional designer

With so many different types of materials to be made, there is no one answer to how to become an instructional designer. There are a number of general steps that can help to launch your career, though. Instructional designers play an important role in the development of education and training materials, curricula and processes. If you want to become an instructional designer, consider the steps below:

1. Research the role

The first step to starting any career is to familiarise yourself with the role you have an interest in. Conduct some research to understand the requirements for becoming an instructional designer in the field you wish to specialise in and decide if you're willing to proceed. You can also learn more about the responsibilities of the role and see if it matches your skills and passions.

2. Get a relevant bachelor's degree

A bachelor's degree is a common requirement to become an instructional designer. As someone who's going to be designing educational tools, curricula and programmes, it's beneficial for you to have gone through higher education. Some degrees set you up for becoming an instructional designer better than others. These include dedicated degrees in instructional design, education technology degrees, learning design and e-learning or even psychology.

It's also important to remember that completing your bachelor's degree is likely only one part of your education. Many instructional designers go on to complete master's degrees and other qualifications, and they're constantly learning and upgrading their skill set. The more you familiarise yourself with educational schemes, the more effectively you can teach others.

Related: Types of Degrees and How They Can Influence Your Career

3. Get a master's degree

Although not always a requirement, a master's degree is attractive to most potential employers. You can choose to complete it sometime after your undergraduate degree, especially if you want some work experience first, but the sooner you get a master's, the sooner you can apply for the best roles. This gets a common but important requirement off your list and allows you to focus on developing your skill set. It's usually a good idea to find a master of education degree in learning, instructional design or similar.

To be eligible for a master's degree, you're usually required to have a bachelor's degree in a related subject with a good grade. This is often second-class honours or higher. For both your bachelor's and master's degrees, you may be able to complete them part-time while working, depending on your needs and financial situation.

4. Develop your skill set

A career in instructional design involves continuous learning. New methodologies and technologies are in development all the time, and a good instructional designer ensures that they're aware of any new trends or techniques which might allow them to do a better job. You can also consider further education opportunities, such as specialised training programmes or even a PhD. Some courses can take weeks, whereas others may take several months. Many of them specialise in specific aspects of instructional design, such as gamification or e-learning.

You may also learn how to use specialised software packages and similar tools for the development, assessment and improvement of instructional designs. Periodically research what the most useful tools are and find ways of learning how to use them, either through self-teaching or dedicated courses. One of the most important ways of developing yourself is through instructional design work, which becomes much easier to find after a master's degree.

5. Create and maintain your portfolio

As with many creative and design-related professions, a good portfolio can be a great way of showcasing your skills and acts as proof of your abilities. Accompany this with your CV and regularly update and improve both as you gain experience and expand your portfolio. Use your portfolio to show off successful past projects, your technical skills, problem-solving abilities and technological aptitude. Remember that interviewers often base their questions on what they've seen in your portfolio and on your CV.

Essential skills for an instructional designer

Instructional designers benefit from many interrelated skills and abilities. Some of these are technical proficiencies, and some are valuable soft skills. Below is a list of some of the more important skills to develop:

  • Creativity**:** One of an instructional designer's most vital soft skills is creativity, as you are constantly seeking new ways of developing good educational content and techniques.

  • Communication**:** Since the role involves communicating learning materials and curricula to students and other learners, you benefit from having great personal communication skills. This helps you to ascertain what terminology and steps are best to convey information to a novice.

  • Research**:** Instructional designers are constantly learning as they seek to develop and upgrade their own skills. If you possess good research skills, this allows you to find the best new resources and practices to learn about and implement.

  • Software usage**:** Many instructional designers use software packages to help them get their work done and stay organised. Research which applications are the most useful and find ways of acquainting yourself with them, either through free online resources or dedicated courses.

  • Time management**:** Instructional design work is often project-based, which means that you're going to find it much easier if you have good time management skills. This is particularly important when you come to work on multiple projects at once.

Related: 10 Valuable Soft Skills That You Need to Succeed in Your Career

Instructional designer FAQs

Below are some frequently asked questions relating to the role of an instructional designer:

How much does an instructional designer earn?

The national average salary for an instructional designer is £26,765, and the national average salary for a senior instructional designer is £46,605 per year. This is going to depend largely on how much experience you have, your qualifications and your portfolio. Your location can also be important in determining your salary expectations.

What does an instructional designer do?

The primary responsibility of an instructional designer is the development of learning resources. This can include instructional materials, entire curricula, course design, participation guides, presentation materials and training programmes. You also conduct evaluations of specific training or learning programmes to find ways of improving them. Instructional design is a highly analytical profession that requires a lot of critical thinking, research and creativity. You're also going to become familiar with educational models and theories that can help you develop effective solutions.

Instructional designers work to develop specific materials and courses for online, remote and mobile learning. This often requires intimate familiarity with educational technologies and their uses and limitations. They often work closely with experts and professionals in similar capacities, such as teachers, instructors and even learners. You also consult with subject matter experts to ensure courses impart valid and valuable information.

Related: How To Become an Educational Psychologist: Steps and Definitions

Who does an instructional designer work for?

Some instructional designers focus on traditional educational environments, like schools, colleges and universities. You might also work on training programmes for private companies. There are instructional designers who develop solutions for governmental and military needs.

Do all instructional designers have postgraduate degrees?

No, there are some instructional designers who work solely based on a bachelor's degree. They often complement this with additional courses that help to develop certain skills. Although not always a requirement, getting postgraduate degrees like a master's or PhD can greatly increase your chances of finding a job. Postgraduate qualifications like these, in addition to other complementary courses, are quite common and often a job requirement. Even if you start working without postgraduate qualifications, you may find that you start considering them in the long-term for your career progression.

Related: How To Write a PhD Application Cover Letter

What learning methodologies do instructional designers learn about?

Instructional designers make use of certain models that guide them when it comes to developing learning materials. Some of these are more commonly used and popular than others. Below is a selection of some of the more popular learning theories:

  • Bloom's Taxonomy**:** This is a model that arranges skills in a learning hierarchy. The principle is that learners acquire abilities and confidence, which allows them to ascend the hierarchy to develop greater skills and understanding.

  • Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs**:** This theory involves nine stages that are thought to be vital to a successful learning or training experience.

  • The ADDIE Model**:** This stands for Analyse, Design, Develop, Implement and Evaluate. This is a structured approach that was initially developed for training purposes.

  • Merrill's Principles of Instruction**:** This theory is based on facilitating learning through various methods, based on four phases. These are demonstration, activation of knowledge, application and integration into real challenges.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing. Salaries‌ ‌may‌ ‌‌vary‌‌ ‌depending‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌hiring‌ ‌organisation‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌candidate's‌ ‌experience,‌ ‌academic‌ background‌ ‌and‌ ‌location.‌

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