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How to Become an Instructional Designer

Instructional design on a computer

Instructional Designers create learning experiences that improve performance and outcomes for students. They also ensure that the learning experience is effective and efficient. In addition, they collaborate with subject matter experts to develop new courses and programs.

There are a number of paths to working in the instructional design field. Some people choose to find a job in instructional design straight out of college. Others choose to transition into the field after a job in teaching or after working as a school administrator.

We'll share how you can start a career in instructional design with a graduate degree, which can be completed immediately after your bachelor's degree, or after several years of experience in education.

Woman speaking to group

What is an Instructional Designer?

Instructional designers are those who work behind the scenes to create learning experiences that teachers will use in real-life settings. They are responsible for creating instructional materials, redesigning current programs to keep up to date with evolving educational technology, and reshaping the learning process so students can digest and retain material in an effective way.

They study theory and research processes and then implement those processes to create learning materials that produce greater outcomes for students. They can specialize in a wide variety of areas, including curriculum design, instructional technology, online learning, or corporate training.

Where do instructional designers work?

Depending on their career goals, IDs may work in a variety of settings. They may work in a traditional educational setting as a curriculum designer for a school district or university, or they may work indirectly in education by creating instructional design models that are sold to school districts. They may also work for online schools, developing online courses and technology programs.

IDs can work outside of the educational field, too. They may choose to work in a corporate setting, creating training programs that corporate trainers use for their employees.

Types of Instructional Designers

Just as IDs may choose to work in a variety of settings, there are a number of different types of instructional designers, too, depending on a person's professional goals and interests.

Corporate IDs

Most large businesses have some sort of in-house training program that they use with new employees. This may be some sort of onboarding program or a course on perfecting the technical skills that are necessary to do a specific job. Most of these are online programs that are used during employee professional development sessions or during the onboarding process. A corporate ID creates these courses and experiences for businesses. They may be hired as freelance IDs, or for large businesses, they may work in-house to continuously design and refine instructional experiences.

Higher Ed IDs

Higher Ed IDs work at the college or university level, often assisting professors and program directors in creating online courses that align with in-person instruction. They may also help refine current online or in-person courses in order to meet changing program requirements or stay up-to-date with changes in technology and learning processes.

eLearning Vendor IDs

eLearning vendors are companies that create curricula and programs and sell them to schools or organizations. They build "off-the-shelf" or pre-built courses that can be sold to companies or educational institutions. 

In-House IDs vs. Self-Employed IDs

In-house IDs typically work full-time for a company, school district, or university. They create "in-house" programs specifically for the place where they work. In the educational setting, an in-house ID may work within one department or subject, or they may work as part of a team. If you think of very large corporations like Amazon or Walmart, an ID team may create onboarding courses or safety training for the entire company. In a university setting, an ID may specialize in curriculum development for just one program or department, such as the college of education or the engineering department.

Self-employed IDs are freelancers who choose to do contract work for many companies. They may contract to work on a project for one specific company for a period of time, or they may choose to work on multiple smaller projects at once.

Woman presenting on her computer

How to Become an Instructional Designer

There's no one specific path to becoming an instructional designer. Unlike becoming a teacher or a school administrator, there isn't a specific licensure requirement. However, most potential employers will require a minimum of a bachelor's degree, and most will prefer a master's degree in instructional design or a related field.

Since the instructional design process can be very complex and requires a deep knowledge of best practices from education, design, psychology, and systems theory, completing a degree program specifically for instructional design can set you up for a successful instructional design career.

Direct Path to Becoming an Instructional Designer

If you already know you want to work in instructional design, you can go straight into a master's program after you finish your bachelor's degree. An MS in Learning Design and Technology will dive deeply into instructional design principles and practical skills that you'll need in order to land an instructional design job in either the corporate world or in education.

Transitioning From Teaching

If you have a few years of professional experience as a teacher or instructor, you can easily transition into an ID position in the field you currently teach. If you're a math professor but looking to get out of the classroom, you may choose to complete a graduate program in instructional design and then specialize in creating a math curriculum for a college or university, for example. 

Transitioning From a Role as a School Administrator

The same goes for school administrators or other leaders in education. If you've previously worked as a school principal, chief academic officer, or in a similar role, you're probably already familiar with learning design & technology, making it a natural transition.

No matter which path you choose, completing a Master's in Learning Design and Technology will give you the extra knowledge and hands-on experience that prospective employers are looking for in instructional designers.

Become an Instructional Designer with an MS in Learning Design and Technology

Pepperdine University's Graduate School of Education and Psychology offers an MS in Learning Design and Technology program[BROKEN LINK] that can be completed in 20 months. The program is designed for individuals who want to advance their careers in instructional design and technology and features a learning format that allows students to participate in a cohort model while choosing between either online or in-person options every term.

What You'll Learn in an Instructional Design and Technology Master's Program

The comprehensive program includes instructional designers and technologist student support, evaluation, theory, the latest instructional technology, as well as opportunities to engage in meaningful community-building with peers and program leaders.

In the Master's in Learning Design and Technology program, students will learn:

  • Critical Thinking and Communication: develop strategies to advance students' reasoning skills to develop well-thought-out, reasoned, clear, and concise oral and written communications
  • Virtual Learning, Collaboration, and Transmedia: utilize virtual and integrated learning technologies and their applications to learning organizations, learning communities, and educational settings
  • Ethics, Values, and Inclusion: study elements of ethical leadership such as cultural proficiency, social justice, power, equity, and privilege as they apply to academic and professional interests
  • Program Design and Evaluation: focus on analysis, design, development, implementation, and assessment of learning-based solutions to organizational challenges in a variety of learning environments
  • Applied Analytics and Data Visualization: learn about modern forms of data gathering including the mining and extraction of big data
  • Entrepreneurial Leadership: examine the role of the entrepreneurial leader in developing innovative solutions that align with personal and organizational mission, vision, and values
  • Contemporary Topics in Leadership & Learning: study recent developments in theory and practices in a variety of areas supporting their professional interests

How an Instructional Design and Technology Master's Program Will Benefit Your Career

Even if you already have a strong background in education or the specific subject area you'd like to specialize in, getting an advanced degree in instructional design has many benefits that will take your skills and career to the next level.

  • learn core components of instructional design theory that you'll need in order to get a successful start in the field
  • hone your communication skills and interpersonal skills that will be needed to lead project management on ID projects
  • stay up to date on the newest learning technologies and design platforms
  • build your instructional design portfolio with a capstone experience
  • gain leadership skills needed to train teachers in best practices and promote a wider vision for the adoption of new programs

Graduate celebrating their accomplishment

Earn Your Master's in Learning Design and Technology from Pepperdine University

If you're ready to dive into a career in instructional design, start building the foundational skills you need with a Master's in Learning Design and Technology from Pepperdine University[BROKEN LINK]. This 20-month, the values-centered program will empower you to make a lasting impact through the values of academic excellence, social purpose, and meaningful service.

Pepperdine University offers over $10,000 in scholarships for new and returning graduate students who want to attend one of the highest-ranked universities in the U.S. To learn more about the application process and admissions requirements, click here[BROKEN LINK] for more program details or attend an info session.