How to Become an Instructional Designer
How to Become an Instructional Designer

Say you start a new job tomorrow and watch an onboarding video. Then, another day, you attend an all-day CPR training. And over the weekend, you log in to an online French course you’re taking.

What’s the common denominator? Behind the scenes in all of these scenarios, you’ll find instructional designers — the pros who plan, craft and implement learning experiences like these.

A Versatile Role

As an instructional designer you need skills in a variety of areas — from pedagogy to writing, visual design to technology. On a project, your role starts with analyzing course or training objectives and the needs of your learners. Next, you design and develop the learning experience, which can involve interviewing faculty or other subject matter experts, writing content, creating graphics and videos, and even doing some light coding. Your final step is to evaluate whether the course met its objectives.

    projected employment

9% expected growth (2018-2028)

    Median Annual salary


Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

All of the above aims to do one thing: Make an impact.

“As an instructional designer, you want to see a change in the learner — to see somebody able to do something they weren’t able to before or do it better or faster. Sell more, save more lives, whatever the case,” explained Shawn Lock, WW partner enablement manager at Imperva and an advisory board member of the Certificate in E-Learning Instructional Design.

Job Opportunities Abound

While this role is far from new, its shift into hot job territory is recent, fueled in part by advances in technology. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for training and development specialists, which includes instructional designers, is expected to grow 9% between 2018 and 2028. In Washington state, expected growth is even more impressive at 23%. 

“It’s a great field to be in because it’s still developing,” said Matt Saavedra, training and development manager at LifeCenter Northwest and an instructor in the Certificate in E-Learning Instructional Design. “People entering the field now are going to define what it ends up being years and decades to come,” he said. “Plus, with the web, video and smartphones, there are a lot of opportunities to deliver content in an exciting way, so it's a very creative time to be in the industry.”

Becoming an Instructional Designer

If you have a knack for organizing information, almost any background can act as a springboard into instructional design, and many people transition from other jobs to this one. Educators, writers, and subject matter experts in areas like technology, health care and business have all been known to make the move.

If you’re coming from another role, the first step to making the switch is to learn best practices and tools of the trade. Self-study is one option. Or you can take a certificate program, like the Certificate in E-Learning Instructional Design, which also gives you the opportunity to practice the work and start building a professional portfolio you can show to potential employers.

“I tell people that instructional design is a great job if you’re a good communicator and have some technical aptitude as well as creative aptitude,” Saavedra said. “There’s art, science and technology involved in instructional design, and you’re putting all these things together to do your job well.”

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