December 2, 2023

Getting Into Instructional Design

Author: Christy Tucker
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Broadly, there are two different ways to move from another field into an instructional design career: the direct path and the indirect path.

This is post #2 in a series about the instructional design. Read the first post, What does an instructional designer do?, for the introduction.

Getting Into Instructional Design

The Direct Path: Masters Degree or Certificate

The direct way is to get your masters degree or graduate certificate in instructional design or something similar. This is the fastest and simplest route into instructional design.

I have hired people who have degrees, even ones who have little or no actual work experience. Some of those instructional designers were fabulous right out of the gate. If you have no education or training experience, this is probably the way to go.

That includes people with graphic design experience or multimedia experience. While that’s related to the development side of elearning, it doesn’t give you enough of a background in the instructional design side without getting some formal training.

The Indirect Path: Related Fields

The other way is the indirect route. Many of the IDs I have hired and worked with came from an education or training background. That’s my background too; I taught public school, then switched to corporate software training before finding ID. The majority of IDs I know didn’t originally set out to enter this field; they started teaching or training or writing technical manuals and found instructional design along the way. Cammy Bean wrote a whole book on “Accidental Instructional Designers“.

The indirect path can be slower and harder. You can learn on your own, but you’re ultimately going to spend as much time as you would in a graduate program. It can be especially hard to get your first job in instructional design when you don’t have any direct prior experience or formal credentials.

Moving from Teaching or Training

If you’re currently working in education or training, you probably already have a lot of the skills needed for instructional design. The exception would be if you’re not doing any writing or planning yourself, and you are only teaching things other people have developed. I found that most of my lesson planning and curriculum planning skills from when I taught were very relevant when I moved to instructional design. When I did corporate training, the bulk of what I taught was from published books. I was fortunate to have some flexibility to stray from the published lesson plans at times, but I didn’t do a whole lot of writing while in that position.

If you teach or train somewhere where the lesson plans are provided for you, it’s going to be harder to move into instructional design. Anything you can do to create your own materials as supplements or special lessons will be helpful. I created some short job aids and extra handouts while doing corporate training. Even writing one-page handouts helps you gain experience and gives you something to talk about in an interview (and maybe show in a portfolio).

Teachers and trainers who want to change careers to instructional design have two major areas where their skills may need to be developed further. These topics are the next posts in the series.

  • Instructional design
  • Technology

Related Posts

  1. What Does an Instructional Designer Do?
  2. Getting Into Instructional Design
  3. Instructional Design Skills
  4. Technology Skills
  5. Professional Organizations and Career Options
  6. Is instructional design the right career?

Read all my posts about Instructional Design Careers here.

If you’re a teacher interested in switching careers, check out my posts on this transition.

Originally published 5/27/2007, last updated 2/4/2019

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