Is Instructional Design the Right Career?

Author: Christy Tucker
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This is the last installment of my series on instructional design careers. Links to the rest of the series are at the end of this post. Previously, I’ve talked about the skills instructional designers need and how to get into the field of ID. In this post, I talk about determining if instructional design is a good “fit” as a career. This is less about the skills and more about the desire; it’s about figuring out if you’d be happy working as an instructional designer.

Is Instructional Design the Right Career?

Working Behind the Scenes

In one of my former jobs, I interviewed a lot of candidates for instructional designer openings. Many of these candidates were teachers who wanted to change careers. We always asked those candidates how they would feel giving up direct interaction with students. That’s one of the important considerations for teachers and trainers who are used to being up in front of a room full of people.

If you’re thinking about a career in instructional design, ask yourself: will I be happy working “behind the scenes” instead of directly with students? Will I be happy not seeing that “lightbulb moment” anymore? If the answer is no, then maybe this isn’t the right fit for you.

Working with SMEs

Working “behind the scenes” doesn’t mean you don’t work with people though. Building relationships with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) is an important part of what we do as well. Knowing how to work with content experts and guide them through the course development process is crucial.

Every organization has different expectations for how IDs and SMEs work together, but this is often a close collaborative relationship. If you hate having someone else act as the expert, you probably won’t enjoy being an ID. Our job is to be experts on designing the learning, (usually) not experts in the content.

Learning & Using Technology

I posted earlier in this series about technology skills. Most ID roles require at least an understanding of the benefits and drawbacks of different technology, even if you’re not working with those tools directly yourself. If you really dislike learning new technology, instructional design probably isn’t a good career fit.

If you really want to focus only on the technology and development side, without doing any analysis, planning, writing, storyboarding, etc., I recommend becoming an elearning developer or multimedia specialist instead of an instructional designer.

Always Learning

I’m always learning something new: new subjects, new technology, new research, new business tactics. That’s one of my favorite parts of being an instructional designer. It’s a common characteristic of instructional designers; we see the opportunity to continuously learn as a benefit of the job.

Helping Others Learn

To feel fulfilled in a career as an instructional designer, it helps if you enjoy helping people learn. This field is filled with people who are genuinely interested in making people’s lives and work better.

The best instructional designers I’ve worked with have been excited by figuring out ways to create great learning experiences. Technology motivates us because of the opportunities for learning it creates. Learning science make us more effective. Everything revolves around helping people learn. More than anything else, I think that desire to help others learn is what drives the best instructional designers.

If you’re considering a career in instructional design, I hope this series has given you some insight on what we do, how we do it, and why we like it.

Other Posts in this Series

  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? (current post)

Read all my posts about Instructional Design Careers here.

Originally published 6/20/2007, last updated 4/18/2019

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