Become an Instructional Design Specialist: Career Roadmap

Learn how to become an instructional design specialist. Research the job description and the education requirements and find out how to start a career in instructional design. View article »

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  • 0:01 Instructional Design…
  • 0:42 Career Requirements
  • 1:49 Career Steps

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Video Transcript

Instructional Design Specialist

Using advanced technology, instructional design specialists create or revise teaching materials or curricula that meet the needs of diverse learners from elementary aged children to college students. Outside of the educational field, instructional design specialists work with different organizations to create innovative learning materials, such as training modules and presentations. Unlike teachers, instructional coordinators usually work their full-time schedules year-round. Hours may vary beyond school hours. The majority of their time is spent working in an office setting, but some local travel may be required to schools within their region.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's for higher education, private, and government agencies; master's for public school districts
Degree Field(s) Instructional design, curriculum and instruction, and related fields
Licensure and Certification Credentials required for public school teachers and administrators
Experience 3-5 years of curriculum design experience
Key Skills Ability to strategize, communicate, make decisions, teach, and work with diverse people; proficiency in digital storyboards and various course management and learning management systems (LMS); knowledge of desktop publishing, computer-based training, graphics, video and web page creation, and editing software
Salary $64,270 (2015 median salary for instructional coordinators)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2015), ONet Online

Getting started as an instructional design specialist typically takes a bachelor's degree for individuals who wish to work for higher education, private and government agencies and a master's for individuals who wish to work for public school districts. Fields of study can include instructional design, curriculum and instruction and related fields. All states require credentials for public school teachers and administrators and 3-5 years of curriculum design experience is generally required. Key skills that instructional design specialists need are the ability to strategize, communicate, make decisions, teach, and work with diverse people; proficiency in digital storyboards and various course management and Learning Management Systems (LMS); knowledge of desktop publishing, computer-based training, graphics, video and web page creation and editing software. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2015, the median annual salary for instructional coordinators was $64,270.

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Career Steps

So what steps does it take to become an instructional design specialist?

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

A bachelor's degree is a critical first step for instructional design specialists. While public schools will require a master's degree, they may also ask that these instructors have a teaching license. In order to advance to those steps, individuals should first pursue a bachelor's degree. Students can expect to complete a teacher preparation program while earning their undergraduate degree. They'll also engage in student teaching experiences. Individuals who wish to work for colleges, universities, government agencies, private companies or other locations where a bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement can pursue an undergraduate degree program in instructional design and technology, teaching or related fields.

Step 2: Earn a Master's Degree

Public school instructional design specialists are required to have a master's degree in curriculum and instruction or a related field, but other employers may also prefer to hire candidates with master's degrees. Aspiring design specialists can purse degrees in instructional design, learning design and technology or curriculum and instruction, among others. These programs often include thesis or non-thesis options and may require a practicum or culminating experience.

In addition to completing a master's degree, acquiring skills working with various Learning Management Systems is helpful. Job postings often ask for applicants with experience in LMS. While in graduate school, students can seek out courses or training options that can prepare them to use these systems.

You may also want to be proficient in design, presentation and graphics programs including the use of digital storyboards. Learning the tools of the trade and staying on top of technological advances in this field is one way to prepare for a career in instructional design. Graduate programs may offer elective courses in digital video, instructional graphics, and other technologies.

Step 3: Get a License

To work in a public school, aspiring instructional design specialists will need to get a teaching license, according to the BLS. However, some schools may ask for an education administrator license. Education requirements will depend on the license required, but instructors will need to pass an exam and take continuing education courses after earning their degrees.

Step 4: Acquire Experience

Many employers require their candidates to have 3-5 years of experience in the field. Public school teachers can get curriculum and teaching experience from their classrooms. Aspiring instructional design specialists working outside of the public school system can acquire jobs related to training modules, materials or curriculum. In addition, the more experience you have, the more you usually get paid.

To be successful at this step, you might want to consider reading industry journals and magazines. Stay updated with the latest news through professional organizations focused on online education, instructional development or workplace learning. These organizations offer publications, workshops and seminars for continuing education in this field.

To recap, with an undergrad or graduate degree, licensure and experience, you can earn about $64,000 as an instructional design specialist who creates or revises teaching materials and designs innovative learning materials for schools and companies.

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