Instructional Designer: Job & Career Info

Mar 28, 2019

Career Definition for an Instructional Designer

Instructional designers create targeted materials for corporations and government; design e-learning and online courses; create virtual reality tools; and develop an array of primary, secondary, and postsecondary learning tools. Instructional design gained popularity after its theories were first used by the military during WWII to quickly prepare conscripts in the use of the new, highly complicated weapons systems. Private industry then replicated its successful models, according to

Instructional designers apply tested theories of learning and cognitive and behavioral psychology to the materials they compose. The advent of distance learning, virtual reality, and social networking have re-defined the once staid job that consisted of simple training manuals. Though the theory remains the same, the focus of most instructional designers today is the computer and the learning efficiency that technology brings. Instructional designers are also employed by web developers to determine how people interact with computers and determine the most intuitive design.

Education Bachelor's or master's degree in instruction design/technology or education recommended
Job Skills Work with a variety of media, desire for knowledge, ability to break down complex information for student learning
Median Salary (2017)* $63,750 for instructional coordinators
Job Growth (2016-2026)* 11% for instructional coordinators

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

The work of an instructional designer is based upon complicated learning theory, and those without formal training find it difficult to be considered for higher-level work, despite their experience. The most successful instructional designers hold a bachelor's or master's degree in instructional design, instructional technology or education. Many graduate certificate programs are available for those with an undergraduate degree in an unrelated field. Students begin with basic coursework in learning theory and instructional design followed by intensive training in educational multimedia, online instruction, and computer-based learning, according to Instructional Design Central.

Skills Required

Successful instructional designers should be able to work a wide variety of media in traditional classroom settings, corporate training, and advanced e-learning. They must be able to synthesize large amounts of complicated material into easily digestible segments in a manner that facilitates learning that students enjoy. Instructional designers should have a thirst for knowledge and a curiosity about the principles of learning that drives them to seek new and innovative learning delivery methods.

Career and Economic Outlook

With the current explosion in e-learning and virtual conferencing, along with the increasing need for training that quickly evolving technology brings, demand for instructional designers is expected to be favorable, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS); the BLS projects that jobs in this field will increase 11% from 2016-2026. However, job opportunities in the public school system will depend on the availability of government funding. The median annual salary earned by instructional coordinators in May 2017 was $63,750, according to the BLS.

Alternate Career Options

Take a look at these other career options relevant to the field of education:


A librarian helps people find information; in addition, librarians teach people how to use information tools and research information themselves. Librarians can work with a variety of populations through employment in school, public, academic or special libraries, such as medical, corporate or law libraries. Librarians also acquire, organize, and maintain materials, and conduct programming for users that is related to those materials. This job requires a master's degree in library science. Those who work in school libraries also need teacher certification; public librarians may also need professional certification, depending on their state. Jobs in this field are expected to increase 9% from 2016-2026, per the BLS. Librarians in general earned median pay of $58,520 in 2017; academic librarians earned $62,880, school librarians earned $60,440, and local government librarians earned $52,520 in that year.

Elementary, Middle or High School Principal

Principals coordinate all of the activities of an elementary, middle or high school, under the direction of the school district's superintendent. They are responsible for instructional goals; student, teacher, and support staff activities; professional development of teachers; budgeting; and school safety. Many principals are former teachers; they usually have a master's degree in education administration or a closely related field. Most states require that principals have a school administrator license; state requirements vary, and some private school principals may be exempt from some of these regulations. The BLS predicts that jobs in this field will increase 8% from 2016-2026. This occupation paid a median salary of $94,390 in 2017, also per the BLS.

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