Being a teacher in the 2020s is a job that would be impossible to prepare for. So, it’s no surprise that more people are wondering how to change careers from teaching to instructional design.
Teachers are pretty high on the list of people who are the most passionate about their profession. And I’m not just saying that because I used to be a teacher! In The Hangout, a community for aspiring instructional designers, I connect with teachers daily. Teachers also make up a huge percentage of the folks who participate in the Instructional Design and Tech Accelerator program.
So, I know from personal experience that passionate educators make great instructional designers. Not only that, but I’ve seen the work that teachers can produce for their instructional design portfolios with a little bit of guidance. When teachers express interest in changing careers from teaching to an instructional design job, I want to do everything I can to help.
One thing that I think is extremely useful when considering changing careers from teaching to instructional design is understanding the differences between the two.
That’s why I focused on the topic for this episode of The Accelerated ID.
Why Change Careers from Teaching to Instructional Design?
If you’re new here, I think teachers make some of the best instructional designers. I even devoted a whole blog to the topic. Teachers bring their passion for learning to instructional design in a whole new way.
So many of the skills you have as a teacher crossover into the instructional design world. Like curriculum mapping, organizing content into daily lessons, and choosing engaging activities, just to name a few.
For an in-depth explanation of these skills, you should watch this episode of The Accelerated ID.
Select Your Path to Instructional Design
Coming from a background in education, you probably remember your path to teaching. For teachers, there’s a strict set of obstacles to cross before you enter the classroom.
This is not the case with instructional design! Instructional designers don’t have to sit through state exams for licensure and they don’t have to have specialized degrees. There’s no one right way to become an instructional designer!
Here are some common paths to instructional design:
Many instructional designers shift into the career through their employer. Maybe they worked in another department and were asked to put together a training on a particular topic and were noticed for their work. Maybe they were really great at facilitating training and someone thought that they would be great at creating learning experiences.
I have had people on my L&D team move onto the team from project management, IT, Human Resources, Analytics, and more.
These instructional designers didn’t have formal training specifically for instructional design. They had to figure a lot out on their own and through trial and error.
Another way to shift into instructional design is with some formal training. That might be through a certificate program or a graduate degree.
Some of your really good certificate programs, like the Instructional Design & Tech Accelerator Certificate program, often offer more practical, hands-on application training with instructional design methodology, adult learning theory, and instructional design tools (such as eLearning authoring software programs like Articulate Storyline 360). Many even guide you through the portfolio process.
Graduate Degree Programs
Graduate degree programs, on the other hand, tend to focus on instructional design methodology and adult learning theory and oftentimes fall short in educating new instructional designers on how to use the tools.
Choose the Right Instructional Design Career Opportunity For You
Not only do you have choices when it comes to choosing your path to become an instructional designer as you change careers from teaching to instructional design, but you also have choices when it comes to choosing which instructional design career opportunity you are most interested in. There are three main career opportunities:
- Higher Education
Personally, I have experience in all three career opportunities and can tell you that they all have their pluses. If you’re not sure where to start, it might be helpful to hear from these four career changers who came from different backgrounds and have experience in Corporate, HigherEd, and Freelancing.
Know the Differences Between Teaching and Instructional Design
It’s important that you understand the differences between teaching and instructional design for three reasons:
- So you feel like you’re making the right decision when you change careers from teaching to instructional design
- To give you insight into the gaps that might exist between the two fields so you can make a plan to bridge them
- For a confidence boost when you see that the differences are manageable
Now, let’s focus on a few areas where teaching and instructional design differ. Along the way, I’ll include resources you can use to start filling in any gaps in your knowledge.
Areas of Expertise
Teachers really have to be experts across multiple disciplines. They’re subject matter experts, learning strategy experts, and delivery experts. Teachers have to be able to analyze assessment data but also be highly personable and communicative.
Instructional designers are learning experience experts who are often paired with a subject matter expert to design quality learning experiences. The subject matter expert is the person who has the topic expertise and the instructional designer is the person who has the learning experience expertise. As an instructional designer, you will work with your subject matter expert to identify need-to-know information and build a quality learning solution from the information you collected from your subject matter expert. It will be up to you to get that information, decide what’s necessary to meet the learning objectives, and organize the learning solution in a way that maximizes learning and makes sense for the learner.
Lesson Plan vs. Instructional System Design Model
Teachers are experts at creating engaging lessons. They know how to fill a day or a class period to maximize learning without overwhelming their students. In addition, a teacher’s ability to write lesson content and imagine how that lesson will play out in the classroom has huge benefits in instructional design.
Like teachers, instructional designers follow a process when they design learning solutions. They use an instructional system design model. ADDIE is one of the most popular instructional system design (ISD) models in use.
As you prepare to change careers from teaching to instructional design, you will need to learn this ISD model. Here are a few resources that can help you: what instructional design is and breaking down the ADDIE model.
Stick with me as I know this term is new or different for teachers. I know when I was a teacher, I would have looked at this job requirement and thought, “Nope, can’t do that!” But, now that I understand what it is, I know that teachers have project management skills.
Teachers are skilled at managing multiple projects simultaneously. They have their own system to make sure they plan their lessons, prepare the resources they need for those lessons, get grades posted on time, and respond to requests from parents and administrators in a timely manner.
With instructional design, the project management process is formalized. Instructional designers typically have a project deadline that their manager or client dictates. Within that deadline, they’re responsible for dividing up tasks and making sure all the pieces of the training puzzle come together in time.
Teacher education focuses on pedagogy, or how K-12 students learn best. All your lesson planning is done with pedagogy in mind.
With Instructional Design, the focus is on andragogy. Andragogy centers on adult learning and how adults learn best.
The biggest difference between the two is in learner involvement. With andragogy, instructional designers must consider that adults tend to have more stake in their learning and want their input to be considered.
To learn more about adult learning theory, teachers can check out The Adult Learner by Knowles, Holdton, and Swanson. Another great book that’s one of my personal favorites is Training from the Back of the Room by Sharon Bowman. Every new instructional designer who joins my team gets a copy of this book!
In teaching, lesson delivery is pretty straightforward. You plan the lesson, prepare your resources, and you deliver the lesson yourself. Of course, if you have a substitute teacher, there’s a little more that goes into the planning since you’re not going to be there to implement the lesson.
When you change careers from teaching to instructional design, the biggest difference is that instructional designers are rarely in front of their audience. Instead, instructional designers work behind the scenes. They’re tasked with creating learning experiences in a way that anyone can deliver the training (or so that the learner can move through training independently).
The last difference I’ll address is the tools that are used in each field. Teachers use a lot of Ed Tech tools. Things like Google Workspace, Peardeck, and the ever-changing list of applications that trend from year to year. On top of that, you’ve got an online grade book, a learning management system (like Canvas), and support resources like online textbooks.
The tech-savvy you develop using those tools will definitely come in handy as an instructional designer. And, some of the tools are the same. For example, teachers and instructional designers use tools like Google Slides and PowerPoint, and sometimes Canvas.
Instructional designers, on the other hand, also need to know how to use eLearning authoring software like Articulate Storyline 360, Adobe Captivate, iSpring, etc. In addition, many instructional designers also work with audio and video editing tools like Adobe Premiere Pro, Audacity, or Camtasia.
Many of these tools have free trials that you can take advantage of in order to experiment. There’s also no shortage of helpful tutorials on YouTube. If you’re looking for a more structured way to learn how to use instructional design tools, you might consider a certificate program like The Instructional Design and Tech Accelerator Certificate Program.
Wrapping It Up
Hopefully, all my teachers out there who are looking to change careers from teaching to instructional design have a little more clarity about the differences between the two fields and how to get started.
Take the time to identify areas you’d like to work on to fill in the gaps in your skills based on the instructional design career opportunity that interests you the most.
If you haven’t already, join our community of aspiring instructional designers and instructional design lovers (many of us former teachers!) in The Hangout. Drop all your questions about making the transition and we’ll be happy to help you out!