Here at The Instructional Design Company, we’re all about supporting new instructional designers and career changers who want to get started in instructional design. Whether you’re just getting into instructional design or you are looking to make a change – I’ve got you covered!
So bookmark this post, because I’ve gathered the best resources and tips all in one place. Included are all the things that helped me transition to a full-time instructional designer- and all the things I wish I’d had!
Getting Started in Instructional Design
In the 20 years, I have been in education and instructional design, I’ve come across so many tools and articles that I wish I had access to as a newbie just getting started.
I’ve picked through the best of the best, so you don’t have to waste time trying to figure out which resources are good or not. These resources range from the very basics of instructional design to tools that will guide you through your first project.
Here’s my ultimate guide to resources and tips that will help you get started in instructional design.
Become an Instructional Designer: Where Do I Start?
Starting in any new field is exciting, but it’s also a little scary! The best thing to do to get started in instructional design is to observe, learn, try, reflect, and repeat.
This isn’t just true for instructional design. It is true for any new thing you want to try or learn.
Here are some resources and suggestions to help you get on your way to becoming an instructional designer.
What type of Instructional Designer do you want to be?
If you are scratching your head on this one, no worries. You are not alone. There are three main types of instructional designers: the Content Curator, the Full Stack Instructional Designer, and the Jack/Jill of All Trades.
The Content Curator does all the creative writing work. The Full-Stack Instructional Designer does what the Content Curator does plus eLearning development. And, the Jack/Jill of All Trades does everything the previous two do and more. The ‘more’ might include activities like managing the LMS, analyzing data, writing reports, facilitating training, and etc. It could mean anything.
I get asked all the time what certificate programs or degree programs I recommend. So, I am definitely not the authority here but I definitely have an opinion.
At one point, I looked into the CPLP (now CPTD). It is a comprehensive program, but not for beginners. You’ve got to have 5 years’ experience. At the time, I didn’t see the additional value in it over my Master of Science in Training and Development. ATD has since developed a lower-level instructional design certification that newer IDs can go for but it isn’t cheap.
Let me say this, there are a ton of options out there where you can get educated in instructional design. You can read books, take online courses, like the Instructional Design & Tech Accelerator, created by experienced instructional designers like me, read blog articles, watch YouTube videos, follow other instructional designers and observe, learn, try, and reflect. You can volunteer to build some learning experiences for organizations you are a part of.
Instructional design is a lot like riding a bike. You’ve got to understand the basics and give it a try and keep trying until you’ve got it down.
So, here’s that opinion I was talking about. Initially, you need something that shows you have knowledge and/or experience. You do not have to go with the most expensive options to gain knowledge. If you can, pick a variety of resources to learn from. Maybe a couple of online courses, read some books, follow some instructional designers, and join some Facebook Groups like The Hangout for instructional designers and course creators.
Another option those looking to get into instructional design often explore is degreed programs. There are numerous undergraduate and graduate-level programs out there to choose from.
Pursuing a degree in the field is a significant investment of time and money. But for aspiring instructional designers who are serious about instructional design, a degree program might be the right choice.
If you already have an undergraduate degree, you can go right for the graduate degree program. You don’t need another bachelor’s degree. If you don’t have a degree yet, then go for an undergraduate degree.
Let me say this before I leave you thinking you need a degree. In all of my years of leading training functions, I have only had one team member who had an actual academic background (i.e. degree) related to Training & Development.
It isn’t required but it can help, especially if you want to move into leadership.
Get to know real instructional designers
Of course, networking is essential in any job search. But connecting with instructional designers also gives you insight into the field that you don’t get otherwise.
One good way to connect with current instructional designers is through LinkedIn. Join some groups that cater to instructional designers and observe the questions and shared knowledge, and read the posts.
Finally, an in-person mentor, colleague, or coach is hugely helpful. Social media is great, but you can’t beat real-life connections! Does your current company have an instructional design team? Ask around and get an intro.
If you’re a student, guess what? Universities need instructional designers too! In fact, I just read recently that the hottest job in higher ed is the academic instructional designer.
Get connected! Join some groups, follow some IDs, and join some organizations!
3 Ways to Get Instructional Design Experience and Build your Portfolio
The best way to apply what you learn about instructional design is through practice. But how can you get experience in a new field?
There’s nothing more frustrating than searching for entry-level positions that require two or more years of experience. It happens in all job fields! Here’s my best advice to gain instructional design experience that you can add to your resume and portfolio.
Volunteer in your current field
If you can get yourself assigned to any projects related to instructional design in your current job, I highly encourage you to do that. Even though the work is outside your current position, it is something you can and should add to your resume. And, you get paid to do the work!
Many instructional designers got their start because their company needed someone to put together a training and the task fell on their desk. Your first instructional design projects could be simple tutorials you put together for a small team or a PowerPoint training you design for your department.
When a company introduces new software or best practices, this is an excellent opportunity to volunteer to build a learning experience and lead it!
Design your own course
This can be fun and functional. Brainstorm ideas for courses you could create based on your expertise. Now take that idea and turn it into a simple training! Expensive eLearning authoring tools or video editing software aren’t required. You can create a simple video tutorial for free using Google slides and Screencastify.
Tools like Articulate offer free trials so you could take advantage of those if you want to build a couple of demos.
Volunteer with a non-profit
This is a great way to get instructional design experience AND give back to a good cause. Non-profit organizations often have ideas for training their employees or the community; they just don’t have funding to carry out.
Reach out to non-profits in your area and explain the work you can do for them. Bonus points if it’s a cause you feel passionate about! You can also find remote volunteer opportunities posted on LinkedIn.
Make a Plan
Listen, becoming an instructional designer takes time and commitment. For most of us, it doesn’t happen overnight. Make a plan of how you will develop your skills and knowledge and start working on that plan.
Get some experience by volunteering to build learning solutions in your job and the organizations you are a part of.
Build an online portfolio that you can share and fill it with samples of your work.
Transitioning to instructional design is attainable. It happens every day. You can do this! If you want to pick my brain, leave a comment below. I am here to help you! Or, join me in The Hangout and learn from a community of other instructional designers and course creators. In my experience, people love to help other people so don’t go this path alone when you could have a community of people supporting and guiding you.
Ready to dive in and become a full-stack Instructional Designer without having to get another degree? Check out my 12-week immersive program: Instructional Design & Tech Accelerator.