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Instructional Design / August 18, 2020
Are you exploring a career change from Teacher to Instructional Designer? If you answered yes, I have found some free instructional design tools that can help with your career change. Your job has turned you into a crafty scavenger to stretch your tiny school budget, if you even have one, to its limit.
You already know where to look for free books, lesson plans, and technology. So I’m here to give you a jump start on the best free instructional design tools of the trade for teachers interested in instructional design and new instructional designers!
There’s no need to scour the internet on your own looking for instructional design tools as you transition from teacher to instructional designer.
Below, you will find the top 10 free instructional design tools (or methodologies) that I recommend to instructional designers.
I’ve already used and approved, so I’m positive you’ll love them as much as I do!
You’ll find a variety of excellent resources that will make your job as an instructional designer easier. There are many online tools that I’ve found helpful for organizing my team and streamlining my workflow. So you’ll notice mostly useful websites and apps that support those goals.
But, like any teacher, I love to learn new things! So I’ve also added free tools to help you learn instructional design best practices. You can also check out my dedicated page just for teachers interested in instructional design.
Instructional Design Models
First up are free tools that you’ll use consistently in your work as an instructional designer. Think of these as guidelines you can use as you work through course building.
Teachers have different models they rely on to deliver effective instruction to students. Sometimes, a lesson requires direct instruction. Other lessons are more conducive to problem-based learning.
Just as teachers don’t have to stick with one model for every class, instructional designers don’t have to rely on one instructional design model.
Here are a few popular instructional design models. As promised, I’ve included some free tools to help you learn about each model.
As you scan these resources, identify one model that would be a good fit for an upcoming project. If you’re still looking for that first project (or are looking for inspiration to make the leap), instead find one model that best matches your current approach to instruction.
The ADDIE model is one of the most commonly used in instructional design. Because it is so popular, there are many variations of the model. ADDIE is an acronym that stands for each stage of the instructional design process.
Because the ADDIE model is my favorite model, we cover it in-depth in our Instructional Design & Tech Accelerator Certificate Program. Check out this site (not mine) for an in-depth and free look at the ADDIE model, including a few helpful visuals. People often refer to ADDIE as a start to finish process, but I totally disagree with this. In fact, I think it can easily be adapted to Agile development. Comment below if you want to hear my thoughts on it.
SAM is considered an agile approach to instructional design and rapid course development.
While SAM is a favorite of many, it is not a personal fav of mine. I simply don’t find the model easy to follow. Because it is a favorite of many, you should check it out and form your own opinion. Here is a helpful resource you can review to check out the free instructional design tool (methodology).
Dick and Carey
The Dick and Carey method is a 9 stage model. This might seem intense! Take a closer look here, though, and those stages will sound a lot like the typical planning process for teachers.
From determining learning goals to creating assessments and figuring out how to get your learners from point A to point B – it’s all in there!
Training Analysis Template
Once you have a subject matter expert or client, the training analysis is your first step toward successfully building a course. Without a thorough training analysis, you might put your course on the wrong path before it even starts. How many times have you felt like you were flying blind on a project? Thank God for YouTube and free instructional design tools!
The Training Analysis is integral to designing quality learning solutions! It is a must-have component of any instructional design process. I recommend that you never skip this step. Modify it to what works for you, but never skip.
So how do you know what to include in your training analysis to get off on the right foot? Use a training analysis template! You can grab a copy of this instructional design tool in the free Ultimate Instructional Designer Starter Kit. If you don’t want a free kit, you can Google “training analysis templates” to find a copy! My free template has everything you need to get the right information from stakeholders and ensure your team gets all the resources they need to build a course your boss/client will love.
Probing Questions for SMEs
Working with subject matter experts can be challenging, even for seasoned instructional designers. I have an entire blog post dedicated to the topic.
Using probing questions can help you and subject matter experts think more deeply about the content and learning experience. Probing questions will help you clarify concepts and reveal the details of a topic.
One piece of advice when working with subject matter experts is to avoid yes/no questions. Instead, try using open-ended probing questions.
Having some free instructional design tools in your back pocket gives you an extra boost of confidence before any SME interview. Every project is different (and every SME is different, for that matter). A pre-existing list of probing questions can give you a jump start.
Be sure to tailor the questions to your specific project once you learn more about it!
Content Organization: 2 Free Instructional Design Tools Online
Staying organized is just as important in instructional design as it is in teaching. Just like teachers, instructional designers often work independently. We get to collaborate with other professionals and sometimes as a team, but it’s on us to get the job done.
There’s good news here, though! Many of the tricks you learned in teaching will help you stay organized in instructional design too. A planner, sticky note reminders, whiteboards: I’ve used all of the above to keep on top of work.
Digital organizers are easy to keep track of, plus you know you’ll never lose them! I use free tools online in a few different ways, like:
- Sharing project files with my team
- Organizing the links and resources I use regularly
- Keeping track of interesting resources I want to look into more
- Writing down ideas for future projects
- Saving professional development opportunities that I might want to explore
Here are some free tools that work as instructional design tools to keep all your notes and resources organized.
Just like the name suggests, LiveBinders is a digital binder. Create a binder, make a table of contents, and attach any notes or links within each tab.
LiveBinders is a perfect choice for professionals transitioning from paper methods to digital. It’s easy and effective!
Here’s a useful resource organizer already loved by teachers. I love repurposing educational apps! Wakelet is an easy-to-use platform to organize links, tweets, images, videos, or Drive files.
Check out the Wakelet I made to organize the free tools I’ve shared with you in this post. You can see I used text headings for each category and listed links below. The layout can also be customized to fit your needs.
Course Design Template
Think back to the first time you planned a lesson. Even if you were lucky enough to have a specific curriculum you needed to implement, it was probably overwhelming! How did you know where to start?
You’ve got instructional experience behind you now, but building your first course may bring back those first-day feelings. I’ve got your back!
My free Online Course Builder Kit has everything you need to jump-start your first course without stressing. The course design template is an entire course design template that you can simply plug your content into. It covers learning objectives, content, infographics, design, and more!
Free Tools for Images
Once you make the transition from teaching to instructional design, any images you use in your courses must be properly licensed. When it comes to courses you create for clients, Google Images is off-limits!
Luckily, there are a few places you can go for high-quality, free-use photos. You can use any of the images on these sites for free, without buying a subscription.
If you’re lucky, the organization you work for has a subscription If not, you can grab free images from Pexels or Unsplash. For free illustrations, stock video, and audio, Pixabay is another option. If you follow Shutterstock, they will send you one free image per week. If you need character images or icons, check out freepik.
Quality Assurance Standards
A comprehensive checklist or process for ensuring quality assurance in your courses is a must-have!
As a teacher, it’s embarrassing to project your slides only for a student to notice a spelling mistake. If a stakeholder, boss, or client noticed a similar mistake in the final course, it reflects poorly on you.
In order to avoid mistakes and make sure you deliver a high-quality course, instructional designers need QA standards.
Similar to the SME interview questions, a free template is a nice starting point. Grab a copy of this free instructional design tool here.
The CDC (yes, that CDC) also has a downloadable checklist for evaluating the quality of eLearning. Edit and add to the checklist as you work through a project and discover new standards that better fit your workflow. You can also use a guide to develop your own quality assurance standards, like this one.
I know a lot of my middle and high school teachers already love Grammarly. But are you using Grammarly for your own writing or just recommending students use it?
I have Grammarly (free) running right now as I type!
When you’re writing content for your organization, or a client, do a double check on your spelling and grammar.
You’d be surprised how many errors can slip through the cracks when you’re thinking about chunking and placement instead of just writing.
That’s where Grammarly comes in! The free version is your best friend and it’s compatible with most of the tools you’ll use in course creation. Even better, you can use it in your correspondence with colleagues and clients (email or chat) so you always sound as professional as possible.
Free tools for Project Management
Project management is one aspect of instructional design that might be new to any professional just entering the field. It might seem a little daunting at first.
Luckily, a lot of your work in education has prepared you to be a project manager. You’ll start to realize this the longer you work in instructional design. Even so, having a digital method for keeping track of projects and deadlines will be a lifesaver!
The free version of Airtable comes with a built-in ADDIE template for instructional design projects. See an example here. At a glance, you can see every step of the process and how much progress you’ve made.
Use it to write notes, set deadlines and priorities, and organize your team. You can even attach documents to each step for easy access. Share your board with stakeholders or co-workers, so everyone is on the same page.
While Airtable has all the bells and whistles, it might be overwhelming. If you prefer a more straightforward free tool, Trello is another good one.
If you have followed my blogs posts or taken the Everyone is a Project Manager course, then you already know that we use Trello at the Instructional Design Company.
In fact, here is a free Trello board that you can drop your tasks into right now!
You’ll start with a clean canvas here, but that makes it a customizable workspace. Add as many columns as you need, invite collaborators, link out to different documents, and set deadlines.
Asana is a popular choice for small teams due to its wide range of free features and clean interface. It’s got a unique calendar view and tasks are drag-and-droppable for easy tracking.
You have the ability to customize templates for common tasks for you and your team. Asana also has some free, built-in templates.
Security is a huge benefit of Asana. The board administrator (probably you!) can restrict the viewing of certain documents. This can be important for clients that require a security clearance.
Training from the Back of the Room
I have always believed that you should imagine how your course will be delivered as an audience member. Since you have been delivering instruction since day 1 as a teacher, you have a significant advantage when it comes to learning design. Understanding how content is delivered can help maximize engagement AND make you a better instructional designer.
Training from the Back of the Room is a book I recommend to all new instructional designers. The book itself is not free (but worth it!). However, the author, Sharon Bowman, also has a website that includes tons of free tools like slides, webinars, and micro-courses.
As a teacher, you know all about effective learning strategies. Training from the Back of the Room can help you leverage your K-12 methods and make them work for eLearning audiences of all ages.
The micro-courses like “Teaching Adults Anything” and “Preventing Death by Powerpoint” would be great starting points. Or, scroll through the blog and find a topic that’s relevant to a current project.
Bonus Free Instructional Design Tools
If you’ve been keeping track (or if you’re a former math teacher) you probably noticed I gave you way more than 10 free instructional design tools. What can I say, I love a freebie!
But to close out this resource list, I’ll leave you with the ultimate bonus tool (and yes, it’s free). The best tool you can bring to the table when it comes to new subject matter experts, clients, job opportunities, or training projects is your attitude!
A get ’er done attitude will get you just as far (if not farther) than any of the free tools I’ve found for you here. Lean into your work as an instructional designer instead of shying away from discomfort. If you’ve recently transitioned to this new career, it’s going to be uncomfortable! It’s unknown.
Your positive mindset, willingness to learn new things and eagerness to try new things will always be your best asset.
Wrapping It Up
Which of these tools have you tried and loved? Is there something you use that I missed? You have to jump over to The Hangout and share with an amazing instructional design community.
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The Testimonials are In:
Working with Shanwtay and Katie at the Instructional Design Company was a dream come true. Their creativity, expertise, and professionalism throughout the entire process was beyond top notch. I engaged them to help turn my first book into a training course, and I could not be happier with how the final product turned out. If you have an instructional design project and you’re considering which company to work with, you can stop your search and thank me later. They are truly the best in the business.
I joined the Instructional Design & Tech Accelerator Certificate Program because I struggled to find jobs in instructional design beyond the development phase. I’ve done a couple of training programs with lots of random projects, but I was overwhelmed, not connecting the dots, and not good at structuring my writing to hit learning objectives. I was looking for motivation and direction at beginning a better Instructional Designer.
After taking the Instructional Design & Tech Certificate program and joining my fantastic team for support, I found the structure and approach to be what I need to take my next steps, evening improving my skills in the development stage.
Teacher, Future Instructional Designer
I love how this course let’s you work at your own pace. I got great tips and learned many things. The ongoing support for multiple people and groups is what I love the best. You are never alone in this process. I have been able to adjust my resume and began creating a portfolio of work I’ve completed to add when applying for jobs. I use many of the PowerPoint skills in my lessons and trainings. I would highly recommend this for anyone wanting to become an instructional designer.
Teacher, Future Instructional Designer
I have searched for the last few years to find some suitable career change where I wouldn’t have to earn another degree and where I could use the talents and skills I already have as a teacher. When I came across the Instructional Design Accelerator course, I loved the fact that Shawntay was a former teacher and could relate to a teacher’s need to transition from the classroom. This was what sold the course for me. Her experiences are invaluable especially when translating teacher duties to instructional designer duties. I would (and have) recommended this program to other teachers I know who are looking to transition out of the classroom. I do appreciate ALL of her feedback on my projects!
L&D Project Manager
The Instructional Design & Tech Accelerator certificate program is one of the most comprehensive ID programs out there for beginners. If you’re looking to grow your schools in ID and development then I highly recommend this program. Not only will this program give you an overview of theory, but you will receive a thorough walkthrough of how to apply what you have learned. Although I had already secured a position in Learning & Development when I bought this course, it helped me to move up into a new position as a Learning & Development Project Manager!
Future Instructional Designer
If you have any interest in ID, sign up for this program NOW! Shawntay and her team are top notch! The course content exceeded my expectations in a big way and the encouragement and support continues to be so valuable. You will not feel alone going through this course, you will learn so much, you’ll have many cheerleaders, and you will have fun!
Future Instructional Designer
I am really enjoying this program! It’s prerfect for someone who is thinking about a career shift to Instructional Design and does not have a lot of experience. This is my first real introduction to Instructional Design and it’s been the perfect beginner course to help me get my feet wet. The modules are broken down well and it’s great to go at your own pace and at your own time. The modules themselves are very comprehensive and you learn a lot from all of them. I really like how each one build upon each other and you’re working towards the bigger project of designing your first training course from scratch. I’m learning so much from going through this course! I was provided great feedback from Katie and Shawntay through the process via Trello Boards, comments on the Google documents, and Facebook group. This course has been well worth the time and effort and I appreciate the fact that I will always have the resources available to me after I complete the training (just in case I’m not quite ready to transition yet).
Future Instructional Designer
I can’t say enough great things about the Instructional Design & Tech Accelerator Certificate Program! The length of the program is perfect; it doesn’t feel rushed and there’s just the right amount of structure to give you the accountability you need. There are so many opportunities to get live answers to any questions you have related to the course content or anything ID-related! This program gave me the support and structure I needed to both feel affirmed in the relevant skills I already had coming in and to fill in the gaps I had as a career-changer going into ID. Shawntay, Katie, and all the coaches are super helpful and supportive. I now feel confident that I have the tools and access to resources I need to apply for ID jobs without wondering if there’s something I’m “missing” in the preparation process. I’d highly recommend this program to anyone wanting to transition into ID or who just wants to brush up on their skills in the field.
Krista Johnson Awomoyi
Freelance Instructional Designer
I’d highly recommend the Instructional Design & Tech Accelerator Certificate Program. I’m blown away by how much I learned in just 12 weeks. I had ID experience prior to taking this course and was just looking to get a better understanding of applying adult learning principles. This course well exceeded my expectations! Not only did I gain a clear understanding of adult learning principles, I was also able to apply those principles by creating assets for your portfolio using PowerPoint, Adobe Premiere Pro and Storyline. The hands on support that we received was top notch.
This program is one of the most robust yet fulfilling L&D programs I’ve seen. I learned so much about the industry and about the limitlessness of my own capabilities. I am so appreciative of Shawntay and all of the trainers who took part in the program. They went above and beyond with not only guiding, but communicating live and working one on one or in small groups. If you are on the fence, I say take the leap and you will not regret it! There’s so much to learn, not only from the trainers, but also the learners in your group. Everyone comes in with their own skills and can be additional support and guidance for you. Thank you for creating this program!
Instructional Designer Training Facilitator
Shawntay is an amazing individual. She is very knowledgeable in all aspects of ID and eLearning. She is also very compassionate and loves to help and see everyone around her grow and prosper. Shawntay has been a great mentor to me and she has helped me mature as an instructional designer and eLearning developer. She has provided me with opportunities when others have overlooked me. I am very grateful to have met and built a lifelong relationship with Shawntay.
I recently got hired into my first instructional design / training position and Shawntay was one of the first people to congratulate me!
Freelance Instructional Designer
My teacher-to-instructional-designer journey began two years ago when I left my teaching comfort zone and started my first freelance ID job. Now, I’m stepping out of the classroom and taking my freelance work full-time, so I’m thrilled to be joining the Tech Accelerator program. Adding technologies like Articulate 360 and Adobe Premiere Pro to my qualifications will help me take my courses to the next level and attract more clients!
Teacher Transitioning into Instructional Design
I am genuinely grateful for this course. I wanted a real-world perspective and feel like I got it. I’m teaching now, but nearing retirement age but can see myself working as an instructional designer well into my retirement years. My other goal is to take as many courses in statistics as possible in hopes of bringing some mathematical precision to the ROI question. Like you say, getting accurate metrics to measure ROI can be a challenge, but I intend to work on that part. That’s unimportant right now, what is important is the fact that I feel like this course was well worth every penny I spent and I would to it again in a heartbeat. I have too much going on right now, but as soon as I get some time freed up I intend to take your course in project management.
Turns Your Written Thoughts Into a Masterpiece!
Shawntay Skjoldager can turn your written thoughts into a masterpiece. She is great to work with and the most organized person I know!
President and CEO, The Creative Entreprenuer
Shawntay has been incredible!
Shawntay has been incredible and her team is responsive and effective in translating my training programs into professional presentations. Don’t hesitate to contact her for your project.
Beth B. De Lima, MBA, SPHR-CA, SHRM-SCP
President and Principal of HRM Consulting, Inc.
IDC is My Secret Weapon to Soar Above My Competition!
The IDC team has been my secret and special weapon of success. They have delivered above and beyond with every single project out in front of them. They have met and beat timelines. They have been Uber responsive every step of the way. I keep them on speed dial and have and continue to recommend them to friends and clients. If you are in need of instructional design and plenty more, this is THE ALL-STAR team that will more than deliver and help make you and your project soar above the competition.
LT. COL. Jason O. Harris
U.S. Air Force Officer, Special Operations Pilot, U.S.A.F. Academy Instructor, Motivational Speaker
A Tremendous Asset to the Project Team!
Working with Shawntay and the Instructional Design Company has allowed our university to meet the growing demands of our programs. Shawntay’s expertise allowed for the course development to be completed on time and met all of the university requirements. Shawntay’s project management skills were phenomenal and allowed my team to work on other areas while she completed this project for us. Her work is of high quality and her professionalism and willingness to help made her a tremendous asset to the project team.
Academic Quality Assurance Specialist, Abilene Christian University
Creative & Highly Talented!
Shawntay is a creative and highly talented instructional designer. She brought a wealth of knowledge, expertise, and leadership that enabled her to own the design and creation of a full scale facilitator curriculum and train-the-trainer program. It was a pleasure to partner with Shawntay, her project management and communication skills ensured the project was on time and on budget.
Breaks Down Mammoth Projects
“Shawntay is quick study and carefully synthesizes information for presentations that are clear, concise and captivating. Her personality draws the audience in and her content mastery is excellent. A team player and organizer, Shawntay has the ability to break down mammoth projects, keep everybody on time and on task.”
Author, Speaker, Strengths Coach
“I have had many opportunities to work with Shawntay—mainly in the support of implementing new eLearning initiatives. I have been very impressed by her ability to quickly learn how to use rapid eLearning development tools and effectively use them to create multiple courses within a short timeframe. Shawntay’s enthusiastic nature, attention to detail, and dedication to her work make her a pleasure to work with and a great asset to both Texas A&M University-Commerce and the broader training community within the Texas A&M University System.”
Director of Learning Strategy, Caveo Learning
Top Notch Professional
Working with Shawntay has been an immense pleasure. She is atop notch professional who brings enthusiasm and extensiveexpertise to professional curriculum development and execution. Her knowledge of tried and true techniques to maximize the effectiveness of presentations is invaluable.
Nancy Drapeau, PRC
Vice President of Research, CEIR - Center for Exhibition Industry Research
Fortunate to Find Shawntay!
“I was fortunate to find Shawntay when our organization was looking to expand and update our educational offerings. Shawntay proved herself to be an educational and personal development expert who immediately made an impact with our clients throughout Europe. Everyone who came into contact with Shawntay was immediately impressed by her level of expertise and willingness to share her knowledge with those around her. I would not hesitate to recommend Shawntay to anyone looking for an education subject matter expert.”
Director of Qualifications and NSD Services, Mary Kay Inc.
Short Turn Around. On Time. Under Budget!
“We hired Shawntay to develop a training facilitator’s guide and PowerPoint slide deck for an operations manual heavy with technical content. The project was made more challenging by a very short turn around, 5 business days, and the fact that the operations manual wasn’t complete and was being updated simultaneously with the facilitator’s guide and slide deck. Despite these challenges, Shawntay delivered as promised. On time and under budget.”
Dave Beeman, CPP
Vice President, Andy Frain Services
Need an Expert Who Consistently Delivers?
“Working with Shawntay you will immediately notice her professional presence and poise, but over time her tenacious pursuit of excellence and her skills in instructional development and adult learning will really impress you. I worked with her at Mary Kay, and was able to experience firsthand her great rapport with regional partners in Europe, understanding their unique sales force training needs. In addition, Shawntay consistently exhibited grace under pressure, made executive decisions to move business forward. If you are looking for an expert who consistently delivers and goes the extra mile to get things done, contact Shawntay!”
Marketing Director, Academic Partnerships
Quality Products & Solutions!
“I had had the pleasure of knowing and working with Shawntay on more than a few occasions. I found her to be a very good business partner and very committed to delivering a quality product or solution in a timely manner. I have always had a positive experience in partnering with Shawntay and would recommend that you consider leveraging her talent.”
Judy Owen, CPC
Transformational Leadership Coach
“Invest in yourself and take your skills to the next NEXT level!”
Get yourself signed up for Shawntay Skjoldager’s Instructional Design & Tech Accelerator Certificate Program today and be on your way to success! Within the first week of taking her course, you will experience growth! Be sure to plug into her Facebook Q&A sessions for personalized help, too. This is THE course to take if you are new to instructional design or have landed on the training team and need help getting started.
Managing Partner, PHiG
“Her enthusiasm for adult learning is contagious!”
Shawntay has exceptional knowledge and experience with all aspects of creating and implementing effective, performance based training for adults. She is exceptional at needs analysis – identifying target audiences and collaborating with business owners to keep training focused on business needs. And she is great to work with – always providing great support to get projects done on-time and on-target. She is always on the look-out for new and more effective ways to engage learners. Her enthusiasm for adult learning is contagious!
eLearning Developer/Instructional Designer, Vivos Therapeutics
I have known and worked with Shawntay as a education program director and use the expertise of ShawntayMichelle for the development of my presentations. The service has always been “spot on” with professionalism, care and attention. Shawntay’s recommendations to my ideas make me look good to my clients.
Al Lomas CMP, CEM, CMM, CFE
Owner, Certified Consulting Services
“Shawntay Skjoldager reached in and made my training life so much easier!”
I am new to the training design and development world and I was SO excited to get in there, but I really lacked the real-world knowledge that would set me apart from my peers. And, then Shawntay Skjoldager walked into my life with an outstretched hand and a seemingly endless list of ways to knock every training out of the park. From the Training Analysis Form to the Tay Tay tips, this course made my life so much easier and even ironed out the review process that I had been struggling with for months.
Take time to invest in your own learning and make sure to put Shawntay Michelle at the top of your personal development list!
Training Specialist, LegalShieldCourses