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 Lab and ADDIE+ live workshop. 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.
Sign up below and get a list of probing questions to use with subject matter experts on every course!
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 a 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 in to 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.