Teachers are no strangers to the side-hustle: whether it’s tutoring, teaching summer school, or driving for Uber. Which is why I found it so strange that the teacher to instructional designer path isn’t as well-known within education.
Personally, I think teachers make the best instructional designers. And, yes, I am biased because I personally made the shift from teacher to instructional designer many years ago. Since my transition, I keep meeting creative professionals who also made the switch from teacher to instructional designer or want to.
So today I’m going to let you in on education’s best-kept secret. If you’re a teacher looking for some side work or you’re ready to transition to a career that utilizes your strongest skills without the frustrations of the increasing demands of classroom teaching, Instructional Design could be the perfect field for you!
What is Instructional Design?
Yes, you can make the teacher to instructional designer transition even if you’re asking this question. I asked the same thing when I first stumbled upon the term as a full-time teacher researching what my next career step might look like.
I knew I wanted to leave teaching, but I didn’t want to go back to school at the time. So, what could I do with my existing skills? What role could I step into that would capitalize on the strengths I had already developed?
First I want to share the ATD’s definition of instructional design. ATD is an association that’s got some great resources, which could be helpful to you as you make the teacher to instructional designer transition. “Instructional design is the creation of learning experiences and materials in a manner that results in the acquisition and application of knowledge and skills.”
As a teacher, you do that every day. Here’s how:
- use strategies to assess student needs
- take curriculum or state standards and turn that content into an organized sequence of learning opportunities for your students
- have strategies you use to assess your student’s knowledge
- use assessment data to make changes to your lessons to improve student learning
- use clear, concise language to write instructions so that activities can be completed if you can’t be in the classroom
Those are just a few examples, in the next few weeks, we’ll explore how your existing skills can make your transition from teacher to instructional designer a breeze. There are, of course, some common instructional design terms, theories, and other areas you’ll need to strengthen.
Again, we’ll explore many of the opportunities for professional growth in your teacher to instructional designer transition in the coming weeks, but to get you started I want to mention some common models of Instructional Design.
This is a really popular instructional design process. ADDIE stands for Analysis, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate. I break down the ADDIE process in this blog post and in the Instructional Design Lab, so check those resources out for a deeper dive. Once you do, you’ll realize ADDIE isn’t all that different from how teachers lesson plan (in fact, I sometimes went through an entire mini-ADDIE process mid-lesson when something wasn’t working).
Understanding by Design/Backward Design
If you’ve been teaching for a few years, you probably recognize this one. Even if you don’t recognize this name, you’ll definitely recognize this approach to learning.
In Understanding by Design, you start planning instruction with the end goal in mind. Ask, what do I want the learner to do as a result of this learning? From there, you determine what content is necessary to get your learner to that end goal and how you’ll know they got there.
Dick and Carey Model
Based on research done by Walter Dick and Lou and James Carey, this model outlines 9 stages for designing instruction:
1: Identify Instructional Goals
2. Conduct Instructional Analysis
3. Identify Entry Behaviors and Learner Characteristics
4: Write Performance Objectives
5. Develop Criterion-Referenced Test Items
6. Develop Instructional Strategy
7: Create and Select Instructional Materials
8: Create and Conduct Formative Evaluation
9: Develop and Conduct Summative Evaluation
The common theme with these (and many other theories and models of instructional design) is that they often include the same steps and strategies teachers take every time they plan a unit.
What will become important as you move further into your transition from teacher to instructional designer is that you familiarize yourself with the new ID language. Translate your existing skills into the language of instructional design so you can land your first projects and start building a portfolio.
ID work: What to Expect
So what kind of work should you expect to do as an instructional designer? There are a lot of different options based on your specific skills, here’s a short list to give you an idea of some common tasks.
- Revise and rewrite scripts using content from a subject-matter expert to put them into learner-friendly language
- Organizing content from a subject matter expert into different lessons or modules
- Storyboarding (taking that organized content and deciding what is important enough to appear on the screen during a video lesson or in an e-learning module)
- Identify learning activities, knowledge checks, or assessment opportunities for a given audience
- Recommend (and sometimes create) visual aids to accompany the content
The wonderful thing about Instructional Design is that once you’re doing the work, you can branch out to other creative aspects that interest you. Teachers with more tech-savvy might be great at recommending and supporting the learning management systems many companies use to house their courses. Teachers who are great at creating visually appealing resources for their students might find the e-learning development side of instructional design is a good fit for them.
Conclusion: The Value of Instructional Design and Where YOU Fit in
If you’re not yet convinced to make the leap from teacher to instructional designer, I have a feeling I know why. The students are the reason you got into teaching in the first place and they’re probably the reason you’ve stayed! Or, it could simply be summers off. A week for spring break, a week for Christmas, and a week for Fall Break. I still miss summer’s off!
It’s true that in instructional design, you don’t get to be in front of your learners implementing the courses you’ve worked so hard on unless you also wear the trainer hat. However, the value of instructional design work is long-term and reaches broadly. One course that you create might be accessed by thousands of learners.
By bringing your expertise (your understanding of pedagogy, knowledge retention, engaging learners, assessing skills and so much more) to instructional design projects, you’re helping a hugely diverse group of students of all ages and backgrounds to grow in their respective fields.
Instead of focusing on one content area, you can apply the foundations of teaching to literally any topic. To give you a clear example, I was a 5th-grade science and social studies teacher. I’ve successfully completed projects for human resources, finance, airlines, direct selling, counseling offices, safety and SO MUCH more. I might not be standing in front of students every day, but I’m still helping adult learners every day.
So are you ready to make the transition from teacher to instructional designer? It’s summer break, why not trade in your tutoring gig for an instructional design project! In the comments below, tell me one thing that excites you the most about instructional design. You can also ask me a question about how I made this transition work for me.