Have you been considering becoming an instructional designer?
If so, then you’ve come to the right place! You might be wondering, “what do instructional designers do, actually?”
By now, you likely understand what instructional design is (and if you don’t, read my last blog explaining all you need to know about instructional design).
So do you have what it takes to be an instructional designer?
Let’s find out!
In this post, I’ll answer the question, “what do instructional designers do?” for many different settings (like corporate, universities, and freelance). Then, I’ll even walk you through a typical day in the life of an instructional designer! After that, I’ll leave it up to you to decide if you’re an instructional designer and what instructional design environment suits your work style.
So, What do Instructional Designers do?
The short answer? Instructional designers plan, design, and develop learning experiences. We take a problem and solve it by using training! Instructional designers work with internal and external clients, stakeholders, subject matter experts, eLearning developers, graphics designers, and more turn an idea into training.
Additionally, instructional designers help clients and stakeholders identify the needs of the training. We develop learning objectives and outcomes. We analyze the audience who will participate in the training. This allows us to design a course that really delivers on the goals and gives the learner what they need to succeed.
Instructional designers are experts in content organization, regardless of the topic. Topic expertise is what the SMEs are for. I’ve worked on topics ranging from operating a forklift, to software tutorials, to bloodborne pathogens, to theology courses!
An instructional designer’s duties can vary depending on where they work and what type of instructional designer they are. Instructional designers can often be grouped into three main categories. There are corporate instructional designers, higher education instructional designers, and freelance instructional designers. I have worked in all three areas.
Now, let’s take an in-depth look at the basic responsibilities of each type of instructional designer.
What do Instructional Designers do in a Corporate Setting?
Corporate instructional designers work for a company. It could be a large or small company. Larger companies like Amazon and Microsoft have in-house training teams that build learning solutions to take care of their employees’ training needs.
In a corporate setting, instructional designers work with internal clients, stakeholders, and subject matter experts. Together, they analyze, design, and develop targeted learning solutions that influence a specific behavior or metric the company is trying to change.
Of course, we don’t just build new learning solutions. We also have to update the old trainings or archive them. We report on training performance and do quality checks and user testing to ensure that everything is working as expected.
I’d like to say that we all follow the same instructional design process, but that’s not true. Some of us use ADDIE (me), some use SAM, some use…well, there are too many process models to list here.
However, all instructional system design models have some threads in common so pick the one you like and go with it. If you go to work for an organization that handles instructional design differently, adapt.
What do Instructional Designers do in an Educational Setting?
Traditionally, in-person university courses are left up to the discretion of the professors who teach them. However, online college classes at the graduate and under-graduate level have seen huge growth. There are even universities that offer strictly online courses- they don’t have a brick and mortar location!
That’s where instructional designers come in. So what do instructional designers do in higher education? Pretty much the same thing they do for corporate, but using very specific parameters and guidelines.
For example, I have worked with a couple of universities to develop courses/programs. One of the university clients provides templates for both the content build and the canvas build. There are very specific guidelines that the SME and I must follow to ensure a quality build that gets accepted. Yes, I said accepted. They have a review and approval process, which is so SMART!
What do Instructional Designers do as Freelancers?
Last, but certainly not least, is the freelance instructional designer. When you work as a freelance instructional designer, you’ll do everything corporate and higher ed instructional designers do and more.
Unlike the other instructional designers, these instructional designers must market their business, find clients, manage payments, work with clients across all industries and verticals, and the list goes on. They usually have to purchase all of their tools, too, which can be costly.
Don’t get me wrong, it is super nice to be able to select which projects they want to work on though. Earlier today, I was chatting with a woman in a FB group who shared that she was doing laundry and then going to do some captioning.
How awesome is that? Freelancing can provide tremendous value in the area of work-life balance.
Another bonus, the longer you work in and on your freelance business, the more you can build client relationships, score some referrals, and start being pickier about what projects you accept. I started my business as a side-hustling freelance instructional designer and eventually built it into a full-time business.
It’s also true that freelancers must be organized and motivated to work, manage multiple client projects, and to hustle to find more work. That is something to keep in mind as you are evaluating which category of instructional designer you are interested in.
What does an instructional designer’s day look like?
It’s never the same from one day to the next, which is one of the many things I love about my job. It also depends on what type of instructional designer you are, which is different than the three categories I mentioned above.
Some instructional designers focus completely on content and engagement. Others are considered full stack instructional designers and eLearning developers, which means they do everything, including eLearning development.
Some of the things that instructional designers do on a day-to-day basis are:
- Needs Analysis
- Writing Learning Objectives / Outcomes
- Meetings with SMEs
- Outlining / Storyboarding / Scripting
- Identifying Engagement Strategies
- Reviewing the Final Product
- Evaluating Performance and Learning
- eLearning Development (full stack ID)
An instructional designer’s role is creative. It requires uninterrupted thinking time to create innovative learning experiences that get results.
Some Common Skills, Knowledge, & Traits of Great IDs
I often get questions about what kind of skills, knowledge, or traits you need to be a successful instructional designer. So below I’ve included a starter list. If you become competent in these areas, then you’ll be off to a great start towards pursuing an instructional design job!
- ADDIE (choose your preference)
- Project Management
- Learning Theory / Strategy
- Engagement Strategies
- Brain Science Behind Learning
- Life-long Learner
- Design Best Practices
- eLearning Rapid Authoring Tools
Are YOU an Instructional Designer?
You might be a good instructional designer if:
- You’re passionate about learning at all stages of life
- You’re organized and detail-oriented
- You’ve taken an online course and thought, “I know I could make this better!”
- You like to solve problems through learning
- You’re reading this right now!
So, knowing what instructional designers do in corporate, university, and freelance settings, which one do you see yourself in? Drop a comment below and let me know where you think you’d fit in!
With this in mind, what are your next steps in becoming an instructional designer or landing your dream instructional design job?
Are you ready to dive in and become a full-stack Instructional Designer and eLearning Developer, without getting another degree? Check out my 12-week immersive program: Instructional Design & Tech Accelerator Certificate Program.