northeastern university seal

Attend our Graduate Open House in Boston on March 14. //   Register Now »

Attend our Graduate Open House in Boston on October 6. //   Register »

How to Become an eLearning and Instructional Designer

Industry Advice Education

Today’s learning landscape isn’t one dimensional; it’s a blend of classroom, online, and mobile learning. As a result, there’s a growing need for professionals who are skilled at understanding and analyzing learners’ needs and goals, and designing, structuring, and implementing content in order to optimize learning.

The instructional design field has evolved over the past 20 to 25 years, says Elizabeth Mahler, associate teaching professor and the eLearning and Instructional Design concentration lead for Northeastern University’s Master of Education program. Thanks to an increase in online learning, that growth continues today: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the instructional design field is projected to grow 11 percent over the next eight years—faster than the national average for all occupations.

“Instructional design provides a foundation for an alternative to standing and delivering instruction that so many expert faculty bring into their classrooms,” she says. “It’s more learner-centered now. You start with the end in mind: What do people want and need to know? You go backwards from there. There’s been a push to improve learning everywhere, which is why this field is gaining popularity as a profession.”

Download Our Free Guide to Advancing in Higher Education

Learn more about how you can change the course of higher education—from the skills you need to the different roles available.


Successful eLearning designers must have a specific skill set, knowledge base, and experience to excel in the workplace. Here’s a closer look at the role and what you need to know about becoming an eLearning designer.

What Is an eLearning and Instructional Designer?

eLearning and instructional designers are responsible for creating and implementing instruction, whether in a K-12 education setting, for colleges and universities, the government, nonprofits, or for corporations. According to BLS, these professionals have a variety of duties, including evaluating the effectiveness of curricula, analyzing learner data, and recommending changes in course materials.

eLearning designers are also tasked with designing and facilitating instruction that draws on the latest research in the science and art of eLearning. They work to develop dynamic environments that engage learners through a variety of media, including images, words, videos, and animations, and must understand the nuances of organizational culture, project demands, and allocated resources when working within budgets and with other stakeholders.

Given these responsibilities, eLearning designers must have a strong background in the science of learning, understand instructional design models and design thinking, have multimedia training and project management skills, and understand learning analytics, Mahler says. But, because online learning is a relatively new field, few professionals who currently work in an educational or training capacity have the skillset necessary for an eLearning designer role.

K-12 educators, for example, may understand the teaching process, but not instructional design. Nonprofits or government agencies may be interested in expanding their involvement in online and mobile learning, but might not have qualified individuals with the appropriate technological skill set. In higher education, colleges and universities seek eLearning designers to develop curriculum to keep pace with the growing demand for online courses.

Because of the eLearning and instructional designer’s nuanced skill set, many jobs require professionals to have a master’s degree in eLearning and instructional design, Mahler says. Directors of instructional design earn an average of $104,384, according to Glassdoor.

Careers in eLearning and Instructional Design

The eLearning designer’s skill set is extremely versatile and opens professionals up to a variety of opportunities in learning-driven organizations.

“With eLearning and instructional design, you’re learning to take a systematic approach to putting a process in place, then evaluating it,” Mahler says. “It’s looking at something from 40,000 feet, then going into the weeds to create an approach to get there.”

Professionals with a background in eLearning and instructional design can pursue a variety of career paths beyond becoming an eLearning designer. According to Mahler, some of these include:

  • Instructional technology specialist: These professionals support faculty members with information technology in support of teaching and learning. Experienced instructional technology specialists may earn up to $75,613.
  • Curriculum specialist: They design and develop employee learning programs in alignment with organizational goals and training needs. These professionals may earn up to $86,848.
  • Training manager: Training managers design, plan, and implement corporate training programs, policies, and procedures. Top training managers may earn up to $122,541.
  • Human resources manager: These professionals design, plan, and implement human resources programs and policies for staffing, compensation, benefits, employee relations, training, and health and safety. Experienced HR managers earn a median income of $123,747.

Taking the Next Step

Whether you’re looking to change careers, advance your career within the education field, or are looking to make an impact in the way people learn, eLearning and instructional design offers you that and more.

“It’s really a field of the future,” Mahler says. “It’s for you if you like variety in your work because it’s constantly changing. That’s what makes eLearning and instructional design interesting.”

Download Our Free Guide to Advancing in Higher Education“ width=