Gone are the days when teachers stood at the front of the classroom and lectured for hours on end—or at least, they should be. Many instructors are shifting from using a teacher-centric model to a learner-centric one that prioritizes students, and instructional or learning designers are at the forefront of helping them create educational experiences that focus on the learner. Instructional design professionals carefully consider the best way to present information, then develop classes, workshops, materials, and other instructional resources that are then distributed and used in settings that range from classrooms to corporate training sessions.
As more organizations adopt learner-centric models of teaching, demand for instructional designers who can create effective programs has increased. In 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projected job growth of 9 percent in this field during the next 10 years—higher than average for all other career fields. This growth is driven primarily by an increase in online learning and improvements in the technology necessary to undertake it, with nearly 34 percent of students now taking at least one class online during the course of their education.
Instructional designers make an average salary of $84,421, according to the eLearning Guild, but salaries can vary based on your level of education, location, and specific role within the industry. The following guide will introduce you to some of the most popular instructional design careers, their responsibilities, and how much instructional designers make.
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What Do Instructional Designers Do?
In general, careers within the instructional design field focus on the creation of effective learning experiences that are based in theory, learning science, and modern delivery methods, such as online discussion boards or in-class activities. Learning experiences can be designed for classroom use at all levels of education, corporate training programs, nonprofit workshops, and more.
Instructional designers begin each project by conducting a needs assessment that analyzes their client’s current situation, defines the end goal, and helps them determine the best way to create a learning experience.
“The complexity of the learning depends on what comes out of the needs assessment,” says Elizabeth Mahler, associate teaching professor and lead faculty member of the eLearning and instructional design program at Northeastern’s Graduate School of Education. In some instances, a one-time, discussion-based workshop session may be sufficient, while more complex needs may result in a plan for a multi-week, virtual course.
After determining these foundational elements, the designer can then design the learning experience by creating learning objectives, instructional strategies, and learner assessments. They can then select or create the necessary media, delivery methods, and teacher resources, among other elements. This process typically requires collaboration with subject-matter experts who understand the content of the program, media specialists, and other professionals. After creating a learning experience, instructional designers implement the program and evaluate its success.
Here are some of the careers you can choose within the instructional design field. Many of these roles can be undertaken on a freelance or consulting basis, allowing for career flexibility, while others can be in-house roles within school districts, universities, governments, and businesses.
Popular Instructional Design Careers for Graduates
Average Salary: $75,303
Curriculum designers typically specialize in the creation of educational experiences for students in grades K through 12. They develop lessons and teaching materials, like worksheets and teachers’ guides, and tailor the material to the appropriate age level.
eLearning Instructional Designer
Average Salary: $62,424
An eLearning instructional designer focuses on creating engaging and effective online learning experiences using a variety of media. They must be familiar with a wide range of online delivery platforms, such as Blackboard, Zoom, and Canvas, in order to select the right tools for each program. An understanding of how online learning differs from in-person instruction and the resulting challenges it can present is important.
Instructional Learning Analyst
Average Salary: $57,208
Learning analysts use technology and large-scale data to better understand how people learn. Their insights help others within the instructional design field create more effective learning experiences based on real-world data.
Average Salary: $55,422
Similar to instructional designers, training specialists design and create training materials for various groups. However, they often deliver these programs themselves, taking on the role of teacher as well as designer. Training specialists generally work in corporate settings by assisting with employee training.
Average Salary: $136,767
Instructional design teams may consist of media, permissions, content, and design experts, who all need to work together on distinct areas of the project to successfully complete it. Enlisting the support of a dedicated project manager can, therefore, be essential in keeping the team organized and on schedule. A project manager who understands instructional design will be able to define the project, create a plan and schedule for it, and problem solve as needed to meet deadlines while keeping the specific needs of instructional design in mind.
Continuing Your Instructional Design Education at Northeastern
Experience is critical to positioning yourself as a competitive job applicant, so it’s important to develop a strong portfolio of work before graduation.
“When somebody comes in for a job interview, people want to see them walk through a portfolio of past projects and show how they operated in different situations,” Mahler says. She notes that applicants should be able to show how they contributed to the larger project and effectively problem solved throughout the creation process, both of which demonstrate an understanding of team goals and an ability to produce effective results.
Students in Northeastern’s eLearning and instructional design masters’ program have at least two opportunities to complete experience-based work, such as a capstone or student-led independent study projects, during the course of their education. Northeastern’s Experiential Network also allows students to work with the university’s partner organizations on developing, implementing, and evaluating courses to solve the partner’s business problems.
“Every course includes an authentic project that would be aligned with student interests, something they do at work, or something they might do in the field,” Mahler says.
Courses are taught by professors with industry experience, and the program concentrates on cultural responsibility and universal design, helping students design learning experiences for all learners. Its small size creates ample opportunity for personalization, and Mahler encourages students to create their own projects for more enriching study.
If you’re interested in advancing your career, learn more about Northeastern’s Master of Education in eLearning and Instructional Design can help.