how to become instructional designer

The blog post “How to Start a Career in the ELearning Field” is one of the most readable posts in spite of the fact that it was written 2 years ago. We’ve decided to give it a much-needed update and add additional information, resources and tips required for building a career in the eLearning field.

The original blog post contained just general information on how to break into the eLearning industry with little or no expertise. We thought it might be a good idea to provide information on each eLearning job position and decided to start with instructional design.

Eventually, the blog post will contain information on the following:

  • How to become an instructional designer?
  • How to become a training and development manager?
  • How to become a learning technology specialist?
  • How to become a learning and development specialist?
  • How to become a course developer?
  • How to become a content specialist?
  • How to become a multimedia-learning specialist?

Let’s start at the beginning.

To get the idea of what is behind the above-mentioned eLearning roles, have a look at the table featuring the job description, duties and qualifications needed.

eLearning RolesDescription and dutiesQualifications needed
eLearning developer ELearning developer works on course development, design and maintenance. Instructions tools and technologies knowledge (Authoring tools, LMS, Photoshop, SCORM). Strong communicational skills and creativity.
Instructional designer Instructional designer analyzes, designs and develops instructional materials and transfers them into online curriculum. Instructional designer analyzes, designs and develops instructional materials and transfers them into online curriculum. Instructions tools and technologies knowledge (Authoring tools, LMS, Photoshop, SCORM). Analytical and writing skills.
Training and development manager Training and development manager creates and implements training programs, evaluates effectiveness. Strong interpersonal and communication skills. LMS and HRIS experience.
Learning Technology specialist Learning Technology specialist is responsible for learning technologies initiatives (eLearning software implementation, administration, support and training). Coding, instructions tools and technologies, graphic design software knowledge.
Learning and development specialist Learning and development specialist conducts training sessions, administers LMS, assists with audit and collecting internal data LMS and learning/training techniques knowledge.
Course developer Course developer works on employee training programs design and development. Instructions tools and technologies knowledge (Authoring tools, LMS, Photoshop, SCORM).
Content specialist Content specialist is responsible for course content collection. Strong research and analytics skills.
Multimedia learning specialist Multimedia learning specialist works on enhancing learning engagement using design and multimedia skills. Creativity, graphic design tools experience.

Who is an Instructional Designer?

As it has been mentioned above, an instructional designer deals with designing distant learning courses or learning materials either for educational institutions or a corporate sector. The job of an instructional designer involves a lot of communication with clients and people who will be taking the courses they design, learning about the topic of the course and experimenting with learning approaches and models.

“The Instructional Designer's role is comparable to a General Contractor. A General Contractor (GC) needs to understand foundations, framing, electrical, plumbing, and more, but she or he is not an expert in all of these areas. The GC should be an expert in at least one area--the others are delegated to Subcontractors. When the situation requires it, a good GC is always ready to jump in and help get the job done. An Instructional Designer (ID) operates in the same way.”

Jeogre Joeckel

What kind of tasks does an instructional designer perform?

The instructional designer tasks may differ from one position to another. We’ve collected the most common ones:

  • Setting the learning goals and determining the eLearning project scope;
  • Creating eLearning courses content and working on its design;
  • Repurposing and reworking old and offline learning material;
  • Co-working with a subject-matter expert, project manager, quality assurance specialist;
  • Learning strategy development;
  • Writing video and audio scripts;
  • Conducting researches and analyses;
  • Creating assessments;
  • Packaging the course to be delivered within a Learning Management System.

Instructional designer skills:

To become an instructional designer you need to possess the following skills:

  • Familiarity with multiple Authoring tools, Learning Management Systems and training programs;
  • Graphic design, audio and video editing skills;
  • Various learning models, theories, instructional strategies and approaches knowledge;
  • Good writing, communication, visualization, editing and computer skills;
  • Knowledge of HTML, CSS, Flash, graphic editors and presentation software;
  • etc.

Instructional designer skills source

Instructional Designer Career Path

1. The first step towards becoming an instructional designer is to decide on the niche (corporate, non-profit, academic or government).

2. The second one is to gain the necessary instructional design knowledge through reading relevant literature, blogs on the Internet, Wikipedia articles, reports and experts’ opinions.

Kristin Anthony – an experienced instructional designer - in her interview for the JoomlaLMS blog recommended the following books to read:

On our behalf we recommend instructional designers to read the following blog posts to get familiar with eLearning terms, standards, software types and various learning theories and models (ADDIE, Agile):

3. The third step is to get an instructional design degree, training or at least an online certificate. When selecting a degree or a training program choose the course that focuses on educational psychology and learning design principles rather than the tech that is changing so fast.

Free or Low Cost Instructional Design courses:

4. Next step is to create an instructional design portfolio.

A good instructional design portfolio is supposed to demonstrate your creativity, critical thinking and technical skills. Showcase projects demonstrating video editing skills, top authoring tools usage, storyboards, simulations and a voice over.

Download free trials of Storyline, TechSmith Camtasia, Captivate, Adobe Presenter or any other authoring tool to experiment with.

Look at the Instructional Design job description and try to make the projects companies are looking for. For example, if you want to work as an Instructional designer in higher educational institutions it might be a good idea to design a course on adult learning. If you are interested in working for a corporate sector, design a course on safety, conflict management training or leadership.

Experienced instructional designers recommend not using in your portfolio authoring tools you are not comfortable working with, because there is a chance a client will ask you to perform the tasks with the software they saw in your portfolio.

The Articulate Challenges is a good place to build new skills, find inspiration and build an instructional design portfolio.

We’ve also collected the resources that will help you to build a good portfolio by experimenting and emulating other learning design examples:

5. When the theoretical knowledge is gained, time to get some instructional design experience. If you find a paid job, you will be lucky. But it is normal to start with an internship or voluntary work. is a great resource to gain instructional design experience by doing a voluntary job for non-profits and educational institutions.

Other websites where you can look for free and paid instructional design projects are:

  • Freelance websites (,,,,, etc.);
  • ELearning communities such as Freelance Heroes;
  • Companies’ LinkedIn pages;
  • LinkedIn groups;
  • Google Hangouts;
  • Articulate jobs postings;
  •, and other Job boards;
  • Social media websites;
  • ELearning Blogs and websites;
  • eLearning conferences, seminars and events;
  • Inside Higher Education;
  • Chronicle of Higher Education;
  • University websites;
  • Headhunters’ help;
  • Personal connections (Connect with people in the industry and ask for advice or help to enter the eLearning market (LinkedIn, Google+, eLearning communities);
  • ELearning conferences by ASTD, Educause, SloanC, etc.

To find your first instructional design job or an internship search for the following job titles:

  • Instructional designer;
  • Instructional technologist;
  • Instructional coordinator;
  • Curriculum developer;
  • Curriculum manager;
  • Course developer;
  • Learning technologist;
  • Training specialist;
  • Training coordinator;
  • Training manager;
  • Education specialist;
  • etc.

6. ELearning industry is one of the fastest developing industries in the world that is why it is important to stay on track. Subscribe to the best instructional design blogs, join leading instructional design groups on Facebook and LinkedIn, and connect with the industry experts.

Who is Instructional Designer?

A list of eLearning communities and associations you can join:

Top Instructional Design Blogs to read:

Top Instructional Designers to Follow:

Other Useful Instructional Design Resources

Here you will find the instructional designer career options with the level of education and skills required for each job title.

What concerns the salary, here is a good online resource to calculate the salary depending on your location, the level of expertise and skills possessed.

Challenges of Instructional Designers

Remember, there will be a number of challenges you will face while being an instructional designer.

Instructional designer challenges


Be ready to take a job with a lower salary first and work hard as a junior ID specialist to get valuable instructional design experience. You will work with unfamiliar topics most of the time and will have to study a lot of materials every day to create a good course. But it is the kind of job where you will learn something new every day, a job where you can be creative and constantly develop new skills.

Good luck with your career!

Other eLearning career guides are coming shortly. Please subscribe to our blog for new posts.

What to read next?
What 6 ELearning Business Owners Wish They Had Done Differently
16 Remarkable Lessons Learned from Interviewing Top ELearning and Edtech Experts
25 Blogs for Someone Who Wants To Become an ELearning Professional

LMS Learning