Knowledge is power — the ultimate cliché. And, yet, it’s a statement that realistically defines the lives of modern instructional designers. These professionals understand that today's knowledge economy relies on the quick acquisition of new skills. Instructional designers are determined to optimize this process and, in doing so, transform academia and professional life as we know it.
What Is Instructional Design? Why Is It Important?
Instructional design is typically regarded as a modern, even revolutionary, concept. In reality, however, the foundation for this niche formed during World War II when prompt recruitment called for even faster training. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, educational psychologists and researchers developed many of the theories that inform the field today. Key players included B.F. Skinner and Robert Gagné.
Today, instructional design integrates empirically-based learning theory with project management and modern technology to help learners master skills as quickly and as effectively as possible. Instructional design is all about efficiency. It aims to bring a systematic approach to the process of learning, in which instruction delivers a clear outcome. Although elements of this approach have made their way into academia—especially with massive open online courses (MOOCs) and other e-learning solutions—it is primarily relied upon in the private sector, where shifting technology requires employees to gain new skills more rapidly than ever before.
Who Is a Good Candidate for Instructional Design?
While a variety of qualities set successful instructional designers apart, a love of learning and an appreciation for a fast-paced environment are key. Ideal job candidates will be self-starters—highly motivated and willing to acquire new skills or knowledge as needed. Other valuable qualities include:
Ability to work with others.
Although independence is valued, most instructional designers work alongside teams of fellow professionals. They also interact regularly with learners and instructors.
Instructional designers should understand the needs of learners and how they will feel if carefully tailored instruction helps them master material.
Strong written communication.
Instructional designers spend much of their time writing lesson plans, video scripts, and design proposals.
Given the importance of e-learning in today's professional environment, job candidates should be capable of navigating software, mobile apps, and other technological tools.
Instructional Design Coursework
As a student pursuing a Master of Science in Instructional Design & Technology, you'll delve into learning theories, project management, multimedia technology, and more. Upon completing this program, you should understand how students learn most effectively, how instruction is designed, and how advanced software can be used to craft instructional materials that meet learners' unique needs. Along the way, you'll interact closely with some of the field's most respected professionals — and you'll see key concepts play out as you gain practical experience.
Core courses for the Master of Science in Instructional Design & Technology at Johnson & Wales University include:
- Theoretical Foundations of Learning, Design, and Technology
- Principles of Instructional Design
- Strategic Assessment and Evaluation
- Project Management for Learning and Development
- Digital Tools for Learner-Centered Environments
- Emerging Trends in Multimedia
- Team Dynamics
- Coaching and Consultation Skills
Aspiring instructional designers will also complete a two-part capstone prior to graduation. The capstone courses allow students to dive deeply into a key challenge in the field. During the capstone experience, students develop a plan for addressing the challenge, ideally incorporating the design, technological and project management skills they've gained in previous courses.
Working As an Instructional Designer: A Day in the Life
No two instructional design jobs look exactly alike—and no two days on the job look alike either. Instructional designers may work for large corporations, nonprofits, government agencies, or educational institutions. Some work in-house and on a full-time basis, while others act as consultants for a variety of businesses.
As with job duties, pay varies considerably between instructional designers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics—which includes instructional designers in the broader category of 'training and development specialists'—reported median annual wages of $60,870 in 2018. Pay is determined in part by experience and in part by the industry in which the designer is employed. Those involved in scientific and technical services earn a median $67,120, compared to a median $55,250 for the healthcare and social assistance niche.
Opportunities for advancement abound for successful instructional designers who show a knack for leadership. Some are promoted to team leads or managers. In this role, they're responsible not only for overseeing and guiding a team of instructional designers, but also interacting closely with key stakeholders as they develop long-term plans for instructional success. Lateral movement between niches is also common; many instructional designers eventually transition into curriculum development or interactive design.
Ready to make a difference in a fast-paced and highly promising field? A bright future awaits in instructional design. Get started by enrolling in the Instructional Design & Technology program at Johnson & Wales University.