What is your hourly rate as an instructional designer? How much do you make if you’re a full-time salaried employee? What about freelance or consultant rates? People frequently ask me these questions, and I always refer people to the same resources. Use these benchmarks to use as a starting point, but you’ll need to adjust for your experience, education, skills, industry, whether you’re a full-time employee or independent consultant, etc.
Note that since I’m in the US, all of these resources are US-centric. Hourly rates and salaries outside the US will vary, although Canada seems to be pretty comparable. Also, I’m focusing on data for instructional designers. If you search for related titles like elearning developer, training specialist, or learning and development manager, you’ll get different results.
Salary: Around $85,000
Comparing multiple sources, I find that the average salary for an instructional designer is about $85,000.
ZipRecruiter lists the average salary for instructional designers at $80,182.
On Salary.com, they divide the instructional designer role up into different levels. A level III ID has a median salary of $87,923.
Glassdoor lists total pay of $93,261, but that includes bonuses.
Devlin Peck’s survey found that instructional designers in the US make an average of $85,466.
With a free membership in the Learning Guild, you can access their past reports. The most recent detailed salary report is from 2018. The 2018 report puts the average salary for elearning professionals in the US at $84,421. The 2019 salary report took a different approach since salaries have been fairly stable, focusing on job roles and trends. (Note: you may see references to their salary calculator, but that appears to have been taken down, probably since the data is a little outdated.)
ATD’s 2018 research found a median base salary for talent development professionals (including IDs) of $82,350.
Lower salaries in higher ed, other sources
Instructional design jobs in higher education pay less than those in workplace training. HigherEdJobs lists the salary for instructional designers at $58,828.
Payscale’s estimates are much lower than others in the field, showing an average salary of $64,907. Indeed also lists a similar lower average salary of $65,059. It’s not clear why their data is different. These sources might include more higher education data, which would bring the overall averages down.
Entry level salary: Around $55,000
Entry level salaries for instructional designers are much lower, usually around $50-60k.
ZipRecruiter shows a national average entry level salary of $56,182.
Salary.com shows a median salary for “instructional designer I” (an entry level or lower level role) at $60,673.
Hourly rates for full-time IDs: Around $35-40/hour
Salary.com puts the hourly rate for instructional designers at $32-40, with an average of $36/hour.
ZipRecruiter lists the average hourly rate at $39/hour.
Consultant and freelance rates: A wide range
Benchmarks for consultant and freelance rates
Rates for consultants and freelancers vary much more than salaries for full-time employees, so it’s harder to get averages or statistics to use as benchmarks.
Writing Assistance Inc lists rates from $70-105+, with an average of $90.
The IDLance blog recommends different rates depending on experience.
- $35-45/hr for people just getting started who need a first project
- $45-60/hr for people with 1-3 years of experience
- $60-75/hr for people with 4+ years of experience.
Personally, I think the top end of that IDLance range is too low–the hourly rates can continue to go up with more experience and specialized skills. More experienced freelancers can earn $100-$150/hour, sometimes even up to $200/hour.
Harold Jarche’s “So You Want To Be an ELearning Consultant?” article is now 10+ years old, but the idea of ranges of rates for different activities is still relevant. Click the table at the bottom to expand it and see the details, adding $5-$10/hour for current rates. Design tasks are $50-100 on his chart; development tasks are $30-60 (I would update this to at least $40-65). Technological and business analytical tasks can earn you up to $200. Ray Pastore created an updated version of this list in 2014 showing rates from $35-$250/hour depending on the task.
On Upwork, instructional designers cost $20-45/hour, but the rates go as high as $125/hour for advanced work. (Note that Upwork keeps a percentage of that fee, so the IDs don’t keep all of that. Also, the very low end of that range is probably people outside of the United States.)
Federal government contracting
For contractors with the Federal government, you can use the GSA calculator to see the “not-to-exceed hourly rate” for different roles. For government contractors, the average ceiling rate is $113/hour, with a primary range from $72-154/hour. There are a number of jobs lower than $72/hour, including quite a few below $50/hour, so there are more opportunities at the low end of that range. Note that these contracts are always with specific companies, so you have to subcontract through those companies rather than getting the work yourself as an individual.
Freelance Rate Calculators
Quick way to calculate your rate
The quick way to calculate a freelance hourly rate is to double your W2 or full-time hourly rate. When you work independently, you have to pay additional taxes and buy your own software. You also spend a lot of time that isn’t billable (proposals, marketing, professional development, etc.). If you made $35/hour as a full-time ID, then you should charge about $70/hour as a freelancer.
Other ways to calculate a freelance rate
Vanessa Alzate explains in this video how to figure out your hourly rate as an instructional designer. She cites some sources (thanks for the mention, Vanessa!) and explains some of the considerations and trade-offs for your hourly rate, especially if you’re getting started.
Although it isn’t specific to instructional design or e-learning, Flying Solo’s Hourly Rate Calculator is a useful tool to determine your hourly rate as a freelancer based on your expenses. This calculator is more detailed that the one listed above.
Here’s another similar rate calculator from Use Pastel.
Jeffrey Rhodes’ presentation on how to price consulting work explains how to determine your hourly rate as a consultant and how to estimate and price services. The presentation is dated looking, but the explanation of the thought process may be helpful.
Get paid what you’re worth
I presented on getting paid what you’re worth as part of the TLDC Women of L&D Conference 2023. I reviewed many of the stats presented here as well as discussing the gender pay gap in L&D and how to increase your pay. I answered a bunch of questions about salary, pay, and freelancing.
You can watch the recording here or on the TLDC website.
Instructional Design Careers
Want more info? Check out my other posts on instructional design careers.
Looking to hire an instructional designer?
I help organizations who need online learning that gets results and changes behavior. I also provide coaching for individuals in the field. Interested in learning more? Check out my portfolio or contact me with information about your goals.
Originally published 9/3/2013. Updated 5/2/19, 5/26/22, 4/19/23
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