This is post #3 in a series about how to become an instructional designer. In particular, this post is about the instructional design skills needed to break into the field. Note that this post isn’t about technology skills and what software to learn; that’s in a separate post. This post is about free and low cost resources to gain a foundation of skills needed to start an instructional design career. Links to the rest of the series can be found at the end of this post.
I know many instructional designers were originally teachers or trainers who changed careers (just like I did). Many of the skills overlap between these fields, so it can be an easier transition than between many fields. However, just like every other field, instructional design has its own set of jargon and specialized knowledge. Even though many skills are transferable from teaching, you still have to put effort into learning skills specific to instructional design.
What to learn about instructional design
First, get an overview of instructional design. The resources below are a good place to start.
Then, review the skills needed for instructional designers. Review job opening to see what employers expect. Check professional standards like the ATD Talent Development Capability Model and the IBSTPI Instructional Designer Competencies as benchmarks. Evaluate your current skills and identify what gaps you need to fill. If you’re learning on your own, seek out resources to address those specific gaps in your own knowledge and skills.
These skills are all useful if you’re looking for entry-level instructional design positions.
- Instructional design models
- Basics of learning science (how to use multimedia, create practice and assessment activities, provide feedback, engage learners, etc.)
- Written communication (a LOT of the job is writing), especially writing for learning
- Needs assessment
- Learning objectives
- Organizing and planning content
- Storyboarding and script writing
- Visual design principles
- Working with SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) and other stakeholders
- Project management basics
Instructional design basics and overviews
If you’re considering moving into instructional design, I think one of the best things to do is just to start reading about it. Fortunately, many free resources are available online.
- ATD’s What Is Instructional Design? is a good place to start. This page includes links to a number of other resources.
- Tim Slade has a quick 8-minute video answering the question What Skills Do You Need to Be an Instructional Designer?
- Check out my post on a Basic Instructional Design Process. I wrote this as an overview for someone outside the field. However, this framework gives you a basic process as a starting point.
- Jane Bozarth’s 10-Minute Instructional Design Degree has some great tips to keep in mind.
- Articulate has collected a number of posts on Practical Instructional Design Basics for those getting started.
- Devlin Peck created an extensive Guide to Becoming an Instructional Designer which includes summaries of learning theories, notes on tools, and tips for your portfolio and resume.
- The overview of Instructional Design Models from the Instructional Design Central website gives you an overview of multiple models. It’s helpful to be aware of all of these models, even if you don’t learn all of them deeply enough to use them.
- Instructional Design 101: A Must-Read List for Beginners is a quick read with notes on key skills to learn.
- ATD’s Talent Development Glossary is a good reference for all of the terms and jargon in the field.
- Don Clark’s classic site has a great introduction to Instructional Systems Design (ISD) and ADDIE, the most common instructional design model. The site looks very dated, but the content on classic ID models is still solid. I used this site when I was first moving into instructional design.
Publications, webinars, and other free resources
- Learning Solutions is a Learning Guild publication with contributions by numerous authors. You can get this for free.
- Training Mag Network provides numerous free webinars related to instructional design and training.
- Many of ATD’s resources require a paid membership, but you can find blog posts, articles, and other resources for free even without a membership.
- Get an overview of the Different Types of Learning Theories as a foundation for understanding the theoretical underpinning for instructional design.
- Kayleen Holt has collected a large collection for her How to Become an Instructional Designer: The Ultimate Resource List.
- LinkedIn Learning is a paid online course platform, but many public libraries in the US provide access for free. Check the learning path called Build Your Skills as an Instructional Designer. I don’t think this online course is enough to help you get a job without additional resources and practice, but it can give you some foundational knowledge.
- Project Management for Instructional Designers is a free textbook by David Wiley. Project management is an important skill for many instructional design roles.
- My list of bookmarks tagged “instructionaldesign” contain a wide range of resources. I also have a shorter list of resources for new IDs, including reading lists and information about starting in this field.
Books about instructional design
I use affiliate links when I share books and some additional resources. It won’t cost you anything additional, but a small portion of the purchase price comes to me to help defray the cost of hosting my blog.
If you have a little budget, there are some great books available as well.
- Saul Carliner’s Training Design Basics is a practical, comprehensive starting point. The intended audience is beginners in the field to who want to learn the process of designing workplace training from start to finish. It’s not flashy, just practical.
- Julie Dirksen’s Design for How People Learn provides a very accessible view of research on the science of learning.
- Cammy Bean’s The Accidental Instructional Designer is now updated for its second edition. This book is specifically geared for people who don’t have formal training in instructional design.
- Clark and Mayer’s eLearning and the Science of Instruction is a solid overview of multimedia learning theory and the research on how to use graphics, audio, and other technology to support learning.
- I compiled a list of 50+ Books for Instructional Designers if you are looking additional reading. That list is grouped by topic to help you find specific recommendations.
Other posts in this series
- What Does an Instructional Designer Do?
- Getting Into Instructional Design
- Resources for Learning Instructional Design Skills (current post)
- Technology Skills for Instructional Designers
- Professional Organizations for Instructional Designers
- Is Instructional Design the Right Career?
Read all my posts about Instructional Design Careers here.
Read a Spanish translation of an earlier version of this post: Habilidades de diseño instruccional
Originally published 5/31/2007 with the title “Instructional Design Skills.” Updated 2/21/2019, 3/6/2022. Revised and republished with the current title 5/2/2023.
Tuesday, October 31, 3:00 PM EDT: Level Up Your Elearning: Character Creation for Scenario-Based Learning. Part of TLDC’s free event From Instructional Design to Dungeons & Dragons: The Chronicles of Educaria.
In Dungeons & Dragons, character creation is the foundation of epic storytelling. In learning and development, the creation of characters plays a pivotal role in scenario-based learning. For this session, you will complete activities focused on shaping character backstories, defining their objectives, and constructing challenges that spark curiosity and foster learning. Learn tips for creating characters who are both relevant to your training context and interesting enough to spark attention. A good character for scenario-based learning is one your learners can identify with and that draws them into the story. Just like in RPGs, creating characters for workplace training scenarios requires a bit of imagination. Plan to actively participate in this session and practice creating both protagonists or player characters (PCs) and additional non-player characters (NPCs).