This is the last installment of my series on instructional design careers. Links to the rest of the series are at the end of this post. Previously, I’ve talked about the skills instructional designers need and how to get into the field of ID. In this post, I talk about determining if instructional design is a good “fit” as a career. This is less about the skills and more about the desire; it’s about figuring out if you’d be happy working as an instructional designer. Consider these traits of instructional design roles if you’re contemplating a career transition.
Working behind the scenes
During one of my previous roles, I interviewed a lot of candidates for instructional designer openings. Many of these candidates were teachers who wanted to change careers. We always asked those candidates how they would feel giving up direct interaction with students. That’s one of the important considerations for teachers and trainers who are used to being up in front of a room full of people.
If you’re thinking about a career in instructional design, ask yourself: will I be happy working “behind the scenes” instead of directly with students? Will I be happy not seeing that “light bulb moment” anymore? If the answer is no, then maybe this isn’t the right fit for you. Teachers who spoke at length about their passion for interacting with students were less likely to proceed to a second interview, partly because we weren’t sure they’d be happy with zero student interaction.
Working with SMEs
Working “behind the scenes” doesn’t mean you don’t work with people though. Building relationships with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) is an important part of what we do as well. Knowing how to work with content experts and guide them through the course development process is crucial.
Every organization has different expectations for how IDs and SMEs work together, but this is often a close collaborative relationship. If you hate having someone else act as the expert, you probably won’t enjoy being an ID. Our job is to be experts on designing the learning, (usually) not experts in the content.
Learning & using technology
I posted earlier in this series about technology skills for instructional designers. Most ID roles require at least an understanding of the benefits and drawbacks of different technology, even if you’re not working with those tools directly yourself. If you really dislike learning new technology, instructional design probably isn’t a good career fit.
That’s even more true now than when I published the first version of this post in 2007. At my first ID job in 2004, we had two separate teams: one for instructional designers, and one for Flash developers. (Remember Flash?) At that time, it was a lot easier to find jobs that focused solely on writing and designing. These days, with Storyline, Rise, Captivate, Camtasia, and other tools, it’s so much easier to produce elearning yourself, without a separate multimedia team. What I hear from job seekers now is that it’s nearly impossible to get an instructional design job without a portfolio that shows your skills in elearning authoring tools and visual design.
More than just authoring tools
Instructional design is about more than just using elearning authoring tools to build flashy multimedia though. If you really want to focus only on the technology and development side, without doing any analysis, planning, writing, storyboarding, and so on, instructional design probably isn’t a good fit. In that case, I recommend becoming an elearning developer or multimedia specialist instead of an instructional designer.
I’m always learning something new: new subjects, new technology, new research, new business tactics. That’s one of my favorite parts of being an instructional designer. It’s a common characteristic of instructional designers; we see the opportunity to continuously learn as a benefit of the job.
If you’re looking for a field where you can spend a few months building skills and then coast at your job, keep looking. This isn’t it.
Helping others learn
To feel fulfilled in a career as an instructional designer, it helps if you enjoy helping people learn. This field is filled with people who are genuinely interested in making people’s lives and work better.
The best instructional designers I’ve worked with have been excited by figuring out ways to create great learning experiences. Technology motivates us because of the opportunities for learning it creates. Learning science make us more effective. Everything revolves around helping people learn. More than anything else, I think that desire to help others learn is what drives the best instructional designers.
If you’re considering a career in instructional design, I hope this series has given you some insight on what we do, how we do it, and why we like it.
Other Posts in this Series
- What Does an Instructional Designer Do?
- Getting Into Instructional Design
- Resources for Learning Instructional Design Skills
- Technology Skills for Instructional Designers
- Professional Organizations for Instructional Designers
- Is Instructional Design the Right Career? (current post)
Read all my posts about Instructional Design Careers here.
Read an Italian translation of and earlier vesion this post: L’Instructional Design è la carriera giusta per te?
Originally published 6/20/2007/ Republished 4/18/2019. Last updated 6/15/2023.