Professional Organizations and Career Options

Learn about the two most prominent professional organizations and some employment optionswithin the field of instructional design.

What are the prominent professional organizations for instructional designers? What are some differences in instructional design jobs?

This post is part of a series about instructional design careers. I’ve been asked by a number of people how to get into this field, and these posts are largely collected from my email responses to those questions.

Professional Organizations and Career Options

Professional Organizations

A number of job seekers have asked about professional organizations to help people gain skills and network.

The eLearning Guild

I have been a member of the eLearning Guild for many years. They are focused specifically on elearning. The lowest level of membership is free. That free membership gives you access to the Learning Solutions online magazine, webinars, ebooks, and other resources.

Their conferences are great too; I have presented at the Learning Solutions Conference several times. I found one of my early instructional design jobs through their job board.

Association for Talent Development

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is another useful organization for professional development, networking, and job searching. , You can use their job boards for free, and some of their resources are open.

Paid memberships in the main organization provide additional premium resources. If your local chapter of ATD is active, it may be worth joining that even if you don’t also join the main organization. (Note that ATD used to be known as ASTD, the American Society for Training and Development.)

Career Options

Full-Time Positions

Many of the full-time positions are in larger organizations. Businesses need the training and are more likely to have dedicated training departments where instructional designers have a place in the process. Larger companies are also more likely to have a budget to do more extensive elearning. Some positions are a combination of instructional design and classroom training.

Other positions are in higher education. Instructional designer positions in universities are usually full-time, with long-term contracts. These roles have different responsibilities than IDs doing workplace training. They tend to focus on supporting faculty and coaching them to create better courses. IDs in universities are often heavily involved with the LMS, and may support a range of educational technology.

Contract Work, Freelancing, and Consulting

In my personal experience in the U.S., it seems like more instructional design jobs are contract than salaried. Those contracts are often W-2 contracts through a recruiting and placement company. Many instructional designers prefer to do contract work; it gives them flexibility and variety they wouldn’t find in a salaried position. If you’re switching careers, it may be easier to do a short contract or two to gain experience before you can get something more stable.

I have been working as an independent consultant since 2011. I see more people doing the freelance and consultant route now than I did 10 years ago, which seems consistent with trends in the economy overall.

Elearning Vendors

Elearning vendors hire instructional designers, often as subcontractors. Because these vendors often have a team of people working together, they often have more specialized roles. One person might write the storyboard, and another person (or team of people) might build it. Check out jobs with vendors if you’re looking for work focused on one or two aspects of the instructional design process.

Other Posts in this Series

  1. What Does an Instructional Designer Do?
  2. Getting Into Instructional Design
  3. Instructional Design Skills
  4. Technology Skills
  5. Professional Organizations and Career Options (current post)
  6. Is instructional design the right career?

Read all my posts about Instructional Design Careers here.

This post was originally published on 6/14/2007 and last updated 3/21/2019.

28 thoughts on “Professional Organizations and Career Options

  1. Hello! I represent Pearson Learning Solutions, a division of Pearson Higher Education that delivers e-learning and onsite course solutions using excellent materials from all Pearson publication companies: Prentice Hall, Allyn & Bacon, Longman, and Benjamin Cummings (among others).

    Our courses (online and onsite) are usually written by freelancers with academic and teaching credentials in the subject area.

    We are launching a recruitment web site for freelancer writers, subject-matter-experts, instructional designers, and editors called CourseBuilders. On the site, it would be ideal to have a links page with great organizations like yours listed.

    In return, we would provide a logo and contact information that you could post on your site. Your members could then find our site and possible extra money and experience opportunities with Pearson Learning Solutions.

    Please let me know if this partnership would be appealing to you, and/or the contact information of an individual with your organization who would make such decisions about your web site content.

    I can be reached most reliably by email, and you can also contact the Director of Editorial Services directly, Linda Malcak, at linda.malcak@pearson.com

    I look forward to a possible fruitful web partnership!

    1. I am currently working on my Masters Degree for Instructional Design. I am very interested in what your site/company has to offer. Can you please forward more information to my email address. I am very excited about entering this field as I am wanting a career change from 12 years of education and administration.

      Thanks

      Travis Cooper

  2. Well, I’m not an “organization”–you really should customize the form letter when you’re leaving comments on individual blogs like this. I don’t have members, just readers and commenters. I’m one person writing a blog.

    I see that you aren’t familiar with blogs at all, or you probably wouldn’t have posted that message as you did on my blog. So I’ll forgive you for not realizing that any blog hosted by WordPress.com (i.e., the address ends in wordpress.com) can’t have ads or paid links on it. Agreeing to post a link for pay would likely get my site shut down, as that would be a violation of the terms of service.

    I’ll leave the comment up in case any readers are interested in the site, but that’s all I can do.

  3. Sorry for the confusion! I am just looking for some good writing and course developer talent and thought your readers might fit the bill. I didn’t realize I was posting to the blog, but no matter, really. Happy blogging to you!

  4. I was wondering whether ID employers would consider a candidate that is self-taught in the programs and technological requirements for an ID position. I have been a high-school teacher for 4 years. I have always had to write my own material and have designed 2 advanced courses from scratch, selected the media and print materials for each one and developed the scope and sequence. This is really the most interesting aspect of teaching in my opinion and of course, finding the best method to achieve learning for a particular audience. I am confident that ID is a great fit for me. However I already have a Masters in Spanish and have an overwhelming amount of student loans. I would like to get into the field through on-the-job training if possible or find a scholarship/ grant for a graduate program. I am having a difficult time finding opportunities that will actually provide any form of training in ID and that dont already require mastery of the technology and process. Are there internships out there? I just recently relocated to Austin, TX. I have heard this is a great place for ID. Any help is greatly appreciated.

  5. Many employers will hire people who are self-taught, including former K-12 teachers like you and me. Cammy Bean’s survey of ID degrees currently has about a third of instructional designers reporting that they have a degree actually in ID.

    Unfortunately, I have no idea about internships or the Austin market. You might want to try posting your resume on the eLearning Guild job board.

    What about learning some of the technology on your own rather than restricting your job search to positions that will train you?

  6. Christy,

    Thank you for all the great information for people interested in ID!!! I started in the Instructional Systems Technology Master’s program at Indiana U this fall, mainly because I get tuition reimbursement as an IU employee, and the program sounded interesting. (I have a Master’s in Special Ed from a long time ago, and tho I only taught for a short time, I still have an interest in how people learn.)

    Your site has helped clarify a few things for me, and the links to resources are very much appreciated. Something I’ve been told in the program that I didn’t notice here (maybe I just missed it)… There are areas of specialization within ID besides education versus business. For example, some designers focus on design & development, while others (in the corporate world, not education) actually focus on analysis & evaluation.

    I work as an assistant at a university center that does evaluation. I’m getting experience with analysis and evaluation, so it seems like I ought to specialize in that area. But design and development sounds like more interesting and fun to me. I definitely appreciate your advise to learn html and the various software programs.

    I’m still looking at 3 years of schooling (1 class/semester), so I have some time to figure out where I fit best. But I am definitely looking forward to the day when I can change careers – administrative assistant to instructional designer!

  7. Hi Laura,

    You raise some interesting points. I didn’t talk about it here, but there is a range of instructional design jobs. Cammy Bean wrote a good post about ID as a spectrum that I think you would find of interest.

    Personally, I don’t think I’ve ever read a job description for an ID position that specified that it was focused on analysis and evaluation. It may be that those are out there, of course, just not where I was looking. I think in the past many IDs have focused mostly on the analysis and design while letting courseware developers do the development and implementation. That still happens in the big e-learning vendors, but I don’t see it as much in smaller organizations.

    In small and medium-sized organizations, it’s more likely that you do everything. Many people seem to be one-person training departments, including some who do stand-up training in addition to all the ADDIE instructional design.

    Wendy Wickham in a comment summed it up very well: “more skills = more opportunities.” Even if you find that your passion really lies with analysis and evaluation, getting experience with design and development makes you much more employable. You have this time at IU–take advantage of trying out everything you can. Get exposed to everything and hopefully you’ll have plenty of opportunities when you leave. The IU program seems really good, so I’m sure you will have a head start on the competition.

    Good luck!

  8. I found your blog, very interesting. I am a specialist ICT teacher who is looking to branch out into a change, I think you may have given me the answer, as this is what I have already been doing within the school environment.

    Thank for all your information

  9. Very interesting blog. I left teaching to go into design work and find that it was one of the best decisions I ever made. Both financially and stress wise, I am much better off.

    One thing I will say is that many new IDs focus on the technology, which is definitely necessary. However, one of the most overlook skill sets is a high level grasp of professional English. I see this as one of the most neglected aspects of ID training programs and of everyday IDs. My advice to new IDs: study your English.

    One other thing I’d add is that a good number of IDs work for the military or military contractors. If would-be IDs have a clean background, they should consider looking into this area. There are many opportunities, assuming you qualify for a government security clearance.

  10. Very good site. I like it. I am currently getting a graduate level certificate in ID while working on a Master’s in Education with specilization in T&D. Another option for people looking to get into ID is with the government. There are numerous ID jobs (they call them Instructional Systems Specialists) working for the Air Force, Army, and Navy. Note: I’m talking about civilian government jobs.

  11. Thank you so much for such an informative post! I’ve always loved designing curriculum, and over the last few years have especially enjoyed using new technology to do so.

    I’ve been wondering if this could be a new field for me, but did’t know what it was called. So it’s exciting to see that all of the skills I’ve used over the years, can be turned into a new career. I’m especially happy that the exact same skills I use to customize curriculum for special needs students can be transferred to here.

    Thanks again!

    BTW- I actually found your site through LinkedIn.

  12. Hi Christy, you made my decicsion to get into ID easy, I have been a tech writer, corporate marketing tech support (html, other tools) and trainer, elearning manager (moodle), captivate, snagit, dreamweaver, made lot of prototypes, but was not aware that all that I do is basically you call them Instructional desingner and not merely a tech writer, thank u soooo much, it was so clear, great blog!!!

  13. Hi, I am an Irish citizen hoping to pursue a Master’s in Instructional design in the UK. I cannot find any courses under that title. There are however many under Teaching and learning with ICT, learning technologies. Could you tell me which would be the best to pursue if I wanted to start a career in ID.

    1. I’m not familiar with any of the degree programs in the UK. Open University is the one I hear most often mentioned there. University of Hull is another one. I’m afraid I don’t know anything about them other than their names though.

      I would also encourage you to read the discussion on my post Overqualified Instructional Designers, especially the comments from Karyn Romeis. The UK seems to be a very different environment from the US regarding degrees. Karyn’s experience has been that her masters degree is a detriment when finding a job, not a benefit. Judith Christian-Carter also described having to prove that she has the skills in spite of her degrees.

      If you’re planning to work in a university environment, that’s different. I know it’s only anecdotal, but I’d caution anyone in the UK looking for a masters degree to really do some research and talk to people in the field there.

  14. Hi Christy, I found this blog very useful and I will start visiting the names of the organizations you listed. I have a Masters degree in Instructional Technology, but no experience to show for. That’s what’s holding me back from getting a job in the field and I am aware that I do have to learn some programs like Captivate which I see on many job posts. Can you please recommend ways for me to get the experience that I desperately need?

    Thank you

    1. First of all, you should probably ask for your tuition money back if you graduated from a masters program that gave you zero practical experience and didn’t help you build a portfolio. I hate to be blunt, but they wasted your time and money.

      Lynda.com has tutorials for Captivate and Storyline if you aren’t able to just learn on your own.

      One way you can get experience is by volunteering. Check out e-Learning for Kids and LINGOs.

      1. Christy:

        For my final semester I had to put together an instructional project on powerpoint about basketball. I also took courses where I had to write needs assessments, learning tasks, analysis, etc. When I referred to not having experience I meant that I didn’t have any prior experience in the instructional technology field and teaching because I was changing careers at the time. Employers are very strict with this and if they see I don’t have at least 2 years of experience, they won’t even look at my resume, which is why I asked you for tips on how to enhance my resume, not to criticize my school. I thank you, however, for the tutorial website and the two organizations you listed for me.

      2. Regardless of the requirements listed for jobs, many employers will ignore the 2 year experience requirement if you have a solid portfolio. The one project you mentioned is a good start for a portfolio, but I’m guessing you don’t have any more projects or you’d have a good enough portfolio to get employers to waive the experience requirement.

        I’m glad to hear you do have at least minimal experience from your graduate program though. Combining that with some volunteer experience should help you.

  15. Can Instructional design be coherent with public relations or the fashion industry? What about graphic design or an marketing, advertising agency? I’m considering this field for graduate school, and I just want to know if I can go into those areas with this degree…

    1. An instructional design degree would be a hard sell for any of those fields. It wouldn’t help you at all for public relations, fashion, marketing, or advertising (other than jobs where a masters degree in anything is a requirement and they don’t care what it is). It might help you a little for graphic design, but not nearly as much as an MFA. Instructional design is primarily about writing courses–it’s usually much more text than visuals. The kind of writing instructional designers do is very different from marketing and advertising writing.

      I suggest you look for an MFA that would help you with graphic design or fashion (and to some extent marketing and advertising) or a communications/marketing/business degree that would help you with PR, marketing, and advertising.

  16. A little late to the party here. Regarding the question about using an ID degree in the fashion industry, you can definitely work as a learning and development specialist for a corporate HR dept. I have seen these positions for brands such as Nordstrom, H&M, and Vans. They would most likely exist in large ad/marketing agencies as well. You got to train your employees somehow and elearning is usually the most cost effective way of doing so. Granted you aren’t working directly with fashion but you are technically in the industry, will be surrounded by like minded people and get those discounts!

  17. Hi Christy,

    Do you find that all of these organizations cater to IDs in any area or are they more geared towards IDs in the private sector rather than those that may be employed in the education field ?

    1. ATD and the eLearning Guild are both mostly geared to workplace training. Check out AECT for more academic ID. ISTE is more educational technology than ID, but that’s also worth exploring.

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