If you’re hoping to move into a career in instructional design, chances are you need to learn some of the common technology.
This is part 4 in a series about how to become an instructional designer. Links to the rest of the series can be found at the end of this post.
You don’t need to know both programs, but I recommend at least a basic understanding of at least one of these tools.
One tip for job seekers: Check the job listings in your local area. What tools are most requested? Let that guide your decision on which tool to learn first.
Both of these tools offer free trials. Try to storyboard or plan a sample to develop before downloading the trial so you can get the most out of your free trial time.
You can find free tutorials on YouTube and other sites.
- Paul Wilson’s YouTube channel has numerous tutorials.
- The IconLogic blog has tips on Captivate, Storyline, Camtasia, RoboHelp, and more. This blog has helped me troubleshoot problems in a tool on multiple occasions.
- Lieve Weymeis’s blog is more useful after you have the basics down, but she has great explanations of what’s possible with advanced actions and complex interactions.
- You can ask questions in the Adobe Captivate forum.
- I own several editions of the E-Learning Uncovered Captivate books. These have been my reference manuals while learning new versions of Captivate.
- Articulate’s online community and forums are very active and helpful.
- Ashley Chiasson has a growing collection of Storyline tutorials on her website.
- The eLearning Uncovered Storyline 360 book is another solid reference.
Other Authoring Tools
Other authoring tools are available, but I don’t think they are as high a priority when you’re just starting in the field. The exception would be if something in particular is popular in your area. For example, Easygenerator and gomo are more popular in Europe than in the US. Check your job market to see what employers want.
Learning Management Systems
If you’re looking for an instructional design job in higher education, experience with a Learning Management System (LMS) is very helpful. You can try Moodle for free (or even install it on your own server if you’re ambitious). Canvas also allows a free trial.
If you’re seeking jobs in workplace training, expertise in an LMS is likely not as critical. You can usually learn on the job anything you need to know about LMSs for most corporate instructional design jobs.
When job listings ask for “SCORM” knowledge, they usually just mean knowing how to publish from Storyline or Captivate in SCORM format. You might need to do some testing and troubleshooting with different settings, but it’s rare to need more than that.
Basic experience with image, audio, and video editing is beneficial. Of the three, image editing skills are the most important. Realistically, you can probably learn these skills on the job if you don’t already have them. These are all “nice to have” rather than required if you’re just getting started.
Photos and Images
You don’t need to be a pro at Photoshop, but you need to know how to crop images and do some basic editing. Honestly, PowerPoint is a decent tool for simple image editing. I often use PowerPoint to remove backgrounds or make other quick changes.
If you’re on a budget, the Affinity suite is much more affordable than the Adobe Creative Cloud. I use both Affinity Design and Affinity Photo for my own work.
SnagIt is great for screen captures, especially if you’re doing software documentation.
I use the open source tool Audacity for audio editing.
- I use Camtasia for screen recording and video editing.
- OpenShot is a free, open source video editor.
- Canva has free video editing (and a Pro version with more options). Canva is mostly for advertising, but you can use it for quick course intros or to grab attention.
Note: The above list assumes that you are already familiar with Microsoft Office programs, including PowerPoint. If not, start with that training. Instructional design for face-to-face training often means developing PowerPoint presentations and Word handouts.
Do you really need technology skills?
Some jobs don’t require any technology skills at all. Companies with larger teams often split into specialized roles for instructional designers (who focus on analysis, design, and storyboarding) and elearning or multimedia developers (who build courses in authoring tools or as custom development). This is more likely at elearning agencies and vendors who create training for other companies.
However, it’s harder to find a job (especially a first job in the field) if you don’t have any of these technical skills. Having more skills opens up more options and opportunities.
The discussion on this post prompted a follow up post about whether technology skills are necessary (note that this was originally written in 2007, so the specific software mentioned is dated).
In another post, I described two big technology skills that I think are critical:
- Learning technology quickly and independently: You don’t stop learning once you get your first job. You keep learning all the time. Technology changes quickly, so you have to continuously improve.
- Understanding how different tools can be used effectively: Even if you don’t do development yourself, you need to understand the capabilities of the tools and be able to describe what you want to others. This is also about choose the right tool for the situation.
If you hate learning new technology or really struggle to learn it on your own, instructional design may not be a career that really makes you happy. Later in this series I’ll talk more about figuring out if instructional design is a good career choice or not.
Other Posts in this Series
- What Does an Instructional Designer Do?
- Getting Into Instructional Design
- Instructional Design Skills
- Technology Skills (current post)
- Professional Organizations and Career Options
- Is instructional design the right career?
Read all my posts about Instructional Design Careers here.
Originally published June 7, 2007. Republished with significant updates March 7, 2019. Last updated 6/10/20. My list of technology skills recommended here has changed quite a bit in that time. When I first published this, Flash was a common requested tool for instructional designers. As I revise this today, we’re planning for Flash’s demise. I’m now focusing this post on just a few basic skills to get started, although my original post listed 10+ skills.