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What is an Instructional Designer?

If you’re looking to develop an online course and want to apply a systematic approach in various processes and resources, then instructional design models are what you need.

Instructional Systems Design, or ISD, is used for assessing and developing courses and solutions needed for formal training. The operative word here is “systematic,” as ISD is based on a framework and systems approach to designing courses for training delivery.

The person who oversees this systematic design process is called an Instructional Designer, or ID. In fact, an ID applies a systematic methodology to designing and developing the content of courses and instructional materials. A key feature for being an ID is ensuring effective learning experiences by following a thorough and systematic process for course development.

Where do Instructional Designers work?

Instructional designers are found in various industries, from education (kindergarten to university) to the private sector, public sector and even the military. IDs can work on their own as a consultant, as a one-person team, or as part of a design and development team.

Working as an instructional designer can be a stable job. Based on the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of jobs in instructional design will increase 13 percent within the next ten years, and have a median salary of $60,050. [1]

What are the skills one must possess to become an Instructional Designer?

An instructional designer has to own a versatile set of skills to perform their responsibilities effectively. They must have expertise in learning management systems, a balance of both course design and development, as well as educational communications and technology. [ 2] Instructional designers must be able to:

  • Design instructional management systems
  • Evaluate new eLearning materials
  • Create educational podcasts, videos and content
  • Design and revamp both new and established learning models
  • Implement feedback from program reviews
  • Train others on how to deliver learning material
  • Research new innovations in both learning design and education

Specifically, IDs must have the following qualifications and professional foundations: [3]

  • Communicate effectively in visual, oral and written form
  • Apply current research and theory to the practice of instructional design
  • Update and improve one’s knowledge, skills and attitudes pertaining to instructional design and related fields
  • Apply fundamental research skills to instructional design projects
  • Identify and resolve ethical and legal implications of design in the workplace
  • Plan and analyze effectively

What are the Responsibilities of an Instructional Designer?

Perhaps the most popular and effective instructional design model is the ADDIE model, which stands for Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation.

ADDIE is a step-by-step framework used by instructional designers, training developers, and learning and development specialists to create educational or training programs. ADDIE is an instructional design model that aims to organize content, streamline development, and ensure a structured framework for every course.

This article will follow the ADDIE model to describe the various responsibilities of an ID:


An Instructional Designer goes through a thorough process of understanding learners and their needs. An ID must ensure that learning objectives are met, hence the need to perform a learning needs assessment. This involves identifying and defining the target audience, or the online learning participants.

An ID must also analyze the learning environment, available resources and those that need to be availed to provide effective training. They must also look into existing and up-and-coming technologies that may be used to facilitate learning, as well as decide on the relevant techniques and format to comprise the content of the course.

Design and Development

IDs design the program and curriculum. They identify the modules and how they should be broken down to ensure effective learning. They also decide on the design and development model and process for a particular course, and select and develop the most appropriate instructional materials to use given the learning group. They determine the subject matter experts to provide input for the content of training materials.


IDs roll out and manage the training program and instructional design projects. They foster collaboration and partnerships while promoting teamwork among those involved in the design project. They also apply various business skills in designing and developing the course, ensuring the most “bang for buck” and Return on Investment (ROI) for the course.


IDs know that a successful training program does not end with the roll out. It is a continuous process of improvement and iteration. Thus, they must also know how to evaluate the effectiveness of the course and measure its impact for both learners and the company.

How to become an Instructional Designer?

As mentioned earlier, becoming an Instructional Designer requires a versatile set of skills and a balance of course design and development, as well as educational communications and technology. But it is also important to note that there is no standard route for becoming an ID.

Instructional Designers may have started as educators, communication managers, human resource experts, tech engineers, artists, graphic designers, military personnel, public servants, or many other occupations. But the one shared path towards becoming an ID is a passion for eLearning.

If you possess a passion for eLearning, here are some tips to becoming an effective instructional designer:

  • Focus on learning a variety of teaching strategies. This practice develops your skill in designing a course that is engaging, but also effective.
  • Have a growth mindset. Formal learning has its place, but you can also acquire skills with on-the-job training or jumping right into an LMS. Find opportunities in your current job or industry that will allow you to train or educate others. Map out a plan that works for you.
  • Nurture your passion for teaching others. Start with understanding how people learn and practice analyzing different groups of learners and their learning needs. Familiarize yourself with varying learning styles.
  • It may sound strange, but play video games. This opens up your world to interactive learning, user design, feedback loops, onboarding, and everything else that makes learning fun.
  • Just as with any job that entails creativity, create a portfolio to demonstrate your work. Include samples of course outlines, curriculum plans, storyboards, and actual courses you’ve developed.
  • Get yourself up-to-date with trends in the industry and browse what other training program IDs have developed. Familiarize yourself with systems, tools, and trends in learning and performance improvement.
  • Build your soft skills especially in project management, interpersonal communication, decision-making, and critical-thinking.
  • Consult Subject Matter Experts and training leaders to get valuable insights.

Instructional Designers are uniquely qualified to bring together the creativity, teaching strategies, and technical know-how it takes to build an effective learning experience. Whether you’re thinking about hiring one for your team or becoming one yourself, now you know what makes instructional designers so valuable to any number of companies and organizations.