Instructional Designers


Education and Training Requirements

High School

Recommended high school classes include English, speech, psychology, digital design, computer science, and foreign language. Since instructional designers create courses and educational materials about a variety of subjects, it’s a good idea to take a wide range of classes including those in chemistry, physics, biology, mathematics, and social studies.

Postsecondary Education

A minimum of a bachelor’s degree is required to enter this career, although some employers (especially colleges and universities) require a master’s degree. Eighty-seven percent of instructional designers employed by postsecondary institutions have master’s degrees, and 32 percent have doctoral degrees, according to a survey of instructional designers by Intentional Futures.

Instructional designers typically have degrees in instructional design and technology, educational technology, education, distance education, or educational administration, but some have degrees in science, business, educational psychology, history, communications, and information technology.  

Typical classes in an instructional design and technology program include Principles of Instructional Design; Foundations of Instructional Technology; Instructional Development for Business and Training; Integration of the Internet and Multimedia in Education and Training; Graphics Applications in Education and Training; Interactive Multimedia Development; Instructional Web Development; and Advanced Web-Based Instruction.


Some colleges and universities offer certificates in instructional design and related areas. For example, Western Illinois University offers the following certificates that will be of use to instructional designers: Educational Technology Specialist, Instructional Media Development, Online and Distance Learning Development, Technology Integration in Education, and Workplace Learning and Performance. The Association for Talent Development also provides useful certificates, including Instructional Design, Designing Virtual Training, E-Learning Instructional Design, and Certified Professional in Talent Development. Contact the association for more information.

Other Education or Training

Many professional organizations provide continuing education webinars and in-person classes to instructional designers to help them stay abreast of changing technology and new teaching strategies. For example, The eLearning Guild offers courses such as eLearning 101: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started; Mastering the Visualization of Storyboarding for eLearning; Know the Mind, Know the Learner: Applying Brain Science to Improve Training; Designing Effective Social Learning; How to Adapt Traditional Classroom Design for Live, Online Instruction; Exploring the Fundamentals of JavaScript; and Using the Adobe Creative Cloud Suite. Professional development opportunities are also provided by the Association for Educational Communications and Technology, EDUCAUSE,Association for Talent Development, Association for Educational Communications and Technology, Instructional Technology Council, and Learning Forward.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

The Association for Talent Development offers the certified professional in learning and performance credential to those who meet educational and experience requirements and pass Knowledge and Skills Application exams.

Other Requirements

Some employers may require job applicants to undergo a background check.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Two to three years of experience in instructional design, educational technology, pedagogy, or curriculum development is required to work as an instructional designer. Eighty-seven percent of instructional designers employed by postsecondary institutions have previous experience as college professors and 53 percent have experience in technology development, according to a survey of instructional designers by Intentional Futures. Some are experts in design, others are skilled at using technology, and many others have knowledge of teaching strategies and learning theory. 

First and foremost, instructional designers need excellent communication and interpersonal skills. They must be good listeners in order to gather information and work well with teachers, subject-matter specialists, and other project shareholders. They also must be able to write effective copy, audio and video scripts, and instructional text, and be able to explain complicated technical concepts to information technology novices. Other important traits include:

  • an eye for detail and the ability to turn ideas into a tangible form
  • the ability to manage multiple projects simultaneously and meet deadlines
  • creativity and imagination
  • a high degree of flexibility
  • strong organization, project management, problem-solving, and research skills
  • excellent knowledge of learning theories and instructional design models
  • a willingness to continue to learn throughout one’s career
  • an open mind
  • a strong background in universal design learning concepts, American With Disabilities Act compliance, and Web accessibility issues
  • knowledge of instructional design models and pedagogy
  • skill in the use of TechSmith’s Camtasia (a screen recorder and video editor), Adobe editing and design software, Microsoft Word and Powerpoint, Prezi (presentation software), Articulate Storyline (which is used to create interactive courses and content), Blackboard (a virtual learning environment and course management system), learning management systems, and other software