The opportunities to be creative, to use technical skill, and to help others, instructional design jobs are appealing to all sorts of tech-savvy individuals. Plus, as education takes advantage of the power of the Web, there are more e-learning positions available than ever before. Yet, the competition is becoming fierce, and many eager instructional designers need to work hard to stand out among the competition.
Instructional design requires intimate knowledge of computers — but successful e-learning professionals need much more than tech-related know-how to hold down a job. Here are the three basic steps to building a career in instructional design.
1. Get Educated
Most people are well aware of the fact that homegrown computer knowledge is often enough to land a person a job or two. The industry is saturated with stories of successful individuals who never completed their advanced education: Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and the list goes on. However, most of those dropout moguls were able to build their empires right as the industry began to boom. Today, computers and technology are well established, and moving fast without proper preparation doesn’t often yield profitable results.
These facts apply directly to the instructional design field. While many e-learning professionals abstained from advanced degrees, they still enjoy moderate levels of success. Unfortunately, as more and more computer-savvy job searchers are drawn to instructional design, there are fewer and fewer ways to stand out above the crowd. Advanced education remains the easiest and most rewarding method of becoming attractive to employers and clients.
Most novice instructional designers will be hard-pressed to find jobs that require anything less than a bachelor’s degree, and many of the most prestigious positions require a master’s. However, there are more benefits to advanced degrees in the instructional design field than merely increased job prospects.
The classroom environment allows instructional designers to experiment and understand a wider variety of challenges, which means they will be better prepared for the diverse e-learning requests of the real world. Our instructional design master’s degree program is wide-ranging, including subjects as diverse as education theory and multimedia production, but ultimately beneficial to the budding instructional designer.
2. Get Experience
Still, many e-learning companies are reluctant to hire untested instructional designers with freshly printed degrees. To the chagrin of most new graduates, even entry-level positions demand a year or two of experience from applicants. Thus, novice instructional designers must find a way to foster a healthy portfolio without a full-time e-learning job.
The easiest way to gain experience is by completing pro-bono projects for nonprofits. Though it may seem counter-intuitive to give one’s hard-one knowledge away for free, the verifiable experience is well worth the effort. Alternatively, enterprising designers can often spin their day jobs into e-learning practice. For example, one may offer to assemble an updated or more in-depth training manual for new hires.
No matter what, burgeoning instructional designers must never let their skills fade. Like any ability, instructional design requires constant practice to maintain and improve. During times when work and volunteer opportunities are scarce, instructional designers should aim to hone their craft with personal projects. Additionally, designers should stay current on the industry’s most valuable software tools.
3. Get a Job
When a designer finally has enough confidence and experience for a true e-learning position, it still may take a bit of effort to find and secure an interview. Because the instructional design field is relatively new, the industry has yet to land on a single title. As a result, instructional design job boards may offer hundreds of different e-learning positions under just as many names. Here are a few common titles for essentially the same job:
- Instructional designer
- Training developer
- Training manager
- E-learning developer
- Internet-based training designer
- Computer training developer
Therefore, job seekers in e-learning must be abundantly creative in their searches to find all of the available positions.
Finally, as with any job search in any industry, applicants must fully understand their skill set. Applying to every posted position, regardless of its stated requirements, is not hedging bets or playing the field — it is poor networking that will only end in a bad reputation. Instructional designers who aim above their skill level are wasting their own time and energy, as well as that of the hiring managers at their desired firms. Thus, instructional designers who truly want a real, paying job in the industry must be talented, knowledgeable, experienced, and perceptive to build a successful career.