In today’s world, there are so many new job titles popping up that it’s hard to know what they all mean. And it’s even harder to really understand on a deeper level what anyone’s day-to-day looks like. No matter how many times my brother explains his job to me (he’s a software engineer) I feel like I never fully get it. But I’m comforted by the idea that he undoubtedly feels the same way about my job.

So whether you’re an instructional designer looking to provide some much-needed clarity to friends and family about your job, or you’re looking into becoming an instructional designer but want some insight on what that actually entails, this article is for you!

Here's a peek at the schedule I kept as a full-time instructional designer in a boutique e-learning firm.

9:00 am

I get to work, say hi to coworkers, grab a cup of coffee, and sit down at my desk. I check my e-mail for any urgent messages and set aside any non-urgent messages for later.

9:15 am

It’s time for our daily standup meeting. The team goes around the table and states our top priority for the day. The project managers course-correct if our priorities don’t align with project priorities.

9:30 am

Next up: a kickoff meeting for Project XYZ with the project manager, the e-learning developer, the client, and the Subject Matter Expert. We take this time to define the target audience, learning objectives, technical requirements, and other project parameters.

10:30 am

Back at my desk, I start going through the raw materials (PowerPoint presentations, PDFs, or Word documents) for Project XYZ and picking out key messages based on the learning objectives. From that information, I create a course outline and send it the project manager, who will review and send it to the client.

11:30 am

While I’m waiting for the client’s feedback on the Project XYZ outline, I work on the storyboard for Project ABC. I review the learning objectives, course outline, and raw materials and think about the best way to help learners understand and apply the key messages. I take that overarching idea and break it down, slide by slide. I decide when to include videos, interactions, animations, etc. If there’s voice-over audio, I write the script.

12:30 pm

Time for a lunch break. With all that designing, I’ve worked up quite an appetite!

1:30 pm

Back at my desk, I check my e-mail again. I got a message from a project manager saying that Project JKL’s client—whose feedback we’ve been waiting on for months—finally got back to us. The client needs the updated prototype by the end of the day, so I get working right away. I make the necessary changes to the course in Storyline and publish it to Articulate Review. I let the project manager know so she can review the new version and send it to the client for approval.

2:30 pm

I go back to working on the storyboard for Project ABC. I chat with the e-learning developer about the feasibility of certain interactions and with the graphic designer about some illustration ideas.

3:30 pm

A project manager stops by my desk to let me know that Project XYZ’s client is on the phone and wants to talk about the outline we sent to him this morning. We go into a meeting room to take the call. The client gives us his feedback over the phone and I take notes. After the call, the project manager tells me that this project takes priority over Project ABC. We need to finish the storyboard by the end of the week.

4:30 pm

Back at my desk, I set aside Project ABC for Project XYZ. I start working on the storyboard. I have a couple of questions about the content, so I send them to the project manager, who will forward them to the Subject Matter Expert. While I wait on those answers, I continue working on another section of the storyboard.

5:30 pm

I save and close my storyboard when I get to a good stopping point and make a note of where I left off. I go back and respond to the non-urgent e-mails I set aside this morning and make a to-do list for the next day.

6:00 pm

Time to go home and relax!

As you can see, the job of an instructional designer is fast-paced. At any given time, most instructional designers are working on multiple projects—in various stages of the development process—simultaneously. Priorities can change quickly, so it’s important to be ready and willing to shift gears when needed. This is largely due to the fact that sometimes client response time is variable. They may respond quickly or they may take days or even weeks to reply. But either way, they usually expect you to respond right away. If you’re also the project manager, you can temper this expectation by setting deadlines for their feedback and explaining that if they don’t respond within that deadline, they may have to wait when they do give you feedback because you’ll be working on another project.

Keep in mind that every organization is different, and that depending on how big your team is, you might end up doing more or fewer of the things mentioned above. For example, in some organizations you might have to both design and develop the e-learning courses. And in some smaller organizations you might have to be the project manager, instructional designer, e-learning developer, and graphic designer—all rolled into one! Every organization works differently.

Here are some additional resources to help you better understand the job of an instructional designer:

I’m curious to hear from other instructional designers. Does your typical day look similar to mine? If not, what’s different? Please share your experiences (or questions) below. I look forward to hearing from you. :)

And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and come back to E-Learning Heroes regularly for more helpful advice on everything related to e-learning.

Joanna Kurpiewska

Hi Allison, thanks for sharing how your ID day looks like. My role is focused more on development site but we do share a lot of the day like coffee as the first thing in the morning, skype/phone calls, some turning points for the priorities, doing changes, publishing etc. Your post has reminded me of a project I created for ELH Challenge "Toys in storytelling" a couple of years ago where I showed how my usual e-learning developer day goes by. And although my employer changed since then and I'm home based and my working hours are slightly different the main tasks are the same. So here's my contribution to this interesting topic: What do you say about a series of "A day in the l... Expand

Narissa Kentfield
Kimberly Lorek
Norrie Mailer
Robin Weggeman

My day looks a little different. I do have to say that I am, my own team, In my organisation Im the only EL-dev. Therefore I can work continuously on single projects for longer amounts of time. I do recognise the hectic switches between multiple projects. In spite of carefull planning, in large organisations there are always people who are able to make a mess of my schedule. :) My main objective is softwaresimulations for the administration of healthcare. These projects take more than a month to create, and as long to plan. Each Year every/most courses need an update. (10-15 courses, some smaller, some big) In between I make instructional movies for other departments. Because Im new to Storyline, My evenings are filled with study and development in SL. I also make an... Expand

Breanne Myers

I have often wondered how weird my situation is working in government. Lately I am one of those IDs you mentioned who does the design, development, and graphic design all-in-one due to our limited resources. If a project requires SMEs, I coordinate with them directly. It can be overwhelming so I usually focus on one major project at a time, two at most, with maybe a couple smaller things on the side. My day looks very different because I don't have set "stages" to my projects. Once I have a very general sense of the goals/content sequence/key takeaways that's been approved by my manager, I bounce between design and development as ideas come to me, often developing sections out of sequence. Sometimes I just start developing something and design ideas emerge. It's very free-flowing and ... Expand

Rachel Ogg

Hi Breanne, You're definitely not alone and the description of how your days/weeks flow is very similar to my own. I work for an ed tech company as the sole ID in my division. I support a team of trainers with materials for onsite customer training as well as develop our online courses. There are other ID divisions across our company, some with 10+ people on the team. Those teams have the work divvied up between curriculum writers, artists, multimedia dev, and the actual development of the course. Lucky :) Typically the only feedback I get is from the training team and/or my boss. I have meetings with him every other week to discuss the status of current projects, and he's generally available for quick feedback in between. Overall I have a lot of freedom in this role and our meetings... Expand

Karl O'Neill
Nicki Berry