Career Opportunities in Instructional Design

Hi, folks

My foray into ID is (kind of) just beginning and I'm curious to know what career opportunities exist and how the industry "works".

There are a lot of people on here who are clearly professionals working full-time in this industry (and seemingly having done so for many years) so I figure this is the best place to ask!  =)

I've been a classroom teacher for many years and I'd like to make a career move. Instructional Design is something that really, really interests me but I'm hesitant to go jumping boots'n'all into some kind of graduate course if there aren't any jobs out there (or it's exceedingly slim pickings).

I read the following threads:

What Degree/Certificate Programs Exist?

What industry sector do you work in?

There's some great info in those two threads, including a wide array of fields that people work in. 

I do wonder, though, whether there's a correlation with population centres...

What I mean is that it appears the majority of members here are from North America or the UK. I'm in Australia and I think I've seen about four Instructional Design jobs advertised in the past year!

This suggests to me that...

  • the demand for elearning is low in Australia... (This doesn't seem right to me, though, because there was an ID conference just last week and several other seminars coming up)  ... or...
  • the demand is roughly the same as anywhere else, but because the population is significantly smaller here, there are fewer jobs/projects available ... and/or...
  • I'm looking for the wrong things (perhaps the roles are not generally titled "Instructional Designer" here)  ... and/or...
  • I'm looking in the wrong places (perhaps these kinds of jobs are "advertised" via sites such as http://www.flexiblelearning.net.au/ or places I'm not aware of)  ... and/or...
  • something else that I'm overlooking

Also, is this generally a "freelancer" type industry? If so, is it more of an in-company consultant-style role or is it often done remotely (e.g. me in Australia; client in Scotland or Canada or New Zealand)? 

Or... are the majority of jobs full-time in-house positions?

Or... if "it depends", what does it depend on?

The whole reason I'm asking is...

I certainly wouldn't consider myself "old", but I am getting a bit long in the tooth to be re-training for a career change, raising a family and paying a mortgage... only to find that I can't get any work.

Or that the job-market demands not just Instructional Design qualifications (+ portfolio) but also other things such as being able to program Flash and/or HTML5, be a Photoshop pro, have a good grasp of web development (including asp, php, .net, js), etc.

If anyone could help, I would be super super appreciative!

Thanks in advance,

EB

11 Replies
Rich Johnstun

In my experience, in a lot of smaller companies you don't have the luxury of being just an Instructional Designer. In most smaller shops the facilitators/instructors also do their own instructional design. We have 30 full time instructors and it's only been in the last 5 years that we have dedicated ID people (like myself and I used to be an instructor). Even as a full time Instructional Designer, I do a lot of non-ID related projects that leverage other skills (tons of media/video production for our marketing and communication groups).

That may be a contributing factor to the lack of purely instructional design positions. 

Dave Neuweiler

Rich makes a good point.

I think it's important to differentiate between instructional design and the production of e-learning. I've observed that with the advent of rapid e-learning production tools, there has been a lot of crossover, and the gap between the two arts seems to be getting smaller. But if you're getting into the business, you'll need to decide whether you're going to be an instrctional designer, an e-learning producer, or both, because the skill-sets are different.To wit, two short lists:

Instructional Designer:

  1. Analyze a performance problem.
  2. Prepare a target audience description
  3. Describe learning and performance outcomes
  4. Write instructional objectives
  5. Write criterion items (for testing)
  6. Draft content
  7. Determine the delivery method

E-Learning Producer:

  1. Choose/build a template
  2. Identify opportunities for interactivity
  3. Design/acquire/build graphics
  4. Write script for narration
  5. Draft test questions
  6. Build, build, build
  7. Test, test, test
  8. Edit. edit, edit
  9. Publish to the appropriate output

I hope that helps!

Best Regards,

Dave

Eric Rohrer

I think the days of a "pure play" Instructional Designer are coming to an end. If you simply just know instructional design theory, it won't get you very far (if anywhere) these days. The more skills, tools, disciplines, etc. you can master, the better off you will be. ID serves as a solid background and foundation, but if you become a good video producer, graphic designer, multimedia producer, etc. you will be doing yourself a big favor. 

Eric Rohrer

Hey Bruce - I love it! 

Here's what I learned over the past 15 years in the training and development world, and it echoes your Storyline piece... You end up picking up so many skills along the way that can help you get a job doing just about anything. You learn technical skills like effective writing, grammar, dissecting and re-engineering complex content, graphic design, development tools (like Articulate, Adobe, Word, PowerPoint, etc.), basic programming, flowcharting, etc. You learn project management, negotiation, problem solving, leadership, communication, presentation, and people skills. And you get to be creative - you get to think out of the box, experiment, and do things that are exciting not only to you, but for others as well. You may not ever be an expert at all of these things, but you get to be pretty good at most of them. My point being is that after years of doing all of this you end up having an impressive and diverse resume with a good sense of "business". You are qualified to do so many things and it opens a lot of doors. Just because you become an ID doesn't mean you have to be one forever.

It often surprises me when I meet people in the corporate world who can't write, use Word or PowerPoint correctly or effectively, or can't give a presentation in front of a group to save their life. Many have no sense of design or layout (think disproportionately stretched clip art and yellow text on pink background). In fact, many barely know how to turn on their computers, and couldn't tell you what version of Windows they are running. Their jobs are so focused and pigeon-holed that they do the same, narrow activities day in and day out. Doesn't sound interesting or fun to me. 

But you, EB, will not be that person f you decide to enter this world of ID. 

El Burgaluva

Thanks very, very much to everyone who has responded so far! I really appreciate the insight.

@Heidi: That thread you linked to is heavy duty!

@Rich: I kind of figured from what I've read that most places you have to wear lots of different hats.

@Dave: You nailed an important (potential?) ambiguity and I think your two lists are very helpful, indeed. Thank you. 

@Bruce: Cute presentation to underscore the point. I like the line about your accountant.  =)  And the idea of being a "Learning Skills Expert" resonates with me; I've always been interested in how people learn things (and, more to the point, effective ways of learning things).

@Eric: Thanks for further clarifying re: purely theory-based Instructional Designers. Thanks, also, for the little boost.

I'm excited about this field because I genuinely love education and learning theory. And I like to think I'm creative -- I certainly enjoy "creating" stuff (although I could do with sharpening my skills in some key areas).I'm also interested in project management, presentation skills, leadership training. I like "tech" without needing to go to the n-th degree of understanding everything about it. And I really like the challenge of being able to take something dry and boring and turn it into something engaging, thought-provoking and memorable.

All in all, I think it's a very attractive career path and the responses so far have helped clarify some important aspects of the profession.

I'm still concerned about the actual job prospects in Australia so I might have to get in touch with some of the professional bodies attached to "elearning" here and do some more research. Maybe, also, talk to some of the professors on courses offered here and see if they can put me in touch with any of their former graduates.

I'll also start looking at some short courses (e.g. Flash production, advanced Photoshop, video production, etc.) and/or work my way through some online tutorials at Lynda.com or other similar sites.

Then I'll start building a "dummy" portfolio using Dave's list as a guide to internalise the process -- in particular for the first seven points. And then sign up for a graduate course if all my research is pointing in the direction of a viable career path in this field in Australia.

Any Aussies able to comment on the state of the industry/sector down here?

El Burgaluva

I just came across these two hot-off-the-press posts in my RSS reader:

The Value of a Masters in Instructional Design

Stuck in a Job that Sucks?

Although the second one is -- on the face of it -- somewhat peripheral to this discussion, it might have some food for thought for anyone else considering a career change.

Rich Johnstun

The best way I've found for me to learn and grow my skills is to use online resources for learning (I'm a fan of Lynda.com) and then create eLearning modules about things I know or enjoy. I've made training modules for my parents (who are in their 70's) on how to use Facebook and Skype (now if only I could get my mother to quit hitting me up on Skype every day and to stop with the Farmville requests). I've recently started pulling together the information to start my own "Video Production 101" series of elearning modules.

I do these things because it helps me build my skill set in a safe environment. I can try new and crazy ideas.