Instructional Design Master's or Graduate Certificate Programs

Hi everyone!

People reach out to me all the time asking which Master's or graduate degree programs they should enroll in to become an instructional designer. With so many programs out there—and many of them offering virtual options now—it can be hard to choose.

I'd love to hear from those of you who have gone that route so I can point them to some real-life feedback. What program did you do? Did you find it helpful (either from an instructional and/or career perspective)? What did you like and dislike about it?

Looking forward to hearing from you!

32 Replies
Helen Dudley

As we don't have any specific programmes for instructional design here in New Zealand - I'm keen to see what online program folks recommend.

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Shannon Perry

Hi all,

My route to becoming an instructional designer involved earning a graduate level certificate from the University of Georgia. They offer an M.Ed. in Learning, Design, & Technology–Instructional Design and Development and graduate certificates–one in eLearning Design and one in Online Teaching and Learning. All of these can be fully completed virtually. Earning the eLearning Design certificate helped me land my first instructional design job and equipped me with the theoretical knowledge and technological skills necessary to excel in this role. 

It's a wonderful program with great faculty. They also partnered (and may still) with Articulate and provide students opportunities to expand their skills using the software while working on authentic, real-world projects. I was able to complete the certificate mostly for free since I was a UGA employee at the time, but I would have gladly paid the tuition for the quality education I received. I'm happy to answer any other questions anyone may have.

Sydney Spann

I attended online at University of Houston for M. Ed. in Curriculum & Instruction - Learning, Design & Technology

I enjoyed that most of the classes were project based and allowed me to learn about a variety of different edtech solutions. The only downside was that some classes tended towards K-12 topics, though I was teaching when I started the program so had that background.

University of Houston also offers a Master of Science in Human Resource Development. I'm not sure if it's available online, but includes classes like instructional design and e-learning design.

Alison  L.

HEY! Anyone got any POST-graduate ....PHDs...Drs... and the ilk 

At the time, Penn State Great Valley Graduate Center (aka Graduate degrees only) had a MEd in ISD. It was a blended learning program (the first time teachers had to "30% online their courses"). The closest thing I could find from PSU Online is the MEd in Learning, Design, and Technology. I can say in addition my own learning (of Articulate (pre Storyline. I'm old) I was able to get employed fairly quickly.

Shirley Prieto

I pivoted to ID from K-5 Education by getting a Master's degree in Educational Technology (now known as Learning Deign and Technology, which is more appropriate, IMO), from from Texas A&M University. I see that they were ranked #9 by the 2021 US News and World Report on Educational/Instructional Media Design Programs.

What I liked best about the program was its clear emphasis on the science of multimedia learning, and the science of learning, in general.

What I wished we would have spent more time doing is learning how to use the authoring tools, but I get it from a logistical standpoint.

Before I even graduated, through contacts, I was asked to do a review on a Fortune 500's e-learning modules (one of the company's sites), which I did using Clark and Mayer's Principles. After that, they contracted me to create modules. They told me my master's degree was why they hired me, but I think I might have sold them if I would have had a really good portfolio and could explain how each aspect relates to multimedia and/or other learning principles.

Hianna Sabo

As someone with a Master's, I would say this is the correct path if your aim is to tie in past experiences into your L&D career. In my case, I studied communications and digital design, and ultimately pursued a Master's in Distance Learning from UMGC to focus communication pieces for education and engagement. 

As I looked for a position in the L&D space, I noticed most companies were satisfied with a Bachelor's in L&D to get you started. So if you're heading to college for the first time, a Bachelors should suffice to get your foot in the door. 

Hianna Sabo

It was excellent. Like other online programs, you ultimately decide how
much effort to put in, so that you can include the "fruits of your labor"
in your future resume.
Basically, while a single apple might earn you a passing grade, take the
effort to give the entire fruit basket, because this is what you will
ultimately showcase during your interviews.

Darren McNeill

I have an MS in Digital Learning. Instructional Design is an old almost antiquated term now, as most people do far more than just Instructional Design. That term actually refers to the person who structures the flow of the course is in "Designing the Instruction" and you have story-boarders, Graphic Designers, programmers, animators etc that come together. But many times it is trainers who end up by default becoming an "Instructional Designer" due to someone asking "As you do the training, then you can create an E-learning module...got to be easy". Many times in my travels I will meet an "Instructional Designer" and when I ask them what they do, it usually is not instructional design but far more. A more modern title would be "Learning Experience Designer". You would be better off looking for Masters degrees etc in Adult Learning with Digital in mind. I am pursuing a PHD also in Digital Learning through Adult Learning but had to go through the Education Department.

Maria Costa-Stienstra

I am almost finished with my Master's in Educational Technology through Boise State University. I have to say I'm pleased with the balance of theory and practice offered there (many of the courses are project-based, and you graduate with a Portfolio) and the overall value. The program is 100% online, and while not completely focused on Instructional Design, I find some of the topics very relatable.

They also have some interesting online Graduate Certificates such as Educational Games and Simulations or Designing Accessible Online Education.

David Foster

I'm in an Instructional Design Graduate program at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.  They offer Graduate Certificate programs in three focuses, Training and Development, K-12 Education, and Online Education.  They also offer a M. Ed. program with similar tracks.  It's 100% distance learning and I'm very impressed with the coursework and instruction.  Charlotte Program for the M. Ed.

The Certificate programs are linked here.

Dana Bruneau

I earned my M. Ed. in Learning Design and Technology at Winthrop University.  The program is 100% online and prepares you for both the Educational environment and the Corporate Training Environment. I was very pleased with the program and am now working as an Instructional Designer with a Fortune 100 company.

Chantel Early

Hi everyone!

As I read all the responses below, I am amazed as to how many universities are out there that offer a graduate degree program for Instructional Design. My path into this field was unusual, but I am so excited to be here and am looking forward to what I can do in the future with this degree! 

I am currently a graduate student in the Organizational Performance and Workplace Learning (OPWL) program at Boise State University and I actually found out about this program through the U.S. Coast Guard. I was an officer in the Coast Guard for six years and sought an opportunity to be sponsored to attend a master's program in Human Performance Technology and the Coast Guard's recommended school was Boise State. Even though I wasn't selected to obtain my degree through sponsorship, I determined that it was still a path that I wanted to take, so I separated from service and have been enrolled in school ever since. Boise State's Organizational Performance and Workplace Learning offers a Master's degree and graduate certificates in Workplace Instructional Design, Workplace E-Learning Design and Development, and Workplace Performance Improvement

There are several amazing things about this program, and one that makes this program so accessible to its students is that it is completely online. It has actually been offering courses online since 1989, which is really amazing to think about! Another thing that this program does, which has helped me greatly, is how it has used the combination of theory and project based courses to help students really learn and the apply the material. Then to add on top of that, when we have a project based course, we get to work with real clients and go through the process, just like we would when we become instructional designers. So not only are we learning the material, but we are also practicing and becoming instructional designers before we enter the workforce. 

One last thing that I would like to mention which has helped me professionally is my current involvement in two labs within the OPWL department. I am a current member of the Marginalized and Cross Culture Research & Design Learning tech group (MarCC) and the Process Management Lab (PML). Both labs focus on two different aspects of the human performance field, but I am gaining knowledge, insight and wisdom from two amazing professors and other students and graduates that are involved! I think that anyone looking to getting a graduate degree or certificate should definitely look and consider the OPWL program at Boise State! 

Carissa Schaffer

Hi, all!

Like Chantel, I'm currently enrolled in Boise State University's Organizational Performance and Workplace Learning (OPWL) program. I'm currently pursuing my M.S. in OPWL and certificates in Workplace E-Learning Design and Development and Workplace Instructional Design. The program is fully online, which not only makes it possible for me to learn from my home base of Houston, TX, but also provides great insight into what it's like to be an online learner and to practice collaborating with peers remotely. 

I found my way into the program when I decided I wanted to shift from being a training facilitator at a Fortune 500 FinTech to an instructional designer. I was considering several programs, but when the VP of our division told me he "would never hesitate to hire someone with an OPWL degree from BSU," I was sold. The program has definitely lived up to its accolades. It is incredibly well-designed with professors who are excellent online learning facilitators. It also includes a great mix of theory, practical tool knowledge, networking, learning application through projects with real clients, personal portfolio development, and opportunities for additional research and practice. As an added bonus, the community of professors and learners is impressively strong for a distance learning program: I have had an incredible amount of support at all points in my journey. This experience and the OPWL community have boosted my experience, my confidence, and my credibility in the field. (I've now been an instructional designer at the same Fortune 500 company for 2 years.)

In short: I highly recommend Boise State's OPWL program - especially if you hope to work with online and distance learning.