What's the end game for instructional designers?

Jul 13, 2016

Hi, everyone: So...now that I'm a Senior Instructional Designer at my company, I find myself thinking, "Ok, where do I go from here?" I'd like to keep my hand in elearning development and video, but, let's be honest, there's only so high a developer can rise. Of course, there's managing elearning developers.  For me, though, that's not where the fun is. And I've done the freelance thing.

Any advice from those who have continued to climb the ladder while keeping a hand in elearning development? 



23 Replies
Rachel Barnum

I think that's an interesting question. From my perspective, I think you do hit a bit of a ceiling if you do not want to manage other developers or go out on your own, and want to keep a heavy hand in development. I don't think there's anything wrong with that either though. There are alternatives, such as training new developers, but that is almost a parallel position rather than climbing up a ladder any further.

I think what I like about managing projects is that not only do I have a say in the design, but I'm one of the final says in the design. I'm the one it has to pass through before it can go to my higher ups, and there's a lot of fun responsibility in that. I do some ground work but really it's reviewing and editing others' work. That's not everyone's thing.

I would be interested in hearing any other experiences.

Nancy Woinoski

Hi Daniel, this is an interesting question. If your goal is to make more money and have a higher profile in your company then the only real option is to go into management or to move to another part of the company. I'm not sure what your company does but in companies that I have worked for in the past many people in the training area moved into Product Line Management or Marketing. All these options take you away from hands on learning development but the marketing or product management options can lead to a different type of creativity which can be rewarding. Management, on the other hand, kind of sucks unless you are high enough up the ladder. 


chad nixon

One thing you could do, that may hold some fulfillment, is to teach people what you love. I started my own blog and thinking about building courses on the software that I use to make courses. You have a wealth of knowledge that could help people get into building courses or management. You can use course platforms such Udemy or Teachable to launch your courses. I just did a post on the different course platforms out there that make you money.


Like you I have built courses for other people but never for myself or doing freelance gigs that only pay for hours worked. When building courses for yourself you can have a side income teaching but not getting stressed out on deadlines like in the freelance arena. I also did a blog the best free resources out there to help with building courses.


Some of the sites you may know but some you may not. I hope this may help in your future.

Daniel Brigham

Thanks for the response, Nancy. Another idea I've been playing around with
is creating a learning-related role for myself. An ID who measures the
impact of the training put forth. My company, and most really, just create
training and release it. No real analysis as to whether the training was

In the future, I can see this being a full-time position for companies that
build a lot of training. Sort of like a performance consultant/ID role.

Mark Shepherd

Funny that you mention hitting a "wall" or "ceiling" as a developer/designer. 

In my opinion, there really is no such thing, if you champion/promote new work within your organization and they respond in kind.

I am in my first year in a FT eL Development role, and I find I have PLENTY of work to do, and lots of challenges in front of me. 

Here's how I keep my work fresh:

  • Keep on the lookout for new things to bring into projects. 
    I call this my "Prototype Lot". ;)
  • Iteratively improve ANYTHING that can be improved.  Sometimes that means one or two things, in other cases, it may mean almost major rebuilds of older projects.
  • Work on documenting and refining your process flow(s), either using a flowchart program like Visio, like I'm doing, or by writing or sketching it out by hand, so you can better refine the design process, the content/collaboration process, and if necessary, the trialing/testing process.
  • Teach others the principles of Instructional Design and Storyboarding, and/or how to use Storyline, and focus on ensuring they follow your best practices and utilization of common elements, where possible.
  • Keep an eye out for the next Articulate Storyline Roadshow, User group meeting or eLearning Conference, so you can get out of the office and see what other developers or designers are doing. 
  • I did this recently and just getting out of the office and travelling to Toronto for just one day was a refreshing change.  I got a LOT out of it.
  • Offer to build course Storyboards and/or Prototype ideas for new(er) projects.
  • Propose new projects that collaborate with other divisions, sections, or departments.


Jerson  Campos

I've wondered the same thing Daniel.  I love the development side and would have turned down management positions to stay where I am. Now though I realize it doesn't really mean the end of being involved in development, but it will just be different. I would have oversight over the projects and help other IDs develop their skills.  

Daniel Brigham

Hi, Jerson: Yes, but there's the small issue of being a middle manager,
which I agree with Nancy when she says, "kinda sucks."

My gut says that to rise your creativity must take another form. I'm sort
of intrigued by measuring the impact of learning. I can see that being a
logical next step, and one where you could justify a higher salary.

Eduardo Leopold

Hi Daniel, interesting question, I think a lot of people here, including me, can relate to this situation. Here are some ideas:

  • Consulting: different from freelancing, as a consultant you will have more responsibilities and be closer to new problems to be solved. 
  • Instructor: you can teach your expertise to others.
  • Research: you can go back to theory and become a reference in the area.
  • Business: create a company will challenge you in many ways, but the rewards can be great. If you find a proper partner you can still in charge of the fun part.



Natalia Mueller

Hi Daniel,

I have gone through this and definitely relate. I went from full time developer to manager that still developed with the team to now where I don't develop at all but manage large programs and other developers/vendors. Sometimes I really miss the design and dev. It's difficult to even dabble now because of the amount of time it takes. I'll tell you though, I've also enjoyed the change. There was a time I couldn't even imagine not developing. I enjoyed it so much why would I ever do something different? But with each role there are new elements that I enjoy too. The experience I carry from being in "the trenches" is ingrained in all that I do. It feels great to pull on that experience to make decisions both on projects but also in developing others. Many of those things, like analytics, you can begin while in your current role. It could very well lead to another opportunity or at the very least give you space to grow. 

That said, I'm still not ready to completely step away from the development world. For one, I don't want to lose touch with what's current and changing in the field. A while back I started an internal Storyline usergroup for our decentralized training teams that now carries on with or without me. I still attend as much as I can to see what everyone is working on and to stay connected. I also attend external usergroups and events whenever I can for the same reason. I might be the weird lady in the back smiling the whole time because it feels so good to be with my people. 

This discussion is closed. You can start a new discussion or contact Articulate Support.