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:

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