If you’re considering going back to school, you need to ensure you’ve chosen a degree and career path that will serve you well for the rest of your life. An instructional design degree offers the perfect path to higher earnings if you’re interested in how people learn and how to make it better. Rest assured, your career options are not limited to education. Corporations, nonprofits, governments, and consulting firms are major employers of instructional designers.
In 2019, median annual earnings in this role were $66,290 per year, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The pandemic changed everything for instructional designers, making a strong case that virtually every institution can use them to support pivoting to remote and other alternative forms of communication and instruction. This career, which already once enjoyed a higher-than-average (6 percent) rate of growth, is now soaring to even greater heights of prominence.
So is this versatile career right for you? Assessing that begins with knowing what a day in the life of an instructional designer is like.
What Do Instructional Designers Do?
Instructional designers use technology to meet educational and curricular goals. Some examples of their work include:
- Helping school systems and colleges transition to remote learning
- Designing continuing education seminars for corporations
- Helping nonprofits and government organizations conduct training across locations
- Ensuring training sessions and company technologies are accessible to people of all abilities and technological access levels
It’s a degree that merges educational and technological knowledge into a highly marketable package. You’re not limited to a specific career, industry, or lifestyle either. Instructional designers span many industries, and an instructional design degree offers great flexibility.
Career Opportunities with an Instructional Design Degree
As the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, virtually every industry can benefit from better instructional design. The right technology makes work that was once impossible to do remotely accessible and manageable.
Some examples of careers and industries you might choose include:
- Corporate life: Corporations typically have larger budgets, enabling them to hire more instructional designers. Instructional designers in corporate settings may design remote continuing education, teleconferencing policies and platforms, or options for remote work. In doing so, they can save companies money while improving work life.
- K-12 education: The need for instructional designers in K-12 settings didn’t end with the shift to online learning during the COVID pandemic. Instructional design experts can gamify learning, make classrooms more accessible to students who have chronic illnesses and must take time off, implement accessible technology for disabled students, and much more.
- Higher education: As with K-12 education, instructional designers are critical to ensuring a shift to online learning works. Many colleges now offer online degrees, and the value of these degrees depends heavily on how well institutions use technology.
- Governments and nonprofits: Governments and nonprofits need instructional designers to roll out new institution-wide technology, meet grant requirements, help employees communicate across distances, and ensure institutions offer quality training.
- Consulting and self-employment: Some instructional designers work across industries, setting up their own businesses and consulting services to serve clients across different sectors. Others specialize in a specific niche.
A Day in the Life of an Instructional Designer
The truth is there is no standard day in the life of an instructional designer because these jobs are so varied and diverse — both within and across roles.
For example, an instructional designer working in higher education might spend much of their day trying to solve issues with remote learning, educating instructors about accessibility needs, and responding to concerns about technology. An instructional designer in the corporate world might never work on remote learning, focusing instead on setting up a telehealth platform for a healthcare system or helping employees communicate across a geographic distance.
Even within these roles, though, there’s a great deal of variety from day to day. In a given week, for example, you might:
- Meet with tech experts to compare technologies for remote learning options
- Educate your colleagues about new technology you’re implementing
- Assess technology on a continuous basis for usability
- Attend professional conferences
- Sit in on classes to see how well students are using the technology
- Explore recent research on the most effective instructional design approaches
There are plenty of different work arrangements, too. Some instructional designers work as part of a team, giving them many opportunities to make lasting friendships. But that doesn’t mean you have to be an extrovert to thrive. There are myriad opportunities for people who prefer to work alone. And if working from home is more your speed, many instructional design roles are fully or partially remote. This can expand your base of potential clients well beyond your geographic region.
There’s also plenty of flexibility in terms of whom you work for. Though instructional designers often work as employees in an in-house role, others join consulting firms, allowing them to bounce from project to project and company to company. Still others are free agents, working as consultants or independent contractors who have control over their own schedule, clients, and work requirements.
Reasons to Consider a Career in Instructional Design
Why consider a job in instructional design? Here are some key selling points:
- The field is growing, and that growth will likely continue well beyond the pandemic.
- There’s plenty of career flexibility. If you get bored, you can easily switch industries or focus.
- There are plenty of opportunities for growth. You might transition from a junior employee to the owner of a national consulting firm over the course of your career.
- There's no single instructional design career path. You can forge a path that works for your preferred working style — collaborative or solo, working in a bustling office or from home.
- You’ll help people better use technology to meet their needs.
- You can become an expert in several fields. Instructional designers don’t just master design. They are students of communication, education, and more. You’ll learn plenty about each industry you serve.
Deciding If an Instructional Design Degree Is Right for You
People of many different interests, personality types, and backgrounds can thrive in the field of instructional design. So how can you tell if an instructional design degree is right for you? Try asking these questions:
- Have I chosen a degree program that I can juggle within for the rest of my life?
- Does the school I have chosen offer a workable career path? What is the postgraduation employment rate for students?
- Do I enjoy managing long-term projects?
- Do I have good communication skills, or am I interested in developing them?
- Do I want to help implement curricula?
- Is there a specific industry in which I am most interested?
- What prior experience do I have in industries that use instructional designers?
- How much prior college credit do I have, and how long might it take me to graduate?
- What is the cost of the degree program I have chosen, and how much debt might I need to incur?
Everything about SNU’s instructional design degree program considers the needs of adult learners. Our innovative cohort model ensures you have a group of peers with whom to network. Flexible start dates mean you can begin whenever you’re ready, and different scheduling options mean you can complete your degree fully online. And with short courses, you can focus on one class at a time while quickly moving toward graduation.
At SNU, we believe in the power of education. We also believe in you. The right degree can change your life and empower you to change the world around you. To learn more about online learning, download our free guide, “What to Expect from an Online Degree Program.”