How to become an Instructional Designer

How to become an Instructional Designer

So you are considering getting into the instructional design or instructional technology field and want to know what it takes to make it. Today I am going to explain how to get into the field – at least the corporate part. Now before I start, there is not one way or a right way per se to get in, but there are things you should know before you make that jump.

1. Knowledge – before you get into the field you need to understand each and every step to the ADDIE process. You can get this from a Master’s program, certificates, your job, or just learning it on your own. It really doesn’t matter where you get it but you need it. And I care about this 10x more than any technology programs you might know. Technology programs only last for a years before something better comes along. Knowledge lasts forever. For instance, ask yourself the following questions, if you can easily answer them then you probably know what you need to. If you cannot answer them, you probably should consider a Master’s degree where someone will give you what you need to know. And remember these are just a few of probably 100s of questions I would choose from if I were interviewing you or trying to determine your competency in a short meeting:

  1. Name three learning theories?
  2. Describe the multimedia theories and how they apply to computer based instruction
  3. Name three instructional strategies?
  4. What instructional strategy is appropriate for indirect instruction? What about one for direct instruction? And experiential?

2. Experience – Yes you need experience in addition to just knowing information. I want to see that you can work on a team and such. For this I suggest internships in the field. You need actual experience in the field and there are tons of internships out there. Having said that, if you have a masters + other experience I would definitely accept that as well.

3. Master’s degree/certification – You need something that shows you have the knowledge. I will interview you like crazy but I really prefer someone that I know has the basic competencies. I would hire someone without the degree but they would really have to pass a pretty tough and extensive interview where I would really ask them about every competency in the field. The worst thing I see in our field is instructional designers that do not actually know instructional design. While a degree is no guarantee of that, it does help. That is not to say all instructional degree programs are equal either – so yes it also matters where you went to school.

4. Portfolio – First, if you show me stuff you have done for other clients I am going to be a bit concerned as they more than likely own that work. I wouldn’t want you leaving my company and showing the stuff you developed for me. So you need to develop a few mock examples. Honestly though this is not that important unless you are really going to be an instructional developer. I can tell if you can design by setting up a few scenarios and asking you what you would do, what models would you use, why, etc. This is more important for fields like computer science and graphic art. But it doesn’t hurt to have it.

5. Technology – I do not expect you to be a tech expert or developer. I expect you to be able to discuss technology and work with programmers though. You should know what all of the latest software packages can do, when you would use them, and why. You should understand an LMS and how to be an administrator of one. You should not be ‘that’ instructional designer that knows one technology and recommends that technology before ever doing an analysis to determine if that is really the best or not.

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