Instructional Design Skills

This is post #3 in a series about how to become an instructional designer. Links to the rest of the series can be found at the end of this post.

In my experience, most instructional designers were originally teachers or trainers who changed careers (just like I did). Many of the skills overlap between these fields, so it can be a pretty easy transition. However, just like every other field, instructional design has its own set of jargon and specialized knowledge.

Instructional Design Skills

If you’re considering moving into instructional design, I think one of the best things to do is just to start reading about it. Fortunately, many free resources are available online.

If you have a little budget, there are some great books available as well.

Of course, blogs by instructional designers can be a big resource as well. Here’s a couple to get you started.

  • Big Dog, Little Dog (Don Clark)
    Focused on learning and performance
  • Learning Visions (Cammy Bean)
    Cammy’s an instructional design manager and reflective practitioner with a lot of great thoughts.
  • In The Middle of the Curve (Wendy Wickham)
    Wendy does everything from the design to the face-to-face training, and I’ve learned a lot from reading her posts.
  • Making Change (Cathy Moore)
    Cathy is a terrific writer with great ideas for making instructional design engaging.

Update 8/2/11: Here is a larger list of instructional design and e-learning blogs I read. I’ve expanded my reading horizons quite a bit in the last four years.

Other Posts in this Series

  1. What Does an Instructional Designer Do?
  2. Getting Into Instructional Design
  3. Instructional Design Skills (current post)
  4. Technology Skills
  5. Professional Organizations and Career Options
  6. Is instructional design the right career?

Update: Read all my posts about Instructional Design Careers here.

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42 thoughts on “Instructional Design Skills

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  3. Hello Christy:

    Thank you for posting this information. I am an aspiring instructional designer and found this very helpful. I look forward to future blog posting in the future.

  4. Hello Christi,
    Thanks for the post. I’m an English Hons. Graduate and pursuing my MA in English through a correspondence course. I’m working as a content writer since past 1.5 years, and find ID interesting. I have sound writing skills, but no diploma or ID certified course. Can I make a career in ID straight away?

    • I am a graphic Artist and I have no knowledge about instructional design? Can I make it or is there any way they are related or an advantage to me?

      • Graphic design correlates closest to e-learning development rather than instructional design. If you can do multimedia development, you can find work in the e-learning field on teams where you collaborate with instructional designers. In that kind of team, instructional designers conduct the needs analysis, plan the course, and create a script or storyboard. Multimedia developers build the course based on the storyboard using Flash, HTML5, or rapid development tools. That’s the easiest connection to your current work.

        If you’re interested in writing courses, I suggest you pursue some training in instructional design, such as a graduate certificate. Although your graphic design and multimedia skills are probably better than the average instructional designer, you’re lacking the background in psychology and learning to design effective courses.

  5. Hi Christi,
    Thanks for your answering my query.

    I tried for few Instructional Designers positions recently, and is disappointed to know that no company is interested in keeping a fresher Instructional Designer.

    Is it because I have no certified course related to ID? Are there any distant learning courses for ID that I can do to make my resume fat?

    Please opine.

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  7. Hi Christy,

    Thank you for sharing your wealth of knowledge with us. I am a recent graduate of a design program in Visual Communication in Sydney and I have always been inclined toward psychology and education through design. I am applying for a grad position in online training and instructional design.

    How much is this field embracing the creative thinking and visual semantics of design as a discipline?

    • I think most instructional designers recognize the value of visuals for learning, but unfortunately don’t believe they can communicate effectively with images because “they’re not artists” or “don’t get design.” (See this #lrnchat discussion starting at about 9:30 for some examples of opinions on both sides of the argument. (My quote at 9:31:17 sums up my opinion: “I think visual literacy can be taught and improved, like other skills. You don’t have to be Picasso to communicate with visuals.”)

      Connie Malamed, the eLearning Coach has some good information on visuals. I also really like Christine Martell’s blog, including her series on Are your visuals saying what you want?

      I wish I could tell you that visual design is universally valued and respected, and that everyone invests time and effort into learning how to improve their visual skills. But I’d be lying, and you know that. But if you can combine the two, I think you’ll be bringing great expertise to the field.

  8. Christy (and others),
    If you had to recommend one book on ID, which would it be?
    Thank you,
    Andrew
    ps does wanting something as archaic as a book indicate that I am too old to move into ID? :)

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  10. I am interested in the field of instructional design. I am glad I found your blog. I have been trying to think of ways to transition to this career in the next four to five years. The information you posted has been helpful.

  11. Thanks for all of the helpful info. about getting into ID. I have been trying to update my skills set. I am a Spec. ed teacher with a Master’s in Instructional Tech/Design. Trying to make that transition. I am a proud Cheesehead!

  12. Christy,

    Thank you for your blog. I am just beginning with Instructional Design and was happy to find your site. This blog makes information easy to find and to read. I am studying ID through Walden University and was forced into the on-line world of blogging which I admit I was reluctant to do. I have worked with technology most of my adult life but the new world of technology is scary. Everything is so public and immediate that it is so easy for someone to be misunderstood. Hopefully people take time to think about what they are “saying” before actually putting their words out on these types of sites.

    In my limited knowledge of this field I do have some insights that I would like to share and get your thoughts. Part of the reason for me being scared of this technology is that people will stop interacting face to face. Human interactions are so important in our daily lives. As I was reading articles this week, one important article I read spoke about The Learning Process and that learning occurs continuously throughout a person’s lifetime. I believe this statement and in that belief I fear that since we are continuously learning what are we taking away from this technology world we live in?

    Yes it is great that we can communicate with people thousands of miles away – even “face to face” via skype and video conferencing but what about the people we are close to physically? How many of us know our neighbors? Where have all the block parties gone? Small talk has turned into no-talk. These are the things I am concerned for because we have so much to learn from each other and much of it is learned just by interactions.

    I am not saying that we should go without the technology, but somewhere we need to get away from the machines and be the human race. Human interaction is happening less and less. One area that I do see some light is when there are situations of great human tragedy. Unfortunately it takes a great disaster, like 9/11, the Haiti earthquake and now the Japan earthquake to have people get away from their technology lives and lend a hand. We have to find a way to do this without the tragedies.

    Helene

  13. I don’t know about you, but I am overwhelmed with the amount of information on simply one subject. “Instructional Design”. It beyond comprehension the amount of information we have at our fingertips.
    Happy reading to all. If only there was a way to absorb at an incredibly faster rate……

    Thomas

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  15. When I decided to pursue an MS in Instructional Design and Technology at Walden University, my motivation was to be able to work directly with the Teaching and Learning Technologies Coordinator (TLTC) in my school to design a needs-based training program for the staff in particular. I knew I would definitely learn new things but I am beginning to see that I underestimated what I would find.

    As I high school teacher who plans and delivers instruction, there are some useful transferable skills, however, within the last (10) weeks, I have learnt so much. I never really paid much attention to the dynamics of an organization and now with an imminent transition, which I lead from one School Management System to another, I fully appreciate the implication of change to members of the organization and I am fully aware of possible resistors. I see this so clearly implied in your post “Five Moments of Need” although not explicitly stated. Quite often, change leaders tend to forget to involve those affected by the change in the entire process and I realize that one reason why the TLTC has had challenges is the generic approach to designing training programs rather than taking it to a Subject Expert Level.

    One thing I am passionate about is differentiation in Instructional design. Looking at the different learning theories – behaviorism, constructivism and cognitivism together with some background knowledge of how the brain learns leaves me even more convinced about how this knowledge and understanding should have bearing on the work of an Instructional Designer. One thought I am still reflecting on is how best an understanding of how different age groups learn can be harnessed when designing instruction for a tertiary institution for example, where teenagers are in class with a for example 40year olds. Bates (2010) echoes my thoughts “Although we don’t have good designs or models yet for the use of web 2.0 or hybrid learning, we do have theories of learning. Why are we not applying theory more rigorously to these areas and coming up with new models based on theory that can be tested?”

    Another question that I have wondered about is whether in spite of the need to be technology proficient, it is the Instructional Designer who makes a decision or recommendations on the choice of a learning platform.

    Thank you for the wealth of information you provide. I have already connected with a few of your suggestions. One resource I have enjoyed reading is

    Ayeshat Addison
    MS IDT – Walden University

    Reference:
    Bates, T. (2010, June 8). The future of instructional design – or my heart belongs to ADDIE. Retrieved July 7, 2012, from http://www.tonybates.ca/2010/06/08/the-future-of-instructional-design-or-my-heart-belongs-to-addie/

    • I admit that I don’t personally find a whole lot of value in looking at age groups for designing. A lot of the millennial or “net gen” literature is just based on guesses and has no research support. There are cultural differences in generations, of course, but if you have a solid basis in research and theory, you don’t need the age-based snake oil. Too much of the net gen info assumes that everyone over the age of 50 learns best when sitting passively in a blank classroom being talked at endlessly–as if 50-year-olds like boring learning!

      The choice of a learning platform depends largely on the organization. Sometimes the instructional designer makes the recommendation, sometimes the final decision, and sometimes you’re just stuck with whatever the Powers That Be have chosen.

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  17. This an amazing blog. Christy you are direct and provide valuable info unlike some blogs. i am a software trainer looking for a certificate in ID; am in Toronto, Ontario. I will keep reading ur past blogs. However if u’ve a link or institute that i could check out please inform…am looking to start course few months. Thank you!! Raz

    • The only program I’m aware of in Canada is Athabasca University. Obviously that’s on the other side of the country from you, but they have online options.

      Some of the online certification or certificate programs in the US might also work for you. Here’s a few lists for you to review:

      http://elearningtech.blogspot.com/2010/01/elearning-certifications.html

      http://theelearningcoach.com/resources/instructional-design-programs/

      Note that “certification” and “certificate” are not the same thing–certificate usually means “graduate certificate” or about half a masters degree. Certification is usually a short program, maybe a few days or weeks, through a professional organization rather than a university.

      • Hi Christy,

        When you were hiring, especially teachers turned ID, did you prefer the certification or the certificate?

        I have earned Bachelor in psychology, 10 yrs teaching exp, 1 yr graphics/web design experience as a designer, am finishing a certificate in Adult Training, but have no experience in ID per say. I am considering a way to get my first ID job, do you have any suggestions as to whether i should get an e-learning certificate at a university, or take software Certifications if you we’re doing the hiring?

      • Hi Vivian,

        When I was hiring, we had a firm requirement that everyone had to have a minimum bachelor’s degree in something. It didn’t matter what; we had a pretty eclectic combination of degrees in that team. Very few people we hired had any formal training in ID at all. I don’t recall anyone having a certificate or certification. Personally, I have a CTT+ certification (Certified Technical Trainer) that half the time I don’t even bother to put on my resume since no one cares.

        From more recent conversations with others in the field, I would say that graduate certificates are much more valued than short-term certifications like from Langevin or ASTD. I once in a while see people with software certifications on LinkedIn, although I don’t think I’ve ever worked with anyone who had one. I think most people care more about your portfolio as demonstrating your expertise using software than any certification. Actually, in general, there are plenty of people who care more about the portfolio than any formal credentials. I’d probably hire someone with no degree or certificate with a great portfolio over someone with a masters degree and several software certifications with no portfolio.

  18. Thanks for this blog. As previous commenters have said, information is clear, easy to find and really helpful. I really like the tone of your writing too – really friendly and direct. I am just starting to look at transitioning to instructional design from a writing, media and education background and this has been really informative. Thanks so much.

  19. Hi,

    Christy, i started off my career as a graphic designer in a designing firm but after working a year i got an opportunity and shifted my role into instructional design. I worked as an ID for about 2 years and still working. I feel certain blockage in my work which i really need to overcome. Would request you to suggest me on the below mentioned points.

    1. I do take care of my projects sincerely and complete it as per the Org requirements, but somehow my senior ask gives me feedback of improving writings skills. Being into this ID field what can a good measure to improve on writing skills and other related stuffs?

    2. I sincerely try to concentrate on my work and always try to provide new ways of approach. But somehow i am getting satisfied with the feedback i get from my seniors. Do i really need to work on specific things. If yes, then how?

    • Hi Abir,

      I agree with your manager that your writing skills need improvement. Based on the numerous errors in your comment above, I wouldn’t hire you as an ID (or I would plan to have someone with better writing skills review everything you wrote before any client ever saw it).

      I’m not sure where you’re located, so I don’t know what courses or educational opportunities are available to you. In the US, we have community colleges that usually offer business writing courses or remedial writing courses for fairly reasonable tuition. You might look for online writing courses via Open Sesame or ed2go. Based on your current low writing skill, I do recommend you sign up for a formal course with an actual person who can review your writing and give you feedback to help you improve.

      You may have other specific areas to work on besides writing, but focusing on the writing first is probably your best bet. The writing underlies everything else you do as an ID.

  20. Thanks Christy, for your diagnostic feedback. As you recommended, I tried signing up but none of the sites belongs to India. So, i need some resources which i can access from India as well or you can suggest me any book which i can purchase and practice as a daily activity.

    Since i came from a non-writing background, i really want some effective suggestions on this to improve myself. I can understand where i stand and what i am doing. I am currently working in finance company and we create courses on loan products.

    What I wanted to explain you was I can write what is required for the product but I want to improve the quality of my writing. I really need help to bridge the gaps because i don’t want leave an impression on them that i am a GD transformed an ID.

  21. Thanks once again for your comments, i was going through some of the web resources online and what i have come across is “Michael Allen”. Since his books are not available in India, i need to have a PDF link to read his experience in eLearning (if you can help me on this). And for writing skills, i would be glad if you can suggest me some open website where i can directly enroll and train myself.

    • Abir, as I stated above, I don’t know what’s available for you. I’ve suggested online courses and contacts in India. If you’re not going to read my advice, there’s really nothing more I can do for you. You’re going to have to do some of this work on your own; I can’t hold your hand every step of the way. It’s time for you to take the initiative and find these resources yourself.

      • Christy, I am really very sorry if i have bothered you much, but the whole in office today i was going through the blogs and sites recommended by you. I am very glad and i appreciate that you responded to each one of my posts. Thank you.

        • So you used your office resources to publicly ask me to do something illegal (provide you with a pirated copy of a book)? Maybe that’s part of why you’re having problems with your career, if you don’t understand why that might not be a great idea. It’s bad enough to do so at home with your own resources, but requesting illegal copies using your company’s resources puts them at risk too.

          I think at this point your best bet is to stop responding here and cut your losses. If you continue to respond, you’ll likely only make yourself look less professional.

  22. Christy, I am very glad that I got an opportunity to interact with you, but you absolutely misunderstood my previous post. And being professional I just wanted some valuable suggestions from the masters like you which might help me to improve my career.

  23. I would LOVE to get into instructional design! I am a former teacher and at my school we had to come up with our curriculum all from scratch, so I am used to planning my own thing. Do you have any advice when it comes to sending out a resume and cover letter for a position? I want to make them seriously consider me for the position!

    • Revise your resume to focus more on the curriculum development and less on the teaching aspect. If you’ve done any collaborative curriculum development, be sure to include that on your resume. Anything you’ve created where you weren’t the subject matter expert and had to work with someone else who was is great to highlight as well.

      If you can talk about how you’re a quick learner and give examples of how you’ve learned software on your own in the past, that can help as well.

      Beyond that, a portfolio is your best bet to demonstrate that your skills from teaching will transfer to instructional design.

      If you haven’t read my post on interview questions for teachers changing to this field, you might find that helpful as well. That points in the direction for changes to your resume and cover letter too.

      http://christytucker.wordpress.com/2010/03/12/teacher-to-instructional-designer-interview-questions/

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