Technology Skills for Instructional Designers

This is part 4 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.

If you’re hoping to move from a career in teaching or training (or something else) to instructional design, chances are you need to learn some of the common technology. Most of the instructional design jobs are at least partially, if not completely, for online education. Fortunately, a number of the programs allow free trials.

The list of technology skills below was originally something I put together for a teacher who is considering moving into instructional design in a few years. She specifically wanted some ideas to work on during her summers off to improve her skills. You don’t have to have skills in all these areas, of course, but hopefully this will help identify possible areas of improvement.

  • Basic html knowledge is generally expected; you can use the free tutorials at W3 Schools to get started.
  • Captivate is a great program, especially for software application training (which is about half of all the e-learning out there).
  • Lectora is used in some situations and would provide experience with that kind of course development software.
  • Experience with any Learning Management System such as Blackboard (not free) or Moodle (free) is helpful, although not required. You really can learn this on the job.
  • For my current job, I use Dreamweaver and Photoshop almost every day, but those are expensive and not easy to learn quickly. If you’re hoping to move into instructional design, you’ll probably need to be familiar with them eventually. It isn’t where I would recommend starting unless you already have the access or experience.
  • Many jobs require Flash programming, which I don’t personally have but know I’ll have to learn in the next year or two. Jobs which include Flash programming also tend to pay better.
  • I’ve seen growing interest in Web 2.0 tools like blogs, wikis, etc., so any experience in these areas is helpful.
  • Games and simulations are also popular, so those are other areas to explore.
  • Some experience with audio and video editing could be beneficial as well.

Note: The above list assumes that you are already familiar with Microsoft Office programs, including PowerPoint. If not, start with that training. Instructional design for face-to-face learning often means developing PowerPoint presentations and Word handouts.

If you see something I have left out in this list, please add a comment to let me know!

More than any specific set of applications, though, is the desire and motivation to learn new technology, especially to learn it independently. A lot of my technology skills have been gained since I started in the field, and I continue to learn on my own. I see that as a great benefit of working in instructional design. If you hate learning new technology or really struggle to learn it on your own, instructional design may not be a career that really makes you happy. Later in this series I’ll talk more about figuring out if instructional design is a good career choice or not.

Other Posts in this Series

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

Update: this post sparked some discussion, plus I had some more thoughts after writing the above list. Check out my two related posts about technology skills below:

Read all my posts about Instructional Design Careers here.

Update 10/5/13: I have closed comments on this post due to excessive spam. Feel free to continue the discussion on one of the other technology skills posts above.

Free Subscription

If you enjoyed this post, consider a free subscription so you can receive automatic updates. Don’t worry, I hate spam as much as you do, so I’ll never share your email address with anyone.

RSS feed Subscribe by RSS feed

envelope Subscribe by Email (This link will take you directly to the Subscribe widget on the right side of my blog.)

Need an instructional designer? Visit my Syniad Learning website to hire me.

33 thoughts on “Technology Skills for Instructional Designers

    • I recently graduated from Capella Univesity with a MS in Instructional Design. I have had plenty of inquires from recruiters however, their clients want experience in Captivate. My current job does not require ID skills so I am force to forge my way. I plan to create a portfolio. I subscribed to Captivate 30 day trial but was not able to utilize do to time restraints and I cant afford to buy the software at this time. What other options are out there?

  1. Let’s not forget that many of us instructional designers don’t have any technical skills whatsoever — nor do we need them! I’ve got no HTML skills, can’t use Dreamweaver, don’t do Flash, can hardly crop an image in Photoshop. Nevertheless, I’ve been an instructional designer for years. That stuff I leave to the programmers and graphic designers. It’s important to speak the language, but I don’t know the tools.

    That said, I’ve been on job interviews/seen plenty of job postings where the hope is that the instructional designer also has the technical skills to build the program.

    My current employer said they interviewed plenty of people for my job who claimed they had both the instructional design skills and the technical piece. But when viewing these individuals’ work samples, it didn’t seem like they could did either well.

    I’m sure there are plenty of great instructional designers who also have great technical skills. But some of us do better just doing the one side of the coin.

    So — for those of you looking into the field of instructional design and e-Learning — don’t think that you have to use all the hard core tools. I get by with PowerPoint, Word, Excel, Snagit (or other screen capture tools), and Visio.

  2. I just had a related debate with my sister today. I have several classes in grad school that require us to use Dreamweaver to create static web pages. At first blush, I thought “Why do I need this?” a: it creates output that is so web1.0 (give me a blog, a wiki or a Drupal install any day of the week) and b: this limited exposure to the design software (Flash, Dreamweaver, Fireworks) is not sufficient to ever be able to do web design for a living. However, my sister noted that speaking the language and gaining an appreciation for what is possible and feasible makes it worthwhile. Time will tell …

  3. Pingback: Do Instructional Designers Really Need Technology Skills? « Experiencing E-Learning

  4. Hi Cammy,

    I appreciate your comments and hearing a different perspective. I’ve written a fairly lengthy response to you as a full post; it was a little long for just a comment. Do Instructional Designers Really Need Technology Skills?

    Jennifer,

    How many jobs will you be able to find as an instructional designer where the only technology you need is web 2.0 technology like Drupal? Down the road, maybe you will. But right now? Find me one listed on Monster or Careerbuilder and I’ll be shocked. Even companies and schools who are using web 2.0 tools aren’t using them exclusively. I think those courses will give you other options for jobs. I also agree with your sister that even this minimal exposure will help you see what is possible and help you speak intelligently with people who know the software better than you ever will.

    You’re right that you’ll never be able to do web design for a living. But you couldn’t work with my team without that Dreamweaver experience because everything we do is built on web pages and plugged into Blackboard.

    I’m curious, especially since I’ve looked at Indiana’s IST program and seriously considered enrolling. What tools do they use for teaching? I know you keep a journal on your Drupal site. Are they using primarily web 2.0 tools rather than Blackboard or more static content? Is that why your expectations are for fully dynamic web 2.0 courses?

  5. Pingback: Two Big Technology Skills « Experiencing E-Learning

  6. Pingback: IDeas

  7. Pingback: What do you do, Mrs. Instructional Designer? « The Buzz: Current Trends and Issues in Instructional Technology

  8. hi i would like to ask u
    really i would like to work as an instructional design and i have to send my own papers for many companies but can u help me to write these skills ?

  9. Hi Suha,

    I’m not quite sure I understand your question. Writing skills are definitely a requirement for instructional designers. Much of what I do is editing content from SMEs rather than writing original work myself. However, I’d never be able to do my job without a solid background in writing.

    If you’re hoping to do instructional design work for US or UK companies, perhaps you can find some courses where you can improve your writing skills in English. That would be a good foundation to start with.

  10. Dear Christy,
    Thanks a lot for all the sincere work you have put into writing these greatly informative posts. They have helped me realize, a career in ID is just the kind of thing I guess I have been looking for all this time. I have a few questions, and I hope that you will be able to help me out. I have an M.A in English language and literature from Chittagong University, Bangladesh. I have taken the GRE and scored 580 in English, if that’s useful. Could you tell me whether I can directly enroll in masters in Instructional Design, or do I need to complete some other prerequisite course?
    Also I would like to know how long it would take to complete it and which schools are the best for ID.
    Your help will be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks,
    Faiza.

  11. Hi Faiza,
    Welcome to my blog, and thank you for commenting!

    Whether or not you can enroll directly in the masters programs really depends on the individual university. As for schools, I’ve heard good reviews of Indiana University in Bloomington, San Diego State University, and Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania. There’s a good post on Tony Karrer’s blog with a number of suggestions for online programs in the comments. I’m more familiar with the US programs, but several of the replies to Tony were for schools in the UK or Canada that might work for you.

    Most masters programs in the US are probably 2-3 years, although you might find some more accelerated programs as well. AIU’s program is only 10 months, but although I helped write the curriculum, I don’t feel comfortable recommending their program.

    I hope this helps.
    Christy

  12. Hey its a very informative piece of work, I am very impressed with your blog. You have covered all the points very well. Waiting for your next post to come.

    Mark

  13. @Prabha, I do have Adobe Captivate, Dreamweaver, Photoshop, and Flash listed. Which Adobe software do you mean–Acrobat, perhaps? I do use Acrobat Pro to create forms and online “worksheets” for courses. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any job listings that required Acrobat though. Besides, most people can learn how to create PDFs on the job.

    Or did you mean a different Adobe program?

  14. Hi
    Do you know of a nice book to read about Instructional design theories and practices. Are there any good books on Instructional Designing that you would recommend?

  15. David Merrill’s First Principles of Instruction isn’t a bad place to start, and it’s available for free online.

    John Curry did two posts on reading lists for instructional designers a while back. The first list is more comprehensive; the second list is what he considers essential reading.

    How to get an Instructional Design education without paying tuition
    An immediately accessible instructional design education

    I admit, I’m not a big fan of Gagne, but many people do find his work helpful.

    Cammy Bean’s Essential Reading for Instructional Designers is a good list too. It’s more focused on e-learning than just instructional design, so it depends what you’re looking for.

  16. Pingback: Comment Challenge Catch-Up « Experiencing E-Learning

  17. Thank you for your blog. I was in K-12 education when our district decided to cut thousands of teachers. Although I tried to sub and get back in many of the openings never returned and I have been spending the last eight months taking instructional design classes because I have always loved to learn technology and enjoy planning curriculum. Your blog better helps me understand the profession and whether it is a good fit for me. Thanks for your insight!

  18. Thank you for providing some really great information. I’m a web developer-designer and came across some job postings in eLearning in 2009 when I was looking for a new job. My forte is obviously in the technology side, but I love teaching and the study of cognition and learning. I hadn’t been aware of eLearning as a career, but the concept lit me up, and I am seriously considering what it would take to make that kind of a career change. I hate to ask this, but to have an honest evaluation I really need to, and you seemed like the right person to ask… what is the pay-scale for an ID? Also, is there a good entry point for a technologists while I’m learning about instructional design? Lastly, is this a field that would be good for a maturing, senior-level consultant (sometime in the future)?

    • The eLearning Guild’s 2010 Salary Research Report is the most comprehensive data for the salary question. It’s worth signing up for their free membership just to see that report, plus you get access to lots of other resources.

      They found that overall average salary for all e-learning jobs was $79,252, as of January 2010. Of course, many variables affect that–location, education, experience, number of people managed, etc. Entry level instructional design salaries are much less than that. In 2005 I was seeing starting salaries around $50-55K, and the economy means salaries haven’t gotten much better since then.

      With your background, I would also recommend reading Harold Jarche’s So You Want to Be an E-learning Consultant. This is a great resource to start thinking about e-learning from a consultant perspective, so you can decide whether it seems like a good fit for you.

  19. Practical and knowledge sharing approach. Instead of the ‘lecturing’ or ‘ sell something’ variety.
    I have writing skills but did not know the opportunities in the instructional design field. I promise to work on this right away.

  20. your post has been a great great help to me as i also intend to transit career from teaching to ID.

  21. This has been very informative. I am trying to get into this field at my present job. Unfortunately they went outside the company to hire someone for our technical trainer position here but I will start beefing up on these skills you have posted.

  22. Hi Christy. I recently started my MS in Instructional Design and Technology and I find your posts very informative for someone who is new to the field. The program I am in will allow me to work with Adobe products (in addition to other software) and I look forward to testing out the other technology tools you have listed. This post is a few years old and technology is ever changing. Are there any new products on the market that you recommend learning how to use? Thanks for the help and keep up the great work!

  23. Articulate Storyline is the one rapid development tool that I would recommend people breaking into the field consider. It doesn’t have the market share of Captivate yet since it hasn’t been out long, but it’s great software and I’m hearing increasing demand for it.

    Although not as many jobs require HTML now as I think did when I originally wrote this post, a bit of HTML5 knowledge wouldn’t be bad.

    Mobile learning is starting to be more important, so you should at least keep an eye on this trend. I’d keep an eye on the Tin Can API as well. I don’t think you need deep knowledge of either if you’re just getting started, but being familiar with them would be helpful.

Comments are closed.