eLearning Market

eLearning Job Market Research Report

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Online learning is in the midst of massive growth. Inc. Magazine named online learning “One of the top eight most lucrative industries in which to start a business for 2013 and beyond,” and Money Magazine listed “instructional designer” as the 38th (out of 100) best job in America for this year, citing a 28.3% job growth rate through 2023, and an average salary range between $63,700 and $97,400.

The eLearning Industry Paradox: Unprecedented eLearning Industry Growth and a Plethora of eLearning Jobs, But Many Instructional Designers Feel Left Out.


E-Learning instructional design jobs are plentiful

Job postings for last month support the media optimism for online learning. Digital Wits, an eLearning agency specializing in highly interactive online learning, gamification and consumer education publishing, researched the eLearning job market over a 25-day period between April 7th and April 30th 2014. During that time, there were 1,677 unique (non-duplicated) full time public job postings for eLearning instructional designers with established companies in the United States. That’s 67 new postings every day! Of those postings, 34%, or 570, were telecommute jobs. (We didn’t count classroom instructional design postings, or jobs at small companies with fewer than 100 employees. So, if you include those, the number of postings would be even higher.

On average, only 24 people apply for each eLearning job posting

Contrary to popular belief, there aren’t “hundreds” of applicants for every job posting. To get a general idea as to how many people apply for each opening, we looked at LinkedIn’s job board and did a search for eLearning instructional design jobs. LinkedIn is useful for this because it handily shows how many people applied to individual postings. We looked at 478 LinkedIn postings for eLearning instructional design (ID) jobs over the past three months and found that only 24 people on average apply for each eLearning ID posting. (The highest number of applicants for one job was 51; the lowest was ten.)

Key findings of a survey of eLearning instructional designers paint a less-rosy picture.

This should be a banner time for instructional designers. Yet, a recent survey - Instructional Designers' Survey: What We Think About our Industry, Jobs, and Future Goals - conducted by DigitalWits in partnership with eLearning Industry shows many IDs aren’t exactly doing cartwheels. Some are content. A handful are happy.  Some are downright despondent.

More than half of eLearning instructional designers are looking to make a move. 

According to the survey, more than half (52%) of eLearning instructional designers are unhappy in their current role and looking to make a move. They are looking to either: Get out of their current company but find another ID position (43%); get out of their ID role, but stay with the same company (35%); or get out of the industry and their current company (7%). Of those who want to get out of their current position, 21% say they want to move up to management and 14% want to switch to a full-time telecommute option. (Many commented that if their current company can’t or won’t offer a full telecommute job, then they’ll look for another company that will offer that option.) Another nine percent of respondents didn’t answer the question on what goals they have for their eLearning career, and six percent said they haven’t thought about their goals.

eLearning Instructional Design Freelancers are happier than their corporate counterparts

The cubicle farm is not happy place for full-time IDs. Only 24% of full-time corporate IDs say they want to stay in their current position at their current company because they are happy and enjoy the environment and the work. Another 24% said that although they are not happy working where they are, they have no motivation to search for another position because they are either “just waiting for retirement” or fear jumping ship “in this down economy.

Freelancers, on the other hand, seem more optimistic: a full 85% said they are happy doing what they are doing and like their client companies. Free agents are most frustrated with contract (staffing) agencies and rush jobs. Twenty-percent of freelancers said their main complaint with contract companies is that they pay rates that are well below market value. One freelancer seethed: “I’m tired of contract agencies paying me much less than 50% of what they charge their clients. I found out one agency was billing me out at $110 per hour, but only paying me $58. It’s not offshoring that’s hurting freelancers. It’s contract companies putting the burden of margin improvement on contractors. I understand that they have overhead and I don’t mind paying someone 25%-30% for a fee. But more than 50% is unacceptable. Whatever it takes I’m going to learn how to market myself and only work for only my own clients.” 

Six-percent of freelancers will likely be doing the same; they said their main goal was to stop working for contract agencies and get more direct clients. Nine percent of freelancers said they want to find full time work at a company. The freelancers who said they are happiest and had no complaints about fees were those who had their own direct clients, or had created their own online training programs that they were selling directly to consumers.

Main frustrations: Technology, rush jobs, and lack of respect

One area that both freelancers and full-time eLearning instructional designers agreed on is what makes them want to bang their heads against the wall. The number-one complaint about the industry is that the focus seems to be more on technical skills than instructional design skills (36%), followed by the perception that there is a glut of instructional designers, which makes it difficult to get a job and/or move up (22%). (It’s curious, then, that only an average of 24 IDs apply for open ID positions.) The biggest beef among instructional designers about the environment in which they work is that everything is a rush job (49%), that IDs are not respected (28%) and that managers have no instructional design backgrounds and, therefore, are not supportive of time and resource needs of eLearning projects (23%). The Rodney Dangerfield syndrome hit a nerve with several people who feel they  get no respect—and no recognition. As one ID said, “If you have projects where one team does instructional design and another team does animation and graphic design, the instructional designers will never get any recognition; it all goes to the folks who do the visuals. One project I worked on just won a major industry award, and everyone said, ‘Look what a great job our animators did on this. Aren’t why awesome?!’ None of us IDs who worked on it even got a mention. There is a complete lack of respect for the writing and creativity that goes into a solid, creative, instructionally-sound program.

What Instructional Designers like 

Despite the grievances with companies, managers, rush jobs and ever-changing technology, most IDs love the actual work that they do. In fact, most enjoy combining technology with learning (49%). What they don’t like about technology is that it changes so fast and, as mentioned earlier, that companies place a higher value on technology tools than instructional design expertise. Other reasons why IDs love their work (even if they may not love their jobs) include the ability to be creative and use creative skills like writing, scripting and instructional design (27%) and the “fun factor” in learning a new topic every day (41%). The ability to make a difference also places high on our list (27%).

We’re in a good place.

Although there are some challenges in the industry, it’s a great time to be an instructional designer. The key seems to be to find a company or clients that have the types of projects you enjoy most. Self-marketing is also important. Even if you have a full-time corporate gig, you need to actively market and promote yourself constantly. This not only gets you more respect within your company, but if you have a highly visible public profile you also are building name recognition - which never hurts if you happen to get laid off from your corporate job, or just get fed up and want to make the jump