5 Common Misconceptions About Instructional Designer Salaries

5 Common Misconceptions About Instructional Designer Salaries
Summary: As is the case with most professions, over the course of time a variety of myths, exaggerations, and misconceptions surface about the pay involved. In this article, I’ll shed some light on the most common misconceptions about instructional designer salaries all instructional designers involved in the eLearning Industry should be aware of, as well as the factors that can affect your eLearning Salary.

Instructional Designer Salaries: 5 Common Misconceptions That Instructional Designers Involved In The eLearning Industry Should Be Aware Of

Instructional designer salaries may differ greatly, depending on the professional’s experience level, training, specialty, and a number of other factors. As is the case with most professions, over the course of time a variety of myths, exaggerations, and misconceptions surface about the pay involved. In this article, I’ll shed some light on the most common misconceptions about instructional designer salaries that all professionals should be aware of, as well as the truths behind them.

Flying Solo Leads To A Higher Salary

One of the biggest misconceptions about the instructional design field is that doing everything on your own leads to a larger payout. Many instructional design freelancers try to tackle everything, becoming graphic designers and subject matter experts all-in-one, thinking that saving on outsourcing costs increases their salary. However, enlisting the aid of an eLearning team is what can result in a higher salary. This is due to the fact that you can complete tasks more efficiently and effectively. That leads to more satisfied clients and faster turnaround times. If you work for an eLearning firm, managers commonly get paid more than their subordinates while exploring different facets of the eLearning industry. Also, bear in mind that becoming a freelancer has its fair share of trials and tribulations, as you will have to handle every aspect of the business. It's rewarding but requires some hard work to get a sizable salary.

You Don’t Need A Instructional Designer Degree To Earn More

Earning an instructional design degree may require an investment of both time and effort, but it may just pay off in the end. While instructional designer salaries can greatly vary based upon a variety of different factors, eLearning professionals who do pursue a higher education degree typically earn more than those who do not. According to the 2015 Global eLearning Salary & Compensation Report released by The eLearning Guild, which featured the responses of 5,127 of their members [3], individuals who hold an instructional design doctorate degree have a salary that is almost 24% higher than the United States average [3].  There are even certain positions, such as those in the higher education sector, where eLearning professionals must hold an instructional design Masters or Doctorate degree to obtain a position.

Also, it’s important to bear in mind that it’s not just about the degree itself, but what you learn as you are pursuing that degree. Developing specific skill sets, learning about new technologies and eLearning authoring tools, as well as exploring different instructional design theories and principles can all lead to a higher-paying position.

Location Has Nothing To Do With How Much You Make As An Instructional Designer

As most of your work is done online and, even group collaboration can be done via project management platforms and video conferencing tools, many believe that it doesn’t matter where you're located. However, even in this industry, it’s all about location. According to The eLearning Guild’s 2015 Global eLearning Salary & Compensation Report, Australian eLearning professionals have the highest salary with an average high of $105,510 per year [2], while those in India earn the least, starting from $29,236 [2]. In the US, eLearning professionals in the San Francisco metro area have an average salary of $101,410 a year, while those in Detroit earned an average annual salary of $65,249 [1]. The number of hours you're expected to work also varies from location to location. For example, eLearning professionals in India work 45.88 full-time work hours per week, on average, while those in Canada work 42.63 hours a week [3].

Being A Jack-Of-All-Trades Gets You A Higher eLearning Salary

While it’s always a good idea to learn as much as possible about a variety of different learning management systems, eLearning authoring tools, and instructional design models, being a jack-of-all-trades doesn’t necessarily guarantee you a higher paycheck. In fact, choosing a specialty can often lead to a more substantial salary each year. For example, if you opt to work as an eLearning consultant for a healthcare company, you may have the potential to earn more than someone who has yet to identify their niche. Being a generalist when you first start out is often the best way to go, as it gives you the opportunity to determine your key strengths and interests, but it may be wise, and more lucrative, to choose a specialty once you find your footing.

Instructional Designers In The Private Sector Have The Highest Paying Positions

ID professionals who create and sell their own eLearning courses or work in the private sector can earn a great living. However, they usually aren’t the highest paid in the eLearning industry. Instructional designer salaries can differ significantly in any sector, as the employer, job duties, and the experience of the eLearning professional all help to determine the yearly pay. However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the highest-paid eLearning professionals are those who are in federal government settings, with average earnings of $87,790 per year [1]. Professionals who work in the consulting sector also earn about 23.9% more than the global average, while those who are in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries have salaries 26% higher than the average global instructional designer salaries [2]. eLearning freelancers can earn high salaries, as well, depending on their weekly work hours, marketing knowledge, and a number of other factors.

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The eLearning Salary Forecast: What eLearning Professionals Should Know

If only there were a crystal ball exclusively for eLearning professionals, where we could gaze into the future of the eLearning industry, spot upcoming trends, and find out what the eLearning salary might be like 5 years from now. Luckily, we don’t need a fortune teller to predict the pay rate of tomorrow. Today’s statistics and overall career outlook can tell us what the future might hold for eLearning pros.

To better understand where the eLearning industry is, we must take a closer look at where it stands today. According to the eLearning Guild’s 2015 Global eLearning Salary & Compensation Report, the average global base salary for eLearning professionals is about $78,310, which is a 2.5% increase from 2013 [2]. In the United States, this number is around $81,079 per year, which is 2.7% higher than the average in 2013 [2]. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 18,500 Instructional Design Coordinator jobs will be added to the eLearning industry between the years 2012 and 2022, which is a 13% increase over the course of the decade [5].

All of these numbers lead to one conclusion: the eLearning industry is growing at a rapid rate, and the salaries of qualified eLearning professionals are growing right along with it. This eLearning salary increase is expected to continue at the same pace (2.5%) over the course of the next five years [2]. There are, however, a few factors that may influence your personal eLearning salary forecast.

6 Factors That May Affect Your Future eLearning Salary

1. Location

Where you work actually has a significant impact on how much you can expect to make 5 years from now. Based on the findings of The eLearning Guild’s 2015 Global eLearning Salary & Compensation Report, the salary of eLearning professionals in Australia was an average high of $105,610. eLearning pros in India, however, had an average low of $29,236 per year [2]. Even the salaries within the United States vary greatly. For example, those in the San Francisco metro area may earn as much as $101,410 per year on average, while those in the Detroit area might expect to bring in about $65,249 annually [2].

2. Tech knowledge

The tools and technologies of the trade are always changing and evolving. Those who stay on top of trends and learn about the newest eLearning tools are more likely to earn higher salaries now and in the future. For example, eLearning professionals who are familiar with HTML5 and cloud-based authoring tools are probably going to have the upper hand, as the eLearning industry is headed in this direction. This is why it’s so essential to learn about the newest trends and technologies. It not only gives you the opportunity to develop better eLearning experiences for your learners but also to negotiate a better eLearning salary.

3. Experience level

According to PayScale.com, which is an online salary database, Instructional Designers earned a median salary of $59,878 in 2015 [4]. They also note that entry-level Instructional Designers in the United States had a median salary of $53,295, but experienced Instructional Designers had a median annual salary of $68,727 [4]. Experience typically equals better pay, as employers are more likely to increase your salary if you have developed the necessary skill sets and have a proven track record in the field. For this very reason, it’s always a good idea to seize every opportunity to gain experience. For example,  you can attend workshops or volunteer for projects that develop specific skills.

4. Position

The position you hold is one of the most significant determinants of your future eLearning salary. If you're in a leadership role, such as a manager of an L&d team at a corporation, you typically earn more than those who don't. You do, however, also have more responsibilities to go along with your higher pay. The road to becoming a manager does require advanced planning. For example, if you want to lead an eLearning team in your current organization, consider taking leadership classes or attending communication courses to prepare yourself for the corporate ladder climb.

5. Education

Typically, eLearning professionals who have higher degrees in Instructional Design, such as doctorate and master’s degrees, earn more than those who do not. Not only does the degree carry weight, but the experience and knowledge that come along with it add great value. Those who are willing to pursue degrees show that they are determined, focused, and ready to take the initiative. They want to learn everything they can about the eLearning industry, and employers usually pay more for their expertise.

6. Specialty

Finding a specialty that ideally suits your interests and talents can significantly increase your eLearning salary over the course of the next five years and beyond. Specialists stand out from eLearning professionals because they have mastered a particular platform or industry. These professionals are sought after by companies who are looking for a particular set of skills. Therefore, they can also charge more for their services.


You have the power to write your own paycheck five years from now by planning your course of action today. Take these eLearning salary factors into consideration when creating your professional goals to ensure the success of your eLearning career.

If you’re considering an instructional design career it’s wise to know exactly what to expect. Hopefully, the truth behind these common misconceptions can help you in your decision-making process and give you a clear picture of what you’re getting into before pursuing this rewarding career path.

Earning an Instructional Design degree can help increase salary figures and lead to more job opportunities. Read the article Why Do You Need An Instructional Design Degree? to learn the many reasons why you may want to pursue a degree in this ever-evolving field.

Last, but not least, if you’re new to the world of Instructional Design and would like to know more about how to get started, the article How To Get Started As An Instructional Designer delves into the necessary skills and hiring process for instructional design professionals.


  1. The Average Salaries of Instructional Designers
  2. The eLearning Guild Releases 2015 Global eLearning Salary & Compensation Report
  3. 2015 Global eLearning Salary & Compensation Report Infographic
  4. Instructional Designer Salary (United States)
  5. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Instructional Coordinators