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.

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. In this article, you’ll discover some of the most common misconceptions about instructional designer salaries, as well as the truths behind them.

  1. Flying solo will lead to a higher salary.
    One of the biggest misconceptions about the instructional design field is that tackling all of the tasks on your own will lead to a larger payout. Many instructional design freelancers try to tackle everything, becoming graphic designers and subject matter experts all-in-one, thinking that this will increase their salary by saving on outsourcing costs. However, the simple truth is that enlisting the aid of an eLearning team can actually result in a higher salary. This is due to the fact that you can complete tasks more efficiently and effectively, which means more satisfied clients and faster turnaround times. If you work for an eLearning firm, managers commonly get paid more than their subordinates and get to explore 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 is rewarding, but requires some hard work in order to get a sizable salary.
  2. You don’t need an instructional design degree to earn more as an ID professional.
    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 a 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.
  3. Location has nothing to do with how much you make as an Instructional Designer.
    Due to the fact that much 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 really matter the place you are 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 United States, eLearning professionals working in the San Francisco metro area have an average salary of $101,410 a year, while those working in Detroit earned an average annual salary of $65,249 [1]. The amount of hours you may be expected to work can also vary 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].
  4. Being a jack-of-all-trades means that you’ll earn 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 mean that you will be earning a higher paycheck. In fact, choosing a specialty can often lead 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.
  5. Instructional designers in the private sector have the highest paying positions.
    Instructional Design professionals who create and sell their own eLearning courses or work in the private sector can earn a great living, but 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 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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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 in 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
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