24 Top Tips To Become An Instructional Designer

24 Top Tips To Become An Instructional Designer
Summary: What does it really take to create your own distinctive path to Instructional Design? In this article, I'll share 24 top tips from 24 accomplished Instructional Designers to help you achieve success in one of the most exciting and multidimensional eLearning careers.

How To Become An Instructional Designer

As you may have already noticed, there is no typical route into Instructional Design. I have met brilliant Instructional Designers who have started as educators, or graphic designers, or tech engineers, or even artists, federal government employees, and communication managers. Of course, they all had one thing in common: a true passion for creating great eLearning. But the question remains: What does it really take to become a brilliant Instructional Designer?

In our Free eBook: How To Become An Instructional Designer I've asked 24 Instructional Designer Experts the same question and I've collected dozens of straightforward, super creative, and awe-inspiring uses, tips, and insights into one of the most fascinating careers in the world.

In this article, I present the 24 tips that really stand out from their unconventional stories in order to help you get an idea of what takes to become an Instructional Designer. Keep reading; all you have to do is make sure that you have a true passion for eLearning.

  1. Focus on teaching, particularly languages.
    "I think that teaching, especially languages, provides an invaluable experience to anyone wanting to become an Instructional Designer. This is because it provides a set of transferable skills that allows you to approach course design in a creative yet pedagogically rigorous way. As a learning expert it gives you the confidence and the credibility to advise the client to find solutions to their learning requirements."
    By Antonella Veccia 
  2. Go beyond formal learning.
    "Look at options to “knowledge acquisition” to “knowledge application”. I have used Performance Support Tools intervention very effectively to support formal learning."
    By Asha Pandey 
  3. Never stop learning.
    "Become a learner yourself and you’ll have the edge when connecting with your audience. Develop a passion for knowledge and always pay attention to how content is structured and presented."
    By Bronya Benvin 
  4. Don't be an order taker.
    "People will say “We need training”. Nod, smile, and respond “Let's take a look”. Build the business case for what you really should be doing. Sometimes that's training or eLearning. Often it's something else (like a job aid)."
    By Cheri Lockett Zubak 
  5. Play video games.
    "You'll learn a lot about things like guided onboarding and habit-building. What makes you intrinsically motivated to keep at it? If you don't find it interesting, what would you change to make it interesting? Write your answers down. How do your conclusions relate to motivating trainees?"
    By Christos Anthis 
  6. Create a portfolio.
    "Even if you haven’t worked as an Instructional Designer, you can create a portfolio. It should include at least one finished piece of work, and all the documents leading to that work. Choose a topic you already know something about. The topic of the training isn’t as important; show the “bones”: the curriculum plan, the content outline, the storyboard, and the finished product. Show how you made your instructional decisions."
    By Clare Dygert 
  7. Get education, whether formal or informal.
    "If time and resources are available, get a degree; if time and resources are limited, get a certificate; if time and resources are non-existent, find a mentor and/or read some of the great Instructional Design books out there, such as Instructional Design (by Patricia L. Smith and Tillman J. Ragan) or The Accidental Instructional Designer (by Cammy Bean)."
    By Deborah Decker Halvorson 
  8. See the system and see the people in the system.
    "I’ve been lucky enough to work in a field where my colleagues include human factors engineers and people who apply design thinking to innovation in health care. It’s made me realize the importance of systems thinking when designing learning programs and the need to empathize with your learners. Bottom line: When you focus on what you want people to do, don’t lose sight of how they feel."
    By Dianne Rees 
  9. Continually learn about what’s happening in the industry.
    "Go to eLearning conferences; read books and blogs; ask your peers and go to Lynda.com; become a super user of Storyline and PowerPoint; know more than the basics about graphic design. Look at examples of other people’s work and become hypercritical of what looks good and delivers a great learning experience. You have to continually learn and push yourself to improve."
    By Frances M Weber 
  10. Develop your own philosophy.
    "There is no one way to design instruction. There are several theories to draw from, but, ultimately, the course design will rely on your interpretation of those theories and the context in which you are applying them. It’s important to develop your own approach to design, one that is influenced by the past, grounded in the present, and open to what is yet to come. So while this profession requires that you serve many masters, all with opinions on how people learn, you can stand firmly on what you know is true and what you believe is right."
    By Hadiya Nuriddin 
  11. Have a passion for understanding how people learn and how learning styles differ from generation to generation.
    "Never undersell the design part of Instructional Design; both the learning experience and the visual and auditory experience. Often I develop for people I never see, so it’s really important to understand their generational learning style and tailor the learning design, including the visual element, to meet their expectations. How I want them to learn is as important as what they learn."
    By James R. Andersen (Jim) 
  12. Study how to create sequential, progressive learning that supports the students.
    "Draw on popular and sound learning theories (i.e. adult learning theory, brain-based learning, experiential learning theory, etc.) to help you understand how to design effective education. I went away from following theoretical frameworks and got lost in my course development work. Now I can’t design without them. Simply put, they inform my designs, which are effective and consider the impact on learners."
    By Dr. Kelly Edmonds 
  13. Evaluate your audience’s reaction.
    "Did they see what you were attempting to communicate? Did they learn? Did their performance improve? You must continue to observe your audience and be able to provide your client with a measurable result. Also, you must be willing to make changes to your composition to better engage your audience, to improve the results, and to create the masterpiece that fulfills the client’s request."
    By Kenney Reynolds 
  14. Find what your strengths are and expand on them.
    "My strengths were my media and teaching experience, which has led to my current job where I run the Faculty of Medicine's media room and teach professors how to make videos for their teaching. For you it could be teaching, management, or sales experience."
    By Lila Azouz 
  15. Keep current on trends in all aspects of learning and performance improvement.
    "I do that by reading books, attending conferences, being an active member of the International Society of Performance Improvement, and actively searching out thought leaders in a variety of fields through Twitter and LinkedIn. In the last year I’ve been very interested in what happens in the brain when we learn. I’ve used that knowledge in both classroom training and eLearning that I’ve designed, with great results. Keeping current is invigorating and results in engaging courses."
    By Lisa (Pekrul) Lange 
  16. Develop project management skills, communication skills, and critical thinking skills.
    "Project management skills will help you juggle multiple projects and manage overlapping tasks, deadlines, and an iterative cycle to course design, including assessment and revision. Good communication skills will improve your ability to communicate clearly and negotiate with all players in the Instructional Design process: Subject Matter Experts, teachers/trainers, and clients, as well as information technology specialists, visual designers, editors, and others. And, finally, critical thinking skills will help you establish creative and innovative training and learning solutions to identify and meet needs of specific learners."
    By Lynn Lease 
  17. Listen to the needs of your client.
    "Instructional Designers have to deal with clients all the time. Start with a clean slate and ask a ton of questions until you get to the very root of the issue the client is trying to solve. These questions also help the client understand that their initial solution might not be ideal. Once you have gathered enough information, you will be able to work collaboratively with the client towards a solution."
    By Manon Bourgeois 
  18. Develop skills associated with educating others.
    "With the myriad of available resources, such as books, webinars, MOOCS, certificate programs, and more, as well as abundant determination on your part, you can learn the fundamentals of education and the Instructional Systems Design approach. Your credibility as an Instructional Designer will come from consistently applying the tenants of education and Instructional Systems Design first, and skillfully using electronic tools and gadgets second."
    By Melissa Bassett 
  19. Question.
    "Instructional Design is an art and a science. It is always reinventing itself. Opinions, especially those borne of experience, are the cash currency of our field. To read, discuss, and question is what the job requires. When you propose a learning design plan, be ready to defend your decisions."
    By Michael Hotrum 
  20. Develop Your Empathy.
    "The ability to get underneath the skin of your audience is a really important trait. One thing I found useful in helping to build my skill in this area was volunteer work for a children’s advice charity. It was a hugely rewarding experience, and taught me a lot about empathy and being able to tune into the ‘wave-length’ of a particular audience."
    By Rhea Stevens 
  21. Be multifaceted.
    "Understand the psychology of learning, technology, gaming, eLearning, online instruction, curriculum design, classroom instruction, assessment design and evaluation, etc. You can learn from various fields and professions and transfer that knowledge to Instructional Design and vice versa."
    By Sharonne Joy Jacobs 
  22. If you are not a good writer, hone your writing skills.
    "Most excellent Instructional Designers are also excellent writers. They know how to develop crisp, clear materials."
    By Valerie A. Sunyak 
  23. Promote your Instructional Design skills when working with Subject Matter Experts and training stakeholders.
    "I facilitated many Subject Matter Expert meetings as a Subject Matter Expert in Instructional Design. Instructional Design skills is what I bring to the group when helping them determine training requirements, develop training content, and design training solutions for performance improvement."
    By William Allen Van Brunt 
  24. If you’re looking to transition into Instructional Design from an existing career, look for opportunities in your current career that allow you to train or educate others.
    "Ensure that, when these opportunities arise, you create deliverables that you can include in a portfolio. These deliverables should include a needs assessment that identifies the knowledge gap of your target audience, learning objectives based on the findings from the needs assessment, an instructional plan, storyboards, instructional materials, an assessment plan, an evaluation plan, a project tracking document, and feedback to be used for continuous improvement. In addition, after completion of a successful project, ask for references (e.g., LinkedIn recommendations) for classes, programs, or curriculum that you have created or helped to create."
    By Yvonne Wade Sanchez
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Now that you know the best tips on how to become an Instructional Designer, you may be interested in learning how to become an eLearning professional. Read Inspiring Tips To Become An eLearning Professional and discover 23 invaluable tips that will help you reach your dream eLearning professional career.