Becoming an Instructional Designer – Areas of Expertise and Credentials

In my last blog post - Becoming an Instructional Designer - What does it take? - I talked about competencies needed to become a successful instructional designer. In this post, I will cover areas of expertise, credentials needed to land a job, and components of an ideal instructional design program.

Instructional Design Areas Of Expertise

There is nothing wrong with being a Jack/Jill of all trades, but today's global economy calls for specialists. While some Instructional Designers prefer to specialize in a specific niche, others may build expertise in more than one area. Some popular areas of expertise to consider include:

  • Curriculum Designer
  • eLearning Developer
  • Media Specialist
  • Authoring Specialist
  • Learning Management Specialist
  • Project Manager

Within a specific niche, ID offers many choices for specialization too. For instance, expertise might be developed based on the type of media used (online training, games, videos, or classroom training). One may also specialize in the type of market segment, for instance Corporate, Government, or Not-For-Profit organizations. Still, other designers may prefer to become experts in servicing a specific audience, for instance Adolescents, Teens, Adult learners, Gamers, Stay-at-Home parents, or Do-It-Yourselfers.

Instructional Design Credentials

Newcomers in the field of Instructional Designers may well ask: Do I need a degree to make Instructional Design a profession? The short answer is: Not necessarily, but preferably - yes!

There are many highly competent and skilled Instructional Designers out in the field today, who do not have degrees. They entered the profession based on a limited set of core competencies, and accumulated experience and expertise along the way. However, based on feedback from over 500 professionals in the field, the general consensus is: To be successful, you need an Instructional Design Degree as well as a robust instructional design skill set.

Varying Instructional Design Degree of alternates

If you choose to pursue a degree or other formal credentials, as is highly recommended, you should consider the following:

  • Pressed for time? Want to learn on your own schedule? Consider an Online offering
  • Don't want to deal with a full course load? Perhaps an Instructional Design Certificate Program from an accredited institution might appeal to you.
  • Don't want to be tied to a specific curriculum? Why not choose Self Study?
  • Prefer a slightly more "professional" learning environment? Check out Professional Development courses offered as part of conferences and workshops, or those delivered by commercial training providers.
  • Want professional credentials? Consider the Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP) credential from the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD). (Note that ASTD is changing its name to the Association for Talent Development (ATD))

Each of these alternates must be evaluated based on what you are looking for in terms of formal education, and your unique situation.

Components of an Instructional Design Program

The ideal learning program should be comprised of the following elements:

  • Knowledge
    Which means it imparts students with all of the latest principles and theories of ID, including educational psychology principles and other mainstream learning theories
  • Practical Exposure
    Giving students extensive practical exposure to Authoring Tools, Instructional Design, Visual Design and Project Management skills
  • Real World Experience
    The ability for students to get either paid or unpaid opportunities in businesses where they can apply the theories and practices they learned in class

While not all of the alternates discussed above may provide the best of all of these three components, you should try to select the one that offers the most of what is important to you.

In my next and final blog post about Breaking into Instructional Design, I will talk about the importance of networking and eLearning portfolios. If you want to learn more about Instructional Design for eLearning, you are more than welcome to check the Instructional Design for ELearning: Essential guide to creating successful eLearning courses book.