Reflections On My Refraction: Getting A Job In Instructional Design

Reflections On My Refraction: Getting A Job In Instructional Design
Summary: This article explores the uncertainty and anxiety that newcomers to Instructional Design may be faced with during the transition from student to job seeker. It is also a look at the growing positive outlook of Instructional Design from a new perspective.

Getting A Job In Instructional Design: Daymares To Sweet Dreaming

One week after finishing graduate school, still smelling like the new birth of my finished capstone, I am faced with the prospect of finding opportunities and openings in an unforgiving world. The sand beneath my feet continues to shift, nevertheless I am encouraged and hopeful about the chances of my new tomorrow.

Like many graduate students who have ended their studies, I am now looking back over all the courses, research materials, textbooks, and peer-reviewed studies with one single resounding thought: Will I find an opportunity to use all the information that I have learned? Where’s the proverbial "beef" in Instructional Design? This burning question is inflamed with doubt, indecision, and maybe even a hint of uncertainty. This may be the source of my daymares for the last month or so. For several weeks, I have spent an increasing amount of time thinking of all the negative statistics that say college graduates are either unemployed or underemployed after leaving school. According to the Economic Policy Institute that number is a staggering 5.6%; compared to the almost 4% national statistic. Minority underemployment/unemployment is almost double that number at 9.7% among Blacks who complete higher education. I even have day-mares of working a job that has absolutely nothing to do with all the things that I have poured myself into over the last several years. You know the routine, daymares turn into nightmares, about hanging my diploma outside of a cardboard box in New York’s Central Park or using my graduation cap to ask for spare change while singing popular jingles from television commercials.

But wait, a glimmer of hope began to shine through, and I remembered just how excited I was to study Technology and Instructional Design. I remembered that I didn’t start this journey without thorough investigation. The facts led me to this field because of its high demand, huge success rate, and most of all cutting edge uses of technology. I remember designing websites for local non-profits, and creating multimedia presentations that dwarf average productions. I began to be so encouraged and confident that I decided to start looking over the entire Instructional Design field. Thousands of opportunities now shine like wheat in fields of gold. More than that, I started to find statistics that I would like to share for career searchers in the Instructional Design atmosphere. I would also like to share information about the hidden gem of the Instructional Design field.

Consider this; the Bureau of Labor and Statistics survey that found the 10-year projection for Instructional Design career growth is estimated at 28.3%. Add to this the more than 7% yearly increase in salary, and yes, Instructional Design is one of the best fields of study for anyone considering graduate level education. Somehow, knowing I made the right decision gives me some solace, but I like concrete bird-in-the-hand information. So, I continued to dig and find more information that should make even the toughest Instructional Design disciple smile. An August 2, 2017 article by Sharon O’Malley discusses the evolution of the Instructional Design field and the growing competition that has emerged between corporate entities and universities. Corporations are strongly seeking Instructional Design teams to train, develop, and evaluate employees. Universities continually express a growing need to have Instructional Design departments dedicated to implementing technological advancements. This means that there are more opportunities in Instructional Design than there are Masters level graduates. For those who still don’t get it, Instructional Designers are in high demand, and with that demand come salary increases and even more opportunities.

Instructional Design And The Hidden Gem

Reiser, R. A., & Dempsey, J. V. (2012). Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology (Third ed.). Boston, MA, USA: Pearson: This is one of my favorite books with regard to Instructional Design; second only to the ID Casebook by Peggy Ertmer. Each of these books are like a symphony of Instructional Design professionals coming together to create something that is lasting and unique. I was particularly interested in Dr. Gary Morrison; Old Dominion University, Virginia. This is the same Dr. G. Morrison who helped write Designing Effective Instruction. And, you guessed it, Dr. Morrison helped create the MRKK Learning Model.

One of the growing areas of focus has been the rise of Instructional Design in the private sector. The business industry is gobbling up ID professionals like Pac-man gobbles power pellets. For example, Walmart, Amazon, Google, and even Neiman Marcus have shifted much of their consumer focus to user experience and product satisfaction. These organizations hire ID pros who have evolved into Learning Experience Specialists. These six figured hired guns develop employee learning modules and models to help predict consumer behaviors and purchasing habits. Many of these elite Learning Experience Specialist become entrepreneurs, not freelancers, who command hundreds of dollars per hour of creation. Governmental agencies also seek the assistance of highly skilled Instructional Designers who assist in areas such as security, both cyber and information, soldier readiness, and demonstration with simulation practices.

Interview Outcomes

I wanted to talk to some actual business and private sector performers, so I called, emailed, and wrote some of them. Here is a brief synopsis of the outcomes. Retired General Bryan Roberts, Retired Colonel William Mark Thornhill (cited below), David Mallette; former owner InSysTech Interactive Multimedia. Gen. Bryan Roberts is formally the Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) leader responsible for the implementation of the Army Learning Model System (ALMS). Additionally, Gen. Roberts coordinated with many contracting entities to produce learning on-demand for soldiers and civilians who are employed specifically by the US Army. Currently, Gen. Roberts owns a Strategic Resource & Leadership Training business in Washington D.C.

Colonel William M. Thornhill is now a Finance Manager with the US Army. Formally, Col. Thornhill was the new initiative coordinator with the Army Financial Management School (AFMS), who along with ALMS produced the Army Learning Model for 2015 formally called TRADOC Pamphlet 525-8-2. The Army Learning Model for 2015 also produced a brief video that can be found here. David Mallette, currently a museum director and educator, formally worked with the Department of Defense on Improvised Explosive Detection (IED) training. Additionally, Mr. Mallette worked directly for TRADOC at Fort Leonard Wood as a contract Instructional Design Specialist. All of the interactions with experts in the field have led to a conclusion that IDBs or Instructional Design Businesses are possible with an effective business model and strategy.

Final Thoughts

If you are like me, and find that the anxiety of completing graduate study can be overwhelming and vexing, rest easy knowing that you chose correctly. This is a booming field with great opportunities. I only recommend that you not limit yourself to one area. It appears that ID professionals navigate in and out of academia, government, and private business. This means that an attitude of lifelong learning is essential. Be poised and ready to strike at any opportunity that will help strengthen the Instructional Design field. Lastly, the BLS numbers are encouraging, but they don’t replace good ol’ fashioned hard work. Roll your sleeves up and go for it. See you at the top.


  • Badiru, A. B. (2012, July). Half-life learning curves in the defense acquisition life cycle. Defense A R Journal, 19(3), 283.
  • Morrison, G. R., Ross, S. M., Kalman, H. K., & Kemp, J. E. (December 2012). Designing effective instruction (Seventh ed.). Danvers, MA, USA: Wiley.
  • Reiser, R. A., & Dempsey, J. V. (2012). Trends and issues in instructional design and technology (Third ed.). Boston, MA, USA: Pearson.
  • Stafford, R. J., & Thornhill II, W. M. (2012, March-April). The army learning model: Changing the way sustainers train. Army Sustainment, 28-32.