What is Instructional Design?

Instructional design is the systematic process of designing, developing, and delivering instructional materials. The terms instructional design, instructional technology, learning experience (LX) design, educational technology, curriculum design, and instructional systems design (ISD), are often used interchangeably.

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“Instructional designers often use Instructional technology as a method for developing instruction. Instructional design models typically specify a method, that if followed will facilitate the transfer of knowledge, skills, and attitude to the recipient or acquirer of the instruction.” (Wikipedia)

While instructional technology is ‘the theory and practice of design, development, utilization, management, and evaluation of processes and resources for learning,’ according to the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) Definitions and Terminology Committee. Educational technology includes other systems used in the process of developing the human capability. These systems include, but not limited to, software, hardware, Internet applications, and blogs.


You can start with a Bachelor of Arts in Instructional Design. Some are available online. Upon completing a Bachelor’s program, you will be able to:

  • Design instructional and training interventions and assessments for online, place-based, and blended delivery.
  • Apply the results of learning, task, performance, and other analyses to the design of training and instruction.
  • Apply evaluations of technologies for developing, delivering, and assessing instructional and training interventions.

You also have the option of choosing a Bachelor of Science that includes the training aspect combined with the technology to impart the knowledge. The science program’s curriculum is similar to an Arts degree in this discipline. The difference is generally in the core courses that include math, physical, natural, and social sciences in a B.S. degree. You will receive a thorough education in technical design, eLearning systems, online learning, performance measurement, and more.

Many individuals in this field hold a master’s degree. Some of these degrees are part of the school’s Education department. A graduate degree teaches education and training systems using technology. Courses emphasize the knowledge and skills necessary to create a Web-based, student-centered lesson/unit that provides diverse learners with opportunities for formal and informal learning.

Different schools employ different names for their respective graduate degree in this discipline. You may see it referred to as Instructional Systems Technology or Educational Technology. Regardless of the degree name, the curricula prepare practitioners and researchers to design and build processes, systems, and services for use in various settings. The purpose of the coursework is to provide a means for individuals and organizations to learn and grow through well-designed instruction. Students learn about foundational theories in the learning sciences, technology integration, and digital culture.

certificte of gradWhat about a Certificate Program?

There are organizations that offer certificates in instructional design or eLearning development. Although an advanced degree in instructional design (MA, MS, Ph.D., etc.) is generally preferred over a certification by most employers, an instructional design certification can provide the necessary skills for an entry-level job in the industry.

You can become a Certified Instructional Designer/Developer through an online five-day program. Here is an abbreviated list of what you will learn from this short intense program:

  • How to write performance-based course objectives
  • The 4 major types of tests and how to design them
  • How to design tests and exercises to evaluate performance
  • How to build meaningful behavior-modeling presentations
  • How to write performance-based training materials that appeal to learners

The Association for Talent Development (ADT) also offers a certificate program online at specified dates. You will discover all of the tools necessary to develop powerful, bottom-line focused training. You will also learn about the best practices for conducting a needs assessment, job/task analysis, and how to design and development courses using templates exclusive to ATD.

Things to Consider

There are many excellent degree programs available in this field at all degree levels. As a student, you need to review the curriculum of the respective schools and decide which suits your career plans. Some degrees will be heavier in web design, integrative technologies, principles of distance education, statistics, application of technology in the educational sector, game design, and human-computer interaction principles.

Other programs might emphasize instructional techniques, managing instructional settings, leadership, technical education, history and principles of eLearning, and evaluation of curricula. Regardless of the emphasis of the coursework, you want to choose a program that translates to knowledge you can apply to the real world.

Furthermore, the certificate programs, which typically include only 15 credit hours, can be an entry point for your career. Many online instructional design certificate programs offer training on how to develop e-learning courses, how to use instructional technology, and how to develop a curriculum that motivates and engages the learner.


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the median salary for Training and Development Specialists at $60,360 in May 2017. (This is the closest category to instructional designer.) The projected job growth is 11% or the change in 32,500 jobs over the ten years covering 2016-2016. The typical entry-level education is a Bachelor’s degree, according to the BLS.