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Hidden Rewards of a Career in Instructional Design

Shawn Burson

Explore the lesser-known benefits of this career path in instructional design!

You might already know that instructional design is a career field with many obvious benefits. The ability to work in nearly any industry, choose from bountiful job opportunities, and to take pride in knowing your work helps others immediately come to mind. However, this career choice also offers surprising, lesser-known benefits that inspire designers to remain in this field once they arrive. 

Keep reading to discover some of the best benefits of working in this industry!

Candidates from Nearly Any Background Are Welcome!

More and more universities are now offering graduate and undergraduate programs in instructional design; however, many candidates come to this field from diverse backgrounds. Many instructional designers formerly worked as teachers or in other educational settings, some came to instructional design as “accidental trainers” when they either volunteered (or were “volun-told”) to train their peers, and others have no formal experience in design or training but identify as lifelong learners nonetheless. 

Sure, instructional designers are skilled professionals with knowledge of learning theories and methodologies, but not all of them begin that way. There are many paths of entry to this field and all background experiences are valuable in equipping designers with skills that will translate in one way or another. 

Become a Subject Matter Expert (SME)!

Instructional designers who work in a specific industry such as health care or technology may find themselves becoming quite the expert on the topics they create training content about! Subject matter experts, or SMEs, are instructional designers’ best friends. SMEs and instructional designers partner together to create content that truly meets learners’ needs, with each party contributing to the final result. SMEs bring their specialized knowledge about the topic at hand, and instructional designers know how to package and present that information so that learners can understand and apply it. After working with the same SMEs or working in the same industry over time, designers will naturally absorb some of this knowledge along the way. We already mentioned how a passion for lifelong learning is common for instructional designers, and becoming your own SME offers innumerable rewards both personally and professionally. 

Instructional Designers Enjoy Flexible Working Arrangements!

Whether you’re looking for full-time, part-time, permanent, or temporary work, instructional design job opportunities are bountiful. Every industry from the corporate sector, to education, to the public sector and the government employs instructional designers in some capacity. This field is growing worldwide, and many instructional designers are even able to work remotely. If being self-employed is more your style, freelance work and establishing your own entrepreneurship is another common career path for instructional designers. This is truly one field where you can customize your working arrangements to suit your ideal lifestyle.  

Meet Other Exciting Professionals!

Industry events and conferences, as well as professional organizations, are huge for instructional designers. Did you know the ATD International Conference and Expo attracts over 12,000 attendees each year, and previous keynote speakers include both Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey? We attend every year to take part in the discussion of the latest and greatest trends in our industry, and we’d love to see you there. If your 2020 development plan includes attending a major industry event, look for our mascot, Albert! He tends to hang out with some pretty cool people in some pretty cool places.

Advance Your Skills Outside of Design and Education!

We’ve already alluded to the skills most commonly possessed by instructional designers, such as creativity and a solid understanding of adult learning skills. But did you know top-notch instructional designers hone a surprising number of other skills on the job?

It’s common for instructional designers to be tasked with juggling multiple projects at a time, each with different timelines and a unique set of stakeholders. Project management is a highly desirable skill in the workplace, and is one trait that the most successful instructional designers gain mastery of. Writing and following communication plans, mitigating risks, and reflecting on successes and challenges are all part of a day’s work for busy instructional designers, even if project management is not explicitly named in their job description. 

As in any field, good people skills or “soft skills” are a must in instructional design. Knowing how to communicate with colleagues at all levels, extract information from SMEs, and present content to learners in a way that allows them to absorb it are necessary functions of the job. Instructional designers may also occasionally find the need to explain their processes, procedures, and justify their timelines to project stakeholders who work in other parts of their organization. Designers regularly find themselves facing the infamous project management triple constraint of balancing time, scope, and cost, which inevitably leads to the question, “It’s gonna take you how long to create this course?”

Instructional designers are also tasked with learning and mastering a surprising number of tools and technological systems on the job. Although job descriptions often give preference to candidates with experience in certain tools, the truth is, the highest quality instructional design candidates are comfortable learning any tool. Between eLearning authoring tools, learning management systems, tools for creating and editing video, audio, images and animations, emerging technology like artificial intelligence and virtual reality, and even the good, old Microsoft Office suite, an instructional designer’s tool belt is constantly growing.

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