Can an Instructional Design Degree Help You Get a Job?


To get an Instructional Design degree or not to get; that’s the question. In this article I’ll explore both sides of the argument to help you determine if an Instructional Design degree is right for you.

How useful is an Instructional Design degree?

It’s the age-old question that virtually every instructional designer has asked at one time or another: “Is earning an Instructional Design degree really worth it? Will it actually help me land the job of my dreams, or is the investment of time and money too big for the rewards I can expect to receive?” If you’ve been having the same internal dialogue as countless other instructional designers, then you’ve come to the right place. This article is going to delve into this important question from all angles so that you can come to the right conclusion based upon your personal and professional goals.

When earning an Instructional Design degree can help you get a Instructional Design job.

While some employers may not require a degree in Instructional Design, there are many that do. But even employers who do not make it a prerequisite for their new hires may still choose a candidate who has a degree over one who does not. As such, one of the most convincing arguments in favor of getting an Instructional Design degree is that the industry is competitive, by nature. When you are out looking for an e-Learning job, you want to have every possible advantage over the other candidates who are vying for the same position.

Earning a degree gives you this competitive edge, because it shows employers that you went that extra mile to expand your understanding of the Instructional Design models and theories that you’ll need on the job. Aside from the resume boosting benefits of getting a degree, here are just a few additional reasons why pursuing an Instructional Design degree may be worthwhile:

1. Structured learning.
When you are attending an Instructional Design degree program, you must meet deadlines, complete assessments and make your way through a list of required reading. It offers you a more structured learning environment as opposed to expanding your e-Learning knowledge only through self-study. Instructional Design programs encourage you to explore topics at length and to gain invaluable insight into learning behaviors and new learning approaches, which will be of great use to you on the job.

2. Build your network.
When you pursue an Instructional Design degree, you are among like-minded peers with whom you can share experiences and skills. You can collaborate to complete projects and learn about different learning approaches. In short, you are able to expand your perspective and learn how to work with others effectively. This not only builds teamwork and communication skills, which are all-important in the corporate world, but it allows you to build a network that may be of use to you in the future. They may have job contacts you can reach out to after graduation, or you can enlist their aid when you need help on a project in the near future.

3. Experience.
One of the most notable Instructional Design degree benefits is the experience you will receive from your time in the program. And it’s not just the abundance of experience, but the fact that you will have diverse experiences. You will have participated in a wide range of e-Learning course design projects and have learned about a variety of Instructional Design models, theories and principles that you may not have encountered had you not pursued your Instructional Design degree.

What if you choose to take the self-study path?

While earning an Instruction Design degree can help you to land certain jobs, the simple truth is that you don’t need to attend a degree program in order to create meaningful and powerful e-Learning deliverables. Earning an Instructional Design degree provides you with the tools, but it’s up to you to apply that knowledge effectively when developing e-Learning courses. And that is skill a degree can’t guarantee you.

So, the key to a winning career in the e-Learning industry is a constant thirst for knowledge and the ability to put what you have learned to good use. There are a myriad of free e-Learning eBooks, free e-Learning courses and other resources and tools that you can use to access a wealth of information about e-Learning design and development.

Here are just a few of the resources that are available for those who choose to take the self-study path:

1. Social networks.
Sites like LinkedIn and Twitter are all great places to connect with other e-Learning professionals and benefit from the experience and expertise they have to offer. There are even specific groups for Instructional Designers and educational content creators, where you can ask questions, ask for advice and deepen your understanding of the Instructional Design world.

2. eBooks and e-Learning sites.
There are a variety of free online resources you can use to expand your comprehension of Instructional Design ideas and
theories. Free e-Learning eBooks and e-Learning sites offer insight and advice on how to get started in the field, as well as how to create successful e-Learning experiences. If you’d like to learn more about becoming an e-Learning professional, check the article The Free eBook: How to become an e-Learning Professional for tips and tricks from 23 leading industry professionals.

3. Volunteerism.
You can also volunteer to create e-Learning courses for free, which will give you the opportunity to hone your skills and collaborate with other more experienced Instructional Designers. Even though you’ll be offering your services free of charge, the Instructional Design experience you’ll be getting will make it well worth your time and effort. You will also be able to learn about new technologies, how to use them effectively and gain a better understanding of where your Instructional Design talents truly lie.

Ultimately, the answer to whether or not a degree will help you get an Instructional Design job is: it depends. The position, qualifications needed and experience preferred are all determining factors. As such, there is no right or wrong choice, only the one that is best for you and the future of your Instructional Design career.

Interested in getting an Instructional Design certificate? Read the article How to Choose the Right Online Instructional Design Certificate Program for invaluable advice on how to choose the Instructional Design program that’s right for you and your professional goals.

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  • Bruce Vivian

    I am of the view that a career in instructional design is best kickstarted by studying something completely different so that you have detailed knowledge in your chosen field, and then leveraging all the online resources to add instructional design and eLearning to your skill set.

    • But then doesn’t that make you so focused and so deep in being a SME for that specific field that you lose sight of what a new person needs to know for it? One of the huge benefits of being an Instructional Designer is that we don’t have to come from a specific field, our expertise is in show people what they need to know and how to best apply it, that means not overwhelming the with all the stuff a SME want to overwhelm with.

      Once you’re an expert in a field then you no longer have the expertise in learning to take an objective standpoint and remove the junk. I’ve seen it time again where an expert then converts to an ID and they aren’t very good. They want to put it all in because everything seems important. Not saying this is the only scenario (maybe there are some that moved over and were good at it?) but I’ve yet to experience it and I’ve seen a number of pure ID’s and then those that came to ID from being an expert in their field.

      It’s easy to overwhelm a new person, it’s an Instructional Designers job to not do that and make sure they get what they need when they need it and no more. Definitely not everything 🙂

  • chris10858

    I have seen this question come up over and over by folks who are either already in the field or looking to change career paths. It seems without fail, I have heard Instructional Designers (IDs) come down on both sides of this debate.

    However, I’ve never heard anyone with an Instructional Design degree say that their time or energies were wasted in school. On the contrary, I’ve heard over and over stories about how much they learned in their grad program, even from those folks who were already in the field.

    For many folks who do Instructional Design, they may have a degree from some other field such as Technical Writing, Business, or even have no degree at all. They may have started out as a SME, worked their way up to a Trainer role and then on to become an ID. This quite common, even in many Fortune 500 organizations.

    There is a saying.. “we don’t know what we don’t know” which means for us as IDs, we may think we know how to design and develop great training content but without a proper foundation in pedagogy, we may be assuming incorrectly.

    As a society, we require other professionals such as doctors, attorneys, CPAs, and others to have degrees in their fields. Why is it then that people assume they can be an Instructional Designer without an academic background in the field? How many times have we heard from SMEs who tell us they have developed great training content but when we review it, we realize it is not instructionally-sound content?

    I’m not saying that all IDs need an advanced degree in the field but in my own experience and in the experience of others whom I have spoken with, one learns a tremendous amount in an ID grad program. When you add on the other benefits such as higher salaries, more career opportunities, etc… it seems clear to me that it truly is worth the extra time and expense.