The technological revolution has changed much about how we interact with the world, and the ways we learn are no exception. Online college degrees, high-tech corporate training, and game-based or otherwise interactive lessons in elementary education are only a few of the avenues in which cutting-edge instructional design concepts are being employed to create better experiences for learners.
Instructional design in its current form is a fairly young field, which is to say that the career functions as a combined initiative of education and technology that has only been available a little more than a decade. As such, the exact nature of an instructional designer's career tends to shift from time to time as new advancements in tech or discoveries in educational methodology bring fresh ideas to light.
Earning an instructional design degree can give you a leg up on other applicants attempting to break into the field, particularly if you also have a background in education, computer science, or multimedia production. The work can be exciting and rewarding, and the jobs are out there.
What to Know About Online Degrees in Instructional Design
While several schools offer instructional design degrees online and on campus, formal training in the discipline isn't as widespread as it may be for other educational careers. The field is so new, in fact, that the National Center for Education Statistics has yet to create a separate category for it, classifying such programs primarily under the umbrella of education technology.
Here's a quick list of courses you're likely to take in an instructional design degree program:
- Issues in education
- Design concepts
- Educational technology
- Instructional video production
- Project management for education
- Assistive technology
- Content development
- Student learning assessment
- Interactive distance learning
Instructional design degrees are primarily available at the graduate level, although bachelor's degree programs have begun to pop up at some institutions. It's often the case that you can apply for a master's in instructional design with an undergraduate education in any subject, but students who have prior training in subjects such as education, digital design, mass communications, computer programming, Web development, game design, and psychology may be especially well prepared for the specific challenges of the degree.
Job Outlook for Instructional Design Graduates
Employment growth among education, training, and library occupations is projected at approximately 8 percent between 2014 and 2024, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics -- a rate slightly faster than the 6.5 percent average calculated for the job market at large. Here's a table that shows the BLS salary averages and employment projections for a handful of careers in which graduates with instructional design degrees can thrive:
|Occupation Title||National Mean Annual Salary |
|Projected Job Growth |
|Total U.S. Employment |
|Instructional coordinator||$64,040||7 percent||151,100||Master's degree|
|Training and development specialist||$61,530||7 percent||252,600||Bachelor's degree|
|High school teacher||$59,330||6 percent||961,600||Bachelor's degree|
|Training and development manager||$111,030||7 percent||32,900||Bachelor's degree|
Graduates employed in certain circumstances often stand to command higher average salaries than their counterparts in regions or occupational fields where demand and available resources are lower. Instructional coordinators in Connecticut, for example, reported a mean annual wage that was approximately $20,000 higher than those in Missouri, while training and development specialists working for the federal government earned about $30,000 more per year on average than those working at management training academies.
Here's a list of the mean annual 2014 salaries in a range of other industries for the two occupations mentioned above:
- Instructional coordinator
- Elementary and secondary schools: $68,360
- Federal executive branch: $89,370
- Management, scientific and technical consulting: $77,850
- Museums, historical sites and similar institutions: $45,960
- Technical and trade schools: $61,920
- Training and development specialist
- Computer systems design and related services: $70,330
- Electric power generation, transmission and distribution: $84,450
- Federal executive branch: $97,700
- General medical and surgical hospitals: $66,580
- Vocational rehabilitation services: $40,180
Choosing the Right School
Perhaps the most important thing to look out for when choosing a school is accreditation. If your degree comes from an unaccredited institution, other universities may not accept its credits for transfer and employers may consider it less valuable than a similar degree from a school that's been established as credible.
Some fields of study have their own program-specific accrediting boards, but degrees in instructional design typically inherit their accreditation status from the organization that recognizes the institution at large. If you're in any doubt about the accreditation status of your chosen school, you should be able to get definitive information on the subject by asking an admissions representative or registrar.
Other than accreditation, the qualities that make a school right for you are largely up to personal preference. To learn more about degrees in industrial design, or to get information about a specific program, contact any of the schools listed on this page.
- Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed March 27, 2016: Education, Training and Library Occupations, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/home.htm; Instructional Coordinators, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Education-Training-and-Library/Instructional-coordinators.htm; Training and Development Specialists, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/training-and-development-specialists.htm; High School Teachers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/high-school-teachers.htm; Training and Development Managers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/training-and-development-managers.htm;
- Electronics Engineers, Except Computer, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2014, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed March 27, 2015, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes172072.htm;
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed March 27, 2015: May 2014 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm; Instructional Coordinators, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes259031.htm; Training and Development Specialists, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2014, www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes131151.htm; Occupational employment projections to 2024, Monthly Labor Review, December 2015, http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2015/article/occupational-employment-projections-to-2024.htm;
- School pages, accessed March 27, 2016: What is Instructional Design, and Is It for You?, Walden University, https://www.waldenu.edu/masters/ms-in-instructional-design-and-technology/resource/what-is-instructional-design-and-is-it-for-you; Instructional Design and Technology, Western Illinois University, http://www.wiu.edu/catalog/programs/idt.php; Online Instructional Design Degree Courses, http://www.ashford.edu/degrees/online/ba-instructional-design-courses.htm; Instructional Design Degree Online, Franklin University, http://www.franklin.edu/instructional-design-performance-technology-masters-degree-program; Plan of Study, Instructional Design, University of Massachusetts Boston, https://www.umb.edu/academics/caps/degree/instructional_design/study; Master of Science in Instructional Design and Technology, California State University, Fullerton, http://ed.fullerton.edu/msidt/;
- Council for Higher Education Accreditation, http://www.chea.org/