Online Master's Degree in Instructional Design

Master's Degrees in Instructional Design

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In today's competitive job market, candidates must go the extra mile to stand out from the crowd and get an employer's attention. One way that workers can do this is to earn a master's degree, which can reap a myriad of career benefits. Not only do graduate degrees help make job candidates more marketable, they may also lead to higher pay. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, master's degree holders earn a median weekly salary of $1,341, while those with bachelor's degrees earn $1,137. That extra money can really add up over time. In addition, Americans with master's degrees have an unemployment rate that is 0.4 percent lower than their counterparts with just bachelor's degrees.

Those who are specifically interested in instructional design can capitalize on the benefits of earning a master's degree by learning the skills they need to pursue high-level jobs related to education. During these two-year degree programs, students take courses that familiarize them with the psychology of learning, best practices for designing a course curriculum, and computer-based instruction techniques. Graduates of instructional design master's degree programs might go on to work at colleges, corporations, or educational consulting firms, to name just a few career options.

Prospective instructional design students can get the training they need through an online degree program, which allows them to earn their master's in a way that fits into their busy lifestyles. Whether they're educators who want to advance in their careers, or simply want to enter the field, students in online programs get the flexibility they need to juggle their education with their other responsibilities.

Why Get a Master's Degree in Instructional Design?

Master's degree programs in instructional design have an excellent return on investment because they open up graduates to high-paying jobs that they may not have access to with just an undergraduate degree. The following are examples of some of the careers that master's degree holders can qualify for, as well as the median annual salaries these jobs offer (according to PayScale):

  • E-Learning Specialist: $54,854
  • Consultant, Learning and Development: $70,397
  • Curriculum Developer: $58,680
  • Instructional Coordinator: $62,270
  • Training and Development Specialist: $58,210

Although those with associate and bachelor's degrees can also find good jobs, their positions generally do not pay as well as those for worker's with master's degrees. The following are examples of jobs for these graduates and the median annual salaries associated with them:

  • Desktop Publisher: $39,840
  • Web Designer: $46,327

A master's degree in instructional design not only opens graduates up to increased salaries, it can also help students enter occupations that are on the rise. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that between 2014 and 2024, there will be 10,500 new positions available for instructional coordinators. During that same time, the training and development field will see an increase of 18,900 jobs.

Conversely, the job outlook for desktop publishers is not as bright, with that field expected to lose 3,100 jobs from 2014 to 2024 -- which amounts to 21 percent of its workforce.

How Do You Enroll in an Online Master's Degree Program?

Students who enroll in online master's degree programs in instructional design typically go through the same admissions process as students applying to campus-based programs. Although each school handles enrollment differently, below is an example of the steps students are generally expected to take for admission:

  • Complete an application.
  • Pay the application fee.
  • Send transcripts from undergraduate program to the school. Generally, graduate schools want students who have earned at least a 2.5 GPA in their undergraduate program.
  • Submit tests scores from the GRE or GMAT.
  • Statement of purpose. This should explain to the admissions committee why prospective students want to enroll in the program and how the degree will help them with their career aspirations.
  • Resume. Programs may ask for applicants' resumes because they're looking for students who have work experience in the education field.
  • Letters of recommendation. Recommendations should usually come from undergraduate professors, however, some schools may accept them from employers.
  • Interview. Some programs expect applicants to go through an interview with a member of the instructional design department.

The cost of education is a concern for all students, no matter what kind of degree they're earning. For online students, just like those who attend brick-and-mortar schools, the price of tuition will vary depending on the program they enroll in. However, the average range for tuition is around $100 to $400 per credit hour for an online degree program.

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What's the Difference Between Online and Campus-Based Degrees?

Students in traditional and online instructional design degree programs take classes in subjects such as learning theory, e-learning project management, interface design, and instructional media tools. Although the course content for online and traditional students is the same, the way classes are structured is different.

For example, traditional students are expected to attend classes on a certain day and time every week. However, many online students are not tied down to such a strict structure. If they attend schools that offer asynchronous programs, students can watch lectures when it's most convenient for them, and participate in classroom discussions online when it best fits into their schedules. In addition, some course content may be available in text or MP3 form, allowing students more choices for how they study the required material.

Synchronous programs, however, provide less flexibility. In these programs, online students must "attend" classes at the same time as on-campus students, typically with the aid of live streaming. However, the time and gas money students save by not commuting back and forth to campus still makes asynchronous programs an attractive option for many students.

Why Is Online College Good for Master's Degrees in Instructional Design?

A master's degree in instructional design can help give students the tools they need to work in adult education and training environments -- and in some cases, graduates may design courses that are taught online. By earning their graduate degree through an online program, students gain another layer of understanding that can help them in a variety of settings.

Does Location Matter for an Online Master's Degree in Instructional Design?

Location does not necessarily matter when it comes to earning an instructional design degree online. Some programs, however, do expect students to come to campus to participate in certain activities, such as lectures, tests, or group projects. If traveling to campus presents a challenge, students should inquire about any such requirements when researching schools.


  1. "Consider This Before You Pay for an Online Degree," U.S. News & World Report,
  2. "Earnings and unemployment rates by educational attainment, 2015," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,
  3. Occupational Employment Statistics, 2015, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,
  4. Occupational Outlook Handbook 2016-17 Edition, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,
  5. Salary Data & Career Research Center (United States), PayScale,
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