Education and Training: College
Salary: Varies—see profile
Employment Outlook: Very good
Definition and Nature of the Work
The widespread use of computers as teaching tools has created a need for instructional software. College courses, job training programs, how-to projects, and other types of instruction are now offered through software programs. Instructional designers carefully plan each program so it meets users' needs.
When working on a project for a client, instructional designers assume the role of a teacher. They plan the overall instructional flow of the program and see that content is both appropriate and clearly communicated. Instructional designers must be familiar not only with the content to be learned and the level of the learner, but also with a computer's means of presenting information and interacting with users.
Instructional programs may be very specific and geared toward a fairly small audience, as in the case of a training program in basic office procedures for new employees of a company. Another program may be designed to instruct a larger audience on a topic of general interest such as car repairs or money management. The design may be simple, mainly requiring the user to read the information as it appears on the computer screen. Other designs are more intricate, requiring different branches, or courses of instruction, to appear after the user has responded to key questions, taken a test, or interacted in some other way with the computer.
Instructional designers work for software publishers, software development and design firms, and courseware developers. They may also be employed by companies that have large training departments or by schools. Some designers work as freelance consultants.
Education and Training Requirements
Prospective instructional designers need a bachelor's degree from a college or university at the minimum. Many have teaching or training backgrounds. Others are content experts who have learned how to teach specific subjects on the computer. Courses in educational technology are very helpful for students interested in this field. More than 200 schools offer such programs. A master's degree in educational technology is useful for advancement. Instructional designers need technological skills because they work closely with computer programmers to translate the needs of learners and course content into a script for the computer.
Getting the Job
Software publishers, software developers, schools, and large companies all hire instructional designers. For a consulting job, candidates can apply to the federal government, branches of the military, foreign governments, colleges and universities, and hospitals.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Instructional designers may become managers of a design team, or they may move into other management positions within a firm. They may also start their own software development firm or consulting firm.
The need for instructional software designers is expected to increase rapidly through 2014 for several reasons. Computers are proving to be an efficient and reliable means of teaching, and they are becoming less expensive to buy and easier to use. Software developers may need fewer instructional designers than they have needed previously; however, new jobs should develop within the industries and schools that have come to rely on computerized training programs.
There is also a growing need for freelance instructional designers. Freelancers usually end up developing an area of specialization within the field. Independent designers in particular must be able to adapt to new computer capabilities and keep pace with the changing educational and training needs of the public.
Conditions vary because instructional designers work in many different settings from large companies to small software development firms. Entrepreneurs who design, program, and sell their own software report having more job-related stress than designers who have staff jobs.
Most often the instructional designer is part of a software development team, responsible primarily for planning and outlining the programs. Other team members might include a writer and an artist who create what will be seen on each screen, a programmer who translates the design and content into computer code, and a manager who coordinates production of the entire program. Therefore, the ability to work well with others and to communicate ideas clearly is very important.
Where to Go for More Information
Association for Applied Interactive Media
P.O. Box 182
Charleston, SC 29402-0182
Business Software Alliance
1150 18th St. NW, Ste. 700
Washington, DC 20036
International Society for Performance Improvement
1400 Spring St., Ste. 260
Silver Springs, MD 20910
Society for Technical Communication: Instructional Design & Learning Special Interest Group
4200 Horizon North Pkwy., #134
Dallas, TX 75287
Earnings and Benefits
Earnings for instructional designers vary according to their field of specialization. Corporations typically pay more than educational institutions. According to several salary-reporting surveys, designers with a master's degree who work for educational institutions can expect starting salaries somewhere between $40,000 and $45,000. Experienced designers who work in private industry or who do frequent consulting may earn from $60,000 to $100,000 or more per year. Salaried designers receive health and life insurance, paid vacations and holidays, and retirement plans.