Instructional Design 101: What is Instructional Design?

Have you ever leafed through a training manual and wondered who wrote it? Or have you ever questioned who designs the courses your child takes in elementary or secondary school? Both are examples of the work performed by an instructional designer. An instructional designer has a master’s degree in education focusing on development of instruction or content. For example, these professionals design school textbooks, create online training materials, and create multimedia presentations that guide you through your insurance benefits any time you start a new job.

Like most education theories, instructional design has evolved. It now involves a heavy tech component, but the core concepts remain the same. If you are looking for an exciting career path at the forefront of education and training, instructional design might provide it.

What Is Instructional Design?

If you’ve ever needed to master a new skill in a short amount of time, you may have used the help of an instructional designer. Instructional design examines the easiest methods of teaching new skills and the easiest ways of delivering those methods so that the person doing the learning has as many advantages as possible. Essentially, it uses the science of learning to develop instructional material of all types, including:

  • Textbooks
  • Workbooks
  • Flashcards
  • Charts
  • Maps
  • Graphs
  • Images
  • Printed handouts
  • Computer programs
  • Video
  • Websites
  • Applications
  • Simulations

It also combines these elements to form units of instruction that teach a skill.

Instructional design is used in curriculum development for schools and colleges and in industry training materials for adults who work in fields such as health care, retail, government, non-profit, the military, and more. Anywhere individuals need to learn new skills in the most efficient ways, instructional design plays a huge role.

To develop an instructional program, the designer must first assess the learner’s needs. Next, they must design a process to meet those needs. They do this by choosing or developing the materials needed to teach the required skills. Finally, they evaluate the effectiveness of the program they’ve designed. In the real world, this may begin with observing a current program in process and deciding which features work and which could be improved upon. The instructional designer might then choose which parts of the process they want to keep and which parts should be discarded and replaced with something else. Ideally, the end product will be a training program that effectively teaches the new skill or skills engagingly. It will be measurable, too, so the designer can tell whether it works in the way it was intended.

Components of Industrial Design

Instructional design can take on many forms and follow various models, but the main components of the process are always the same. These components are:

  • Analysis – First, the instructional designer must analyze the needs of the learners or the organization that hires them to make an instructional design model demonstrating the need for additional training or education. It helps the designer create clear learning objectives. Sometimes, the analysis indicates that training is not what the organization needs, and a different process will be recommended instead.
  • Design and Development – The instructional designer will create the design based on the data found during analysis. Development and design focus on determining how the material will be presented, whether there will be a digital e-learning component, how the learners will participate, and what the lesson plans will contain. This step will take most of the time. Though design and development are two different components, they are closely tied and thus need to be discussed together.
  • Implementation and Evaluation – This component determines if the learning and instructional model was effective. The designer will evaluate whether the learning modules produced the desired outcome for the learners and the organization. If it was ineffective, they might begin the analysis and design again.

These components are sometimes called the ADDIE model, which stands for analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation. No matter the type of curriculum or educational program in development, these components will be present as the instructional designer works through the creation process.

What Does an Instructional Designer Do?

There are many activities that an instructional designer may take part in, some of these include:

Developing Courses and Curriculum

Instructional designers develop courses and curricula for learning in a variety of environments. While this is often in a school setting, it can also be in the business world. They design learning experiences based on the learner’s needs and the program’s overall objectives. Often, an instructional designer will also create software and technology programs to help educators attain their learning goals with their students.

Working with Subject Matter Experts

Sometimes, instructional designers are unfamiliar with the topics covered in the curriculum they develop. In that case, they need to work with subject matter experts to ensure the curriculum or learning modules are on track. They work with these experts to collect and organize information to create courses.

Evaluating Created Materials

As instructional designers create their courses, especially in the case of eLearning courses, they will test and evaluate them to ensure they are effective. They will often interview instructors and learners to see what is and is not working in an eLearning environment, then modify the materials to work more effectively.

Managing Educational Projects

An instructional designer will also fill the role of project manager after they finish creating a learning environment. These professionals must be able to oversee the implementation of the programs and curricula they create. They ensure all the components of the course and its launch are working smoothly, provide guidance when something goes wrong, work with the IT department for tech issues, and manage the marketing or revisions of the course after its launch.

Becoming an Instructional Designer

The most common path to becoming an instructional designer includes earning your Master of Science in Education, or MSEd degree, with an emphasis on Instructional Design. For most students, it takes an additional six years of education beyond high school to earn a master’s degree. This means you’ll earn your four-year degree first, then embark on the additional two years required to become an instructional designer.

Is it worth investing six years of your life toward earning an advanced degree? This answer is different for everyone. However, earning a master’s degree comes with advantages. It will usually put you in a higher salary bracket and make you a more marketable job applicant. And it can help solidify job security. Generally speaking, students who enter the workforce with a master’s degree may make up to a million dollars more throughout their lifetimes than those with bachelor’s degrees. Of course, much depends upon the industry you choose. In education, a master’s degree almost always nets you a larger salary than a bachelor’s degree, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. But it offers additional benefits as well, including:

  • The opportunity to narrow the focus of your degree, such as toward instructional design
  • The ability to establish yourself as an expert in your chosen field
  • Increased credibility
  • Wider range of skills
  • More job marketability and longevity

It does take dedication and drive to pursue a six-year goal in a field such as instructional design, but most find the sacrifice worth the effort. As a graduate student in an instructional design program, you can expect to complete coursework such as scholarly and technical writing, research practices, curriculum development, advanced technology, analysis, design, and presentation.

Examples of Instructional Design

If you’ve ever sat through an OSHA training video or taken an SAT, you’ve experienced the end product of instructional design. In the modern world, there are countless examples of instructional design — learning material that has been designed to be easier to take in and remember. Some good examples include:


Does your child play ABCMouse online? Or have you ever purchased an item such as a LeapPad that uses colorful books, buttons, and sounds to reinforce learning? These are both examples of gamified learning. In gamification, the instructional designer has integrated the material to be learned into fun and engaging games. This helps to increase motivation in the learner as it makes the material more interesting.

Scenario-Based Learning

If you’ve ever pretended to sell a product to a coworker at a sales meeting, you’ve experienced scenario-based learning. In this example, the instructional designer immerses the learner in a real-world scenario to reinforce the material being taught.


Infographics combine information with images to make the material easier to grasp. An infographic may use graphs, charts, photographs, or more, combined with text to represent the material being taught.


Retail is one industry that makes good use of microlearning. By tasking employees with watching a short, 15-minute video on shoplifting or reading a brief handout on a new product, they break the material into easily managed blocks of information that don’t overwhelm the learner.


Webinars are good examples of screencasting. The material is delivered through an online session that can be re-accessed and re-watched at will.

Peer Learning

Peer learning requires people to work together as a team to solve problems or find solutions. Peer learning not only breaks the ice among coworkers but also encourages them to turn to each other for answers in the future. It’s also linked to improved communication skills and higher self-esteem.

Instructional Design Benefits & Advantages

The advantages and benefits of instructional design are endless for the learner: the joys of mastering a new skill, increased self-esteem, and greater job marketability. But there are just as many benefits for the instructional designer. This is a highly creative position, and the people who work in instructional design are constantly polishing skills in critical thinking, reasoning, and drawing conclusions. They can take satisfaction in knowing the curricula and training programs they create are helping others improve their lives, whether teaching a child to add and subtract or teaching a middle-aged man how to transition successfully to a new career.

There are benefits to the companies that employ these professionals, too. High-quality, effective training programs save companies money. Employees who feel they’ve received adequate training are more likely to stay with that company. They may have fewer work accidents and usually better understand work procedures, including how to treat high-value tools and equipment.

And in an academic setting, such as a primary school or university, instructional material developed by an instructional designer has considered the learner’s strengths and weaknesses. It has been optimized to engage and motivate, so those using it can achieve their specific learning outcomes in a measurable way.

Career Outlook for Instructional Design

As an instructional designer, you may find yourself working in a variety of settings. You may become a curriculum developer who designs learning programs for academic applications or a developer of industrial training materials for manufacturing companies. You might create war games to train military personnel, or you could put together training modules for nurses. These applications are all different, with different goals and objectives, yet they all use the same type of learning theory. As an instructional designer, you’ll have the skills and training to work in many industries. And because every industry trains its employees, there will always be a need for people who are experienced in developing high-quality training programs.

The career outlook for instructional designers is promising. In 2021, there were approximately 205,000 jobs in instructional design. Through 2031, it’s expected that another 15,000 will open up, which translates into a 7% job growth over the next nine years.

If you’re interested in pursuing a career as an instructional designer, we invite you to explore the Master of Science in Educational Design & Technology at Keiser University in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Keiser University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), and the MSEd IDT is excellent preparation to jumpstart a rewarding and fulfilling career in instructional design.

In addition to the MSEd IDT, Keiser University offers the Education Specialist, or EdS, in Instructional Design and Technology and the Doctor of Philosophy, or Ph.D., in Instructional Design and Technology. As a result, you can take your instructional design career in any direction you choose. Learn more today by speaking with an admissions counselor or scheduling a campus tour.



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