How to Transition from Teacher to Instructional Designer

In the last episode, we spent some time learning about educational consulting and whether or not that career might be something of interest to you.  But in this episode we’re going to look at another ideal job for teachers who are considering leaving the classroom.

If you’ve ever wondered about instructional design and if that might be a good option for you, be sure to keep listening because we’re going to talk about what it is and everything you need to know about transitioning from teacher to instructional designer.

And don’t worry if you aren’t familiar with the term because this entire episode is devoted to deciphering what this career is all about as well as how this might just be the perfect fit for you.

What is Instructional Design?

According to Instructional Design Central, instructional design is “the process by which learning products and experiences are designed, developed, and delivered. These learning products include online courses, instructional manuals, video tutorials, learning simulations, etc.”

Wikipedia defines instructional design as “the practice of systematically designing, developing and delivering instructional materials and experiences, both digital and physical, in a consistent and reliable fashion toward an efficient, effective, appealing, engaging and inspiring acquisition of knowledge. The process consists broadly of determining the state and needs of the learner, defining the end goal of instruction, and creating some ‘intervention’ to assist in the transition. The outcome of this instruction may be directly observable and scientifically measured or completely hidden and assumed.”

So in a nutshell, instructional design is taking complex information, breaking it down into understandable chunks, connecting that information to something relatable and memorable, and providing opportunities to practice and apply the new information.

What do Instructional Designers do?

The role of an instructional designer then is to take the essential information and create resources, tools, and methods to increase knowledge, understanding, and application. 

Have you ever taken complex information and created learning resources for your students?  Well, guess what?  You played the role of instructional designer.

While we tend to think of this process happening in the K-12 classroom, instructional designers are also needed in businesses and government organizations.

According to Instructional Design Central, “Instructional designers are the ‘architects’ of the learning experience and the ‘directors’ of the Instructional Systems Design (ISD) process. Instructional designers are in high demand worldwide (particularly in North America, Asia and Europe), as organizations are turning towards instructional designers to solve business performance problems through the delivery of effective learning experiences.”

The truth is, we all should be lifelong learners and therefore, instructional designers are the crafters of our lifelong learning.

Some of the specific duties and responsibilities of instructional designers are:

  • Defining specific and clear learning objectives
  • Aligning created content and learning material with the objectives
  • Collaborating with subject matter experts to gather information
  • Storyboarding how the learning experience will look and progress through each stage
  • Creating relevant material on various platforms designed to meet the needs of the learners

What are the requirements for becoming an instructional designer?

To land a job as an instructional designer, you need to have a top-notch resume and a comprehensive portfolio brimming with awesomeness.  Of course since you are thinking about transitioning from teacher to instructional designer, you probably have lots of experience creating content for students, but it’s important to understand this doesn’t automatically qualify you to be an instructional designer.

It is essential for you to become familiar with some of the different methods used in instructional design including…

  • Bloom’s Taxonomy – This is most commonly used by educators in the classroom, and the one with which you are probably most familiar.  It is defined by Wikipedia as “a hierarchical model used for classification of educational learning objectives into levels of complexity and specificity. It is frequently used to structure curriculum learning objectives, assessments and activities.”
  • ADDIE Model – This is the most common method instructional designers use to develop curricula, content, and courses. The name is based on an acronym for the five phase process: Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, Evaluation.
  • Dick & Carey Model – This Systems Approach Model was named after the creators.  According to Dick and Carey, “Components such as the instructor, learners, materials, instructional activities, delivery system, and learning and performance environments interact with each other and work together to bring about the desired student learning outcomes.”
  • SAM ModelThe Successive Approximations Model is a newer model created by Dr. Michael Allen and defined as “is an agile e-learning development process built specifically to create meaningful, memorable, and motivational learning experiences that drive measurable gains and performance.” 

While your experience as a teacher lends itself perfectly to a new career as an instructional designer, just know that you will need to continue learning and growing your knowledge in how to apply the psychology of learning to adults.

You will also need to be familiar with not on the pedagogical side of things (curriculum development), but also familiar with the technological side of it (authoring tools, e-learning platforms).  The most important things to remember is that you can learn anything!  You just need to have faith in your abilities and showcase your strengths.

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What is the salary?

According to Glassdoor.com, the estimated base pay average for instructional designers in the United States is $69,039 per year.  However, just as with a job as an educational consultant, there is also potential for a hefty amount of additional pay to the tune of $20,298 based on bonuses, commissions, tips, and profit sharing.

But remember, if you choose to be an independent or freelance instructional designer, you can charge any price you want.  Just be sure you consider your ideal client, cost of living prices for the location you are serving and competitor pricing.  Then based on the resulting information, determine appropriate rates.

What other jobs are related to instructional design?

If you create content for your students and sell curriculum online via Teachers Pay Teachers, you can call yourself an instructional designer.  However, remember that for instructional design positions with specific companies, you should be familiar with the methodologies and technological pieces we discussed earlier.

But there are several jobs that are very similar to instructional design that you might want to look into further including…

  • Training Specialist
  • Learning Designer
  • Curriculum Developer
  • Course Design Manager
  • Learning & Development Consultant
  • Instructional System Designer

Where can I find educational instructional design jobs?

1| Determine your route

Just as I mentioned in the educational consultant episode, you can choose to be hired as an instructional designer by a company or you can choose to be an independent or freelance instructional designer.  Either way, you need to evaluate the pros and cons before determining the best route for you.

If you decide to go the freelance route, you won’t need a resume, but you will certainly want to put together a portfolio so that companies can confidently hire you knowing you have the skills, knowledge, and expertise to fulfill your job duties.

2| Become certified

You will certainly want to focus on your background as a teacher and how that prepared you to become an instructional designer. Experience is always a HUGE bonus, but if you don’t have much of that…certifications can be the game-changers. 

So look into certification programs or even full college degree programs if you want to transition from teacher to instructional designer. Here are a few certification programs to get you started…

3| Join relevant instructional design associations

Being a member of a community or association filled with like-minded people can be an excellent starting point for pursuing another career path.  There are many associations and communities specifically for instructional designers including…

If you think transitioning from teacher to instructional designer might be a route you would like to pursue outside of the classroom, be sure to spend some time looking through all of the resources below.  There are so many valuable sites dedicated to this specific career path and I genuinely believe you will find this content useful.

Instructional Design Resources