What Does an Instructional Designer Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

A day in the life of an instructional designer: Write learning objectives, create the layout of the instructional material, develop audio, visual and interactive media aids

The Balance / Theresa Chiechi

Instructional designers are also known as instructional systems designers. They use learning principles to develop the appearance, organization, and functionality of learning systems and materials.

Instructional designers work in business, in government, and in non-profit settings in the fields of online education, distance learning, e-learning, and training. College is the most common educational setting, but there are also opportunities for instructional designers at the K-12, high school, and adult education levels.

Instructional Designer Duties & Responsibilities

Instructional design jobs can vary greatly in the type of instructional systems used, the learning level of the students, and how the work is done. Some of the tasks an instructional designer might be responsible for include:

  • Write learning objectives.
  • Determine the scope of educational projects.
  • Create the layout of the instructional material.
  • Work with subject matter experts.
  • Write content.
  • Develop audio, visual, and interactive media aids.
  • Plan and create assessments.

Instructional designers are at the forefront of education, detecting and analyzing disconnects between learning and performance and the tools available to students to help them along. Social media and interactive programs are becoming more and more integral to education, and instructional designers are pivotal in making the transition.

Instructional Designer Salary

Instructional designers who work in a business setting may be paid more than those who work for the government or a nonprofit. Full-time instructional design jobs are usually salaried positions, but part-time employment and contract positions in the field are typically paid hourly. Some independent contractors in instructional design are paid for an entire project rather than hourly.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the incomes for instructional coordinators were in 2018:

  • Median Annual Salary: $64,450 ($30.98/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $102,200 ($49.13/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $36,360 ($17.48/hour)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018

Self-employed, freelance instructional designers must also factor in the purchase price and maintenance costs of computer equipment and programs. There may be travel costs, although minimal due to the desk-bound nature of the job. The self-employed typically pay for health benefits and fund their own retirement plans.

Education, Training & Certification

The role of an instructional designer varies widely so the path to this career isn't necessarily a singular route.

  • Education: A bachelor's degree is the minimum educational requirement for an instructional designer, and having a degree is in a related field such as education or communication is preferable. Some employers look for a master’s degree in instructional design or instructional technology.
  • Experience: Without a master’s degree, experience in teaching, training, writing, or web technology is usually expected. Many people often come to the instructional design profession after first having been teachers, writers, editors, media specialists, or trainers. This is the type of job that many learn by doing, but others learn through schooling.

Instructional Designer Skills & Competencies

Some skills that are required or helpful for a career in instructional design include:

  • Basic understanding of HTML: A good deal of this work is computer-based.
  • Computer knowledge: A knowledge of Dreamweaver, Photoshop, and Microsoft Office software, particularly PowerPoint, as well as audio and video editing skills.
  • Graphic design experience: Finished products must be visually appealing.
  • Experience with learning management systems: This job is about teaching.

Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates that job growth for instructional coordinators will be in the area of 11% through 2026 as school districts aim for improved graduation rates and test scores. This is somewhat faster than average for all occupations.

Work Environment

Many instructional designers work in e-learning, converting in-person teaching materials into online courses. Others develope training for corporations. Each hiring organization defines instructional designer jobs a little differently.

Instructional designers don't typically have contact with students. The courses they design are usually facilitated by online faculty members.

Positions for instructional designers range from regular employment to independent contractors or consultants, and they might even be for work-at-home positions. Working from home is common for contractors, but even regular employment positions in instructional design can easily transition to telecommuting. Work-at-home positions in instructional design are rarely entry-level.

Work Schedule

This is generally a full-time occupation. Those who work from home can often set their own hours, but this doesn't necessarily translate to fewer hours.

How to Get the Job


School systems, government entities, online and brick-and-mortar colleges, educational services companies, and corporations hire or contract with instructional designers. There are numerous resources online that advertise instructional design job openings, including the Instructional Design Central website which posts design jobs and links to other sources for job leads in this field.


Inside Higher Ed offers some solid tips from those who are already working in this field. Learn the intimate details of what this occupation requires so you can sell yourself in interviews and stand out from the rest of the pack.

Comparing Similar Jobs

Some similar jobs and their median annual pay include: 

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018