The Rapid Elearning Blog

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - do you need an instructional design degree

September is the start of a new school year. So it’s a good time to revisit the ongoing debate about whether or not you need an instructional design degree to build good elearning courses.

Here’s my take.

There’s a difference between teaching and informing.

Because we’re using e-learning applications like Storyline 360 or Rise 360 the assumption is that what we’re building is always e-learning or the objective is some sort of performance improvement.

Instructional design implies instruction. But much of what’s created with the e-learning applications is less about learning and more about sharing information. It’s really more interactive multimedia content than it is interactive instructional design.

Perhaps, the question should be, “Do you need a marketing degree?” since a lot of what is created falls more into that bucket than performance improvement.

Not all course builders are instructional designers.

In an ideal world, the person building the course is also involved in the design of it. But I’ve been in the industry long enough to know that’s often not the case. There are many course builders who have little say in the design of the course they build.

They’re hired to take content as it is designed by someone else and then build out the multimedia part of it. Having instructional design awareness is great and allows that person to offer constructive feedback, but if that’s not what the person is hired to do, then there’s a good chance the feedback goes nowhere.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - not all course designers are instructional designers

If you’re hired to build courses, but not involved in the strategic design of them, then it may make sense to focus on multimedia design skills over instructional design. From my experience, a course developer with really good graphic and interaction design skills usually trumps a good instructional designer with limited visual design skills and multimedia experience.

College degrees may not build the skills you need in the real world.

There are lots of resources online and informal learning communities to help you learn more about instructional design. It doesn’t require a degree.

I have a master’s in educational technology, a degree in corporate media production, and a degree in organizational management that focused a lot on performance and training. Despite all of that education, most of what I know about e-learning came from the work world.

Quite a bit of what was covered in my academic education was not very relevant to the work I was doing and offered little practical application. On top of that many of my professors had limited experience in non-academic training environments and were so politically charged about education and learning that it made a lot of the academic experience a bit uncomfortable and completely incoherent to my needs in the corporate environment.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - college degrees may not build the skills you need in the work world

Learning about instructional design doesn’t necessarily require a formal program as much as the desire to learn and then apply what you learn to your course design.

An instructional design degree can help you get a job.

E-learning is hot and a great industry to be in. That hasn’t always been the case for training. In fact, when times are tough, it’s usually the training team that gets the boot. But for right now, e-learning is a growing industry with lots of opportunities.

I took a quick peek at 20 job listings, here’s what I found. All but one required at least a bachelor’s degree. Most preferred a Master’s. And many required a Master’s.

Is that fair? Probably not.

If I was the hiring manager I’d prefer looking at your portfolio and talking to you about how you design courses. However, in many cases the hiring manager isn’t involved in the initial screening of the job applicant. That’s done by an HR assistant who is using the minimum requirements to weed out applicants.

So you may be the most skilled instructional designer, but without a degree you probably won’t make it past the first round.

An instructional design degree can challenge your thinking.

Here’s where I find the most value in pursuing an instructional design degree. It forces you to look at and do things in a different way. It also helps build relationships and a network of peers that has lifelong value.

We tend to get stuck doing the same things the same way. In fact, many of you may have the experience of building courses, but you’ve basically built the same course a hundred times rather than a hundred different courses.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - college degrees promote thinking in a different way

In a degree program, you get experiences and opportunities that may not exist at work where you have to operate at the speed of business. You learn new things and hopefully get to apply them to projects to see how they work.

You also get to interact with people who are in different fields, with different organizations, and who many not think the way you do. Being challenged in this way is good.

From a purely pragmatic perspective, you don’t need an instructional design degree to build e-learning courses. But a formal education does provide a map towards success. Most of us aren’t disciplined enough to map out the same things and experiences we’d acquire in school.

But Tom, do I need an instructional design degree to build e-learning courses?

I’m going to say “No, you don’t need a degree.”

I’ve talked to plenty of people who told me what they learned in school wasn’t relevant to what they have to do at work. And with the resources available to you, there’s no reason why you need to pay a ton of money to get a piece of paper to confirm the skills you already have.

Articulate Rapid E-learning Blog - do I need an instructional design degree to build elearning courses?

But you do need to know how to build good instruction and that means if you don’t learn it via a formal degree program you’ll need to learn it elsewhere.

My advice is to keep reading about course design and practice building instructionally sound modules. Build good examples to add to your portfolio and stay connected to the e-learning community. That practical experience coupled with knowing someone can help you get past the HR filter when openings arise.

And if you can afford it, go to school because you’re at a competitive disadvantage when looking for work.

What do you think?

Do you need an instructional design degree? For those of you who don’t have a degree, what advice do you have for someone who wants to learn more?

And if you do have a degree, did it help you build good e-learning courses? Is it something you’d recommend to others?

I look forward to your comments.


Free E-Learning Resources

Want to learn more? Check out these articles and free resources in the community.

Here’s a great job board for e-learning, instructional design, and training jobs

Participate in the weekly e-learning challenges to sharpen your skills

Get your free PowerPoint templates and free graphics & stock images.

Lots of cool e-learning examples to check out and find inspiration.

Getting Started? This e-learning 101 series and the free e-books will help.

82 responses to “Do You Really Need An Instructional Design Degree?”

I am working on a Bachelor’s degree in Adult Education and Training. I have been working as an Instructional Designer for over 10 years. I find that much of the material in the courses I take are not reflective of what I do in the corporate environment.
There is not enough time devoted to project management or the visual design of a course. I have the experience, I’m just getting the paper to go along with it.

September 17th, 2013

What a fantastic post. I couldn’t agree with you more. I have qualifications similar to yours – undergrad degrees and a M.Ed. in instructional tech. I agree that you don’t need a degree to be able to design courses. What a degree does is broaden your thinking and consolidate your experience and ideas. Think Bloom’s taxonomy. A degree will get you to the top of the pyramid faster and more efficiently.

I felt many of my graduate courses were irrelevant and I couldn’t see the connection between them and what I thought I wanted to do. Seven years later, I can honestly say getting that degree was the smartest thing I ever did. I use what I learned daily and I’m not in the training business anymore. We’re talking transferring skills here. In my mind – anyone who can increase the likelihood that an audience will understand a message is golden. Understanding the hows and whys of cognition has been invaluable.

September 17th, 2013

While I have one graduate degree in hand and am working on a second one, the only value towards building courses is that you will have the ability to see the course through the eyes of a student. A great deal of money goes into the degree, and while it will help you land the great job, it probably won’t help you as you go about your day to day in the job. I agree with Tom.

If you want a practical instructional design degree, check out Capella University. It’s online and the homework applies to your work. My two cents!

If you want to work for someone else then yes, you will need a degree in Instructional Design. If you want to work for yourself then no you don’t need a degree, but you will need to have an understanding of Instructional Design if you’re creating the courses from scratch.

I spent 10+ years designing and building elearning stuff. Then I got a masters in Performance Improvement and Instructional Design. The degree helped me organize the experience I’d gained, making it more available for use in projects, and to try new things with more confidence. Now I have another 10 years of experience with the degree. The degree is absolutely worth while. It enables you to — if nothing else — talk about your work with confidence and authority so you can persuade your clients to do the right things. The people I met in my program are fun and have been very helpful. Also, all of the important work I have done requires a masters degree. Of course not all degrees have the same value. I echo what Pat Barford says.

September 17th, 2013

Excellent post. I started out as a high school teacher and then transitioned into adult education and then training, and I find that the lion’s share of my methodology as a trainer had its foundations in my undergraduate education degree, with some modifications and the addition of readily available books, websites (like this one!), and simple networking with other training professionals. When I transitioned into ID, I used my skills as a trainer to maintain the focus on the learner. Suffice it to say that a successful eLearning designer gathers her skills and accumen from a wide variety of resources. As it’s been said, lifelong learning is essential!

My question now is whether to pursue a Master’s or not. I’ve been in the training and development field for nearly 20 years and now that I’m the equivalent to the CLO of my company, there isn’t an immediate financial reason for it. It’s more along the lines of “would it expose me to areas of interest in greater depth?” With the recent explosion of MOOC’s and online degree programs, I’m still on the fence. Any thoughts/advice?

Both a degree AND experience and skills with specific tools are valuable for different reasons. I have an MSIT graduate degree (Masters of Science in Instructional Tech) from a grad education program. This provides grounding in Learning Theories and Research, Design Principles and Best Practices, and Project Management to mention a few areas. I still needed to develop high-level skills with tools like Storyline and many others. You can compensate for education with experience, but it helps when looking for jobs especially in large organizations.

September 17th, 2013

Tom, I couldn’t agree more. While a formal degree program will challenge your thinking, what is taught often does not apply in the real world. But what really resonated with me was your final paragraphs. I’ve been instructional design for over five years, and I’m good at what I do; but all my work is proprietary, and as a result, I don’t have much of a portfolio that I can share. I’ve been put together a small portfolio of my own work-but it doesn’t seem to be enough. I can’t afford, and do not see the potential ROI for the expense of, a Master’s degree but my hand may be forced because without it, I’m finding myself at a competitive disadvantage, even with a network.

Hi Tom!
Do you have any feelings as to whether this is a particularly “US” perspective?
I just do not feel that the same is true in UK/Europe.
For example, I just Googled UK ID jobs, and here’s the list of requirements for the first decent (Senior) position I spotted, advertised today for a major Global company.
No mention of ID Degrees needed – but LOTS of the things that good IDs over here, (and over there…) do on a daily basis.
Appreciate your Global perspective.

– Instructional Design Experience.
– Experience as a project leader on Instructional Design Initiatives
– Experience in utilizing the ADDIE model or similar instructional design methodology for curriculum development.
– Proven experience in blended learning strategies.
– Ability to translate the complex Instructional Design theories to internal stakeholders in a way that aligns with the business strategies.
– Experience in using data to identify trends and improve training and on the job performance.
– The ability to conduct Level 1 through Level 4 evaluations using a proven evaluation model.
– Demonstrated ability to communicate effectively with peers and key business leaders, driving diverse workgroups to collaborative solutions to meet long-term business needs.
– Analyze existing curriculum to determine if there are changes in the learner knowledge base, technology and or the organization.
– Design learning that reflects an understanding of the diversity of learners and groups of learners.
– Ensure curricula and courses are mapped appropriately and published on My Learning in a timely manner
– Be a thought leader in instructional design and innovation.
– Deep instructional design knowledge and application with the ability to convert this into engaging learning experiences
– Proven e-learning design and development experience and experience with designing, developing, and delivering and blended learning strategies
– Proven project management and leadership skills and ability to manage multiple projects concurrently
– Excellent analytical skills
– Exceptional communication skills and ability to build strong relationships at all levels in an organization
– Documented experience in building learning strategies and performance results
– The ability to write strategic learning plans for curriculum
– The ability to apply concepts, techniques and theory of other disciplines to the problems of learning, instruction and design
– Proven ability in evaluating learning effectiveness using sound Instructional design assessment strategies
– Experience working with international markets is a plus
– Experience working with vendors is a plus

“If I was the hiring manager I’d prefer looking at your portfolio and talking to you about how you design courses. However, in many cases the hiring manager isn’t involved in the initial screening of the job applicant. That’s done by an HR assistant who is using the minimum requirements to weed out applicants.”

This is what frustrates me the most about being in the middle of pursuing a bachelor’s degree. I have the relevant work experience and am well qualified to do the job but when companies are weeding out qualified candidates based on not having a college degree, it gets disheartening because there are people who have a college or even a masters degree who’s work does not live up to what is expected of the job.

Great article, thank you!


I love you dearly… but, you have touch a nerve, or third rail or whatever.

YES! Get educated. How can we, as educators, discourage others from …getting educated? I have great respect for you and often say AMEN to your blog postings, but not today… Yes, it is possible to create wonderful eLearning presentations, without knowing what you are doing, but why not encourage others to seek out answers to why we engage learners at certain points in a presentation? How do people connect to some topics based on analogy and others through logical progression?

We are all still exploring how all of this works and how to make it effective. We need educated practitioners, not fill in the blank multiple guessers…

This is a very exciting time for online learning, and the topic is not simple. It is a complex mixture of communication theories… pedagogy (or andragogy). Technology is challenging us to invent more, new and effective ways to teach.

So, with that, I’m very happy that you posted this flawed idea in your usually flawless blog. It has spurred me and others to contribute, which is a very good thing.

Thank you for all that you do!


After working as in instructional designer, I decided to get my masters degree. In May, I graduated from Utah State University’s Instructional Technology and Learning Science program. I completed the program online.

For the most part, I didn’t learn how to make better courses. I did learn acquire other skills. My evaluation class gave me base knowledge on how to implement an evaulation program. Over the past year, I’ve worked with a team to evalate at least one project per quarter. The results from the evaluations have changed how we present content and the use of resources to buy custom illustrations. Most importantly, we know when education is effective.

My research class improved my analytical/logic skills ten fold. Not only does this help me with working with diverse content, it helps me in life as I sort through a ton of information.

My learning science class make me think about how people learn. I’m lucky enough to work in an environment where I design and develop my courses. In the design phase, I talk to the sponsors about the content, when the content needs to be recalled/used, and the best way to make sure the desires result is needed. I’ve noticed that when I talk about how the brain works and the best way to leverage the brain and the content, sponsors are really open to my suggestions. I’m not suggesting my opinions because I want my way. I believe my suggestions will produce the best resutls.

Lastly, my degree has given my professional credibility. This is probably a product of corporate culture. None the less, I’ll take it.

Lovely article. I’d have to mark myself down as a qualified “no” when it comes to an instructional design degree. Of course, it could be that I am middle aged, have three degrees and an EFL certification, lots of related experience, and three kids to raise that makes me disinclined to go back to school.

For me, it comes down to the debate between badges and degrees. I figure you should have some sort of degree to demonstrate critical thinking skills and other competencies, but after that we need to do a better job of recognizing “badges” as legitimate qualifications. Not only will it give more nuisance the qualifications and hiring processes, but it will open elearning up to greater diversity and innovation as folks from other disciplines more readily crossover.

I have a somewhat different view of this issue and I don’t think a matter of whether or not you need a degree in instructional design. What I think should be the question that needs asked is, “Are the Instructional Design degree programs relevant to today’s industry?”

I did get a Master’s Degree in Adult Education, and Instructional Design was a part of that degree program. The rest of the program consisted of Adult Learning Theory and Interactive Multimedia courses. It’s that combination of disciplines that really prepared me for my career. Granted the way that my particular program was structured didn’t pigeon-hole me into Instructional Design – I could have gone into any Adult Education field that I wanted to, but it certainly got my foot into the Instructional Design and eLearning world.

In that sense, a degree is just one of many tools in my arsenal as an Instructional Design/eLearning Professional. But without a doubt, not every degree program is created equal.

I’ve had colleagues that have been on both sides of this fence – some with degrees in Instructional Design, and other’s with the “practical experience” that they used to work their way into an Instructional Design role. I’ve even encountered people that have attended workshop programs that offered certification in Instructional Design.

Almost without exception, those who have the degree in Instructional Design are more capable in this field. The caveat is that their degree program had the eLearning/Interactive Multimedia piece to the puzzle. This isn’t to say that those colleagues without a degree in Instructional Design aren’t qualified, they just don’t have the full skill-set that others that came from a well-rounded program might be.

Again this all depends on HOW the degree program is structured and WHAT you do with your degree – not the antequated idea that simply having a degree automatically qualifies you as an expert in your field.

I agree with Renee, Capella University (online) has a great program has a curriculum that mocks what you would be expected to do in corporate America. You have to create projects after learning the theories (ID Principles, Design and Adult Learning theories…to name a few). The courses introduce you to the authoring software and other necessary programs needed. I would suggest that they add Project Management to their curriculum though, very important!

I think the key word her is “degree.” You have to know basic instructional design theory to build a course. Where you get that education is irrelevant. To be a really great course designer, you should know basic communication theory. After all, training is a subset of communicating.

I have been teaching, designing courses and curriculum and designing instruction for almost twenty years now. My degree is in Communication and Writing. It has never failed me.

I see too many job requirements these days that require a degree in instructional design without adding “or equivalent experience” next to it. and are great places to get college texts if you want to learn more about you area of expertise.

Don’t ever stop learning. You don’t necessarily have to give your hard-earned cash to some university to do it.

September 17th, 2013

I have a two-year business degree and held administrative positions my entire career, until about 7 years ago when I was asked to teach in-house computer skills classes. That led to a full-time training position 5 years ago. When our company began experimenting with e-learning, I eagerly volunteered to take it on. My education in this area has been from reading recommended books, ASTD resources, and Articulate’s community. This is probably not the usual path to becoming a successful developer, but it worked for me. I’ve considered getting an ID degree, but with less than 5 years till retirement, I don’t think so.

September 17th, 2013

As someone who has been in the field for 33 years, I think you can learn some good theory of adult learning and psychology in academia, but nothing substitutes for actual experience. Instructional Design is a craft best learned by applying knowledge to real-world tasks. The emphasis on degrees is mostly due to HR practitioners who take the lazy way out of substituting credentials for competency.

A good Liberal Arts degree will provide all of the academic fundamentals to address all of the issues involved in the field.

September 17th, 2013

My degree is MEd with a specialization in IDT. I’m really glad I chose to go that way because I got a lot of great theory and ways to maximize the education of the students. The multimedia training focused on Lectora skills, which has been very helpful. But the main focus remained on the why as well as the how of doing things in a systematic and targeted way. I have loved your empowering posts on PowerPoint, because it is a great tool that we already have. It works well with our LMS. My familiarity with the affordances of our LMS is key as well. Learning the best ways to get the most out of whatever tools we have is making it possible to get a lot done. It’s hard for our small university to spend more on authoring tools and updates. And anyway, spending more doesn’t necessarily mean you are getting more.

September 17th, 2013

No. I’ve managed teams of designers and those with degrees were much more troublesome when sticking to timelines and project planning. Too inflexible and lacking innovation. The ones with Masters degrees were the worst!

Wow! This has really generated a lot of good discussion and debate. I have been an instructional designer for 8 years, and in the training industry for 20. I do not have a degree, and would not have gotten my current position if the hiring manager hadn’t been willing to look at my portfolio and talk to previous employers. I regret not having a degree because I think, as so many others have so eloquently expressed, it rounds a person out and contributes to the ability to challenge one’s thinking. At this stage in my life I would never realize a return on my investment if I finished my degree, so I am staying on top of my profession through professional memberships, relevant articles, books, and blogs. It seems to be working! I have a great, high paying job in a wonderful company.

September 17th, 2013

If somebody tells me I have “wasted” the last 17 months of my life I am going to loose my mind. Hours on homework, learning theories, design principles, etc. were not wasted at all.

If I decide to try and weasel my way into the ID field, with no background or practical experience in ID it is a losing proposition. At the very least the Masters I am completing in December tells everyone I was serious enough about it to spend 20 months of my life learning what I could about it.

My background is Military instruction and I know that when compared to your average ID with ZERO time on the other side of the podium I am much better off adding my MS degree to that. Why? Because I have seen both sides and that gives me a very unique viewpoint on building instruction/curriculum.

Hi Tom,
I believe getting a degree in Learning and Instructional Technology will definitely help in building elearnings but you have to find the right one. I graduated from the Masters program at Arizona State University and it was fantastic! It was highly practical and hands-on. I have applied and built on my education from the day I started.

So, absolutely, positively a degree is helpful!


P.S. Another great option is a certification like the CPLP! (Certified Professional in Learning and Performance)

I do not have an ID degree and worry about my chances of fidning another job should the need arise. I also don’t currently have the resources (money or time) to pursue a degree.

That being said, I am working on getting my CPLP (through ASTD), building my portfolio, and I have had tons of awesome, practical training – including a Tom Kuhlmann workshop. I highly recommend the ASTD Elearning Certificates and anything from Allen Interactions. I believe in design. I want my courses to be instructionally sound, visually sound, technologically sound. That requires design. It’s important to sharpen skills related to learning, design, development, authoring tools, graphics design, audio editing, video software…etc!

For me, my investment in education was well worth it.

On average, those who have a college degree earn twice as much as those who do not. I earned a Masters in Training & Development at Roosevelt University in Chicago. My degree opened doors and financial opportunities that would not have been available to me without it.

Working on projects with fellow students who were employed at companies such as Allstate, Southwest Airlines, and Sears provided rich experiences for everyone in the class.

Our Professors exposed us to information and ideas that I would have never even thought to “Google”.

Having a broad range of knowledge makes me a more valuable employee.

Trust me, at the time I was taking my Marketing class…I had no idea how many of those ideas would benefit me later in my career.

Because the word “design” is included in the title “Instructional Design,” it is easy for others to confuse with “building e-learning courses.” The latter requires some knowledge and skills to build an effective and pleasing-to-look at program in order to engage the learner and transfer knowledge. The former has nothing to do with e-learning at all. It has everything with designing a learning program to include objectives, content and associated exercises, application of the content, etc. That said, an instructional designer would do well to also learn how to build e-learning programs. It is not, however, necessary for an e-learning program builder to learn instructional design.

September 17th, 2013

I tend to agree with Michael Henry.

I think the biggest concern I currently have with online learning is that there is the misconception that learning is about sharing information or “marketing” information. Although these do exist in education. They are not the equivalent of education. Learning is about more than emotions.

Educating people and how people learn is what the degree part is all about. And that is actually (as Michael said) very complex.

The more important question isn’t whether you need a degree. The more important question is, “What is online learning?” Historically, education is about improving people’s skills and abilities.

Does marketing and “sharing” information do that effectively?

Here’s another way to look at it:
Would you rather have a physician watch a YouTube video OR learn in a real life virtual environment how to do your surgery?

Interesting post! While a degree may not be necessary I agree that continuing eduction is never a wrong choice or a bad move and can only help you in the long run. Personally I have a degree from Europe in Behavioral Science and worked as a training coordinator for years before landing a job as an ID. My degree is different from the norm but I have definitely applied that education to my job as an ID. I’m interested in pursuing certificate programs in Instructional Design, Project Management, etc just for the sake of learning as much as possible. I think a broad range of experience and knowledge will land you a job…that and knowing how to put together an appealing resume (a skill not possessed by many unfortunately!)

September 17th, 2013

I agree with many of the previous posts. I don’t think a degree in instructional design is absolutely necessary, but a degree in some kind of learning discipline is helpful. The degree will (usually) help you get a job where you can build your skills and experience. Other certification programs like CPLP or Clark Training and Consulting can be a great help. My graduate degree was in Instructional Technology, but my undergraduate degree was in English with a focus on Secondary Education. The Instructional Technology program provided a great overview that included some web design and networking classes that have been more helpful to me than my one instructional design class was.

This is an interesting topic and I have thought about this time to time. If you see an Instructional Designer job just to build an eLearning course using the authoring tools, I do agree that you may not need a whole degree but you need to understand your users and UX design.

But the “Instructional Designer degree” is more than just building slides. Let’s say the whole process of “ADDIE” (I just named a the traditional one): Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation is not only building slides! Just a simple example: to get to know your learners and analyzing your target audience and using the best the methodologies that suites your learners is a whole different concept. You may find that eLearning (building slides!) is not the solution based on your findings, validations of the content, and the context. And you may want to take your learners in a different route like CFH, BPL, AR, Simulations, and many more …

So I would recommend use the best of your degree if you have one, and don’t bound yourself to building interactive slides; there is a whole lot you can do with your degree =)

September 17th, 2013

This is a very timely topic and I’m really pleased to see that this post has generated so much lively discussion. I have both an M.Ed. and PhD in Instructional Design and Technology so, of course, I am a firm supporter of getting those degrees under one’s belt. I know I wouldn’t have gotten where I am without them.

Also, I am in the process of developing a B.S. degree in Instructional Design & Technology for Post University. It will be an online degree program designed to train instructional designers and/or instructional technologists in the foundations of this exciting and growing field. We have found that there are many jobs available that require a Bachelor’s degree in ID but there are still very few institutions that offer an undergraduate degree in instructional design. We intend to develop our courses so that they offer real world experience through hands-on projects using current technology (like Storyline and Lectora) so students get the experience they need to start their career. Since this is a point that many of you here have found missing in other programs (and I would agree with that), it sounds like we’re on the right track.

I would like to ask your readers for some suggestions to make this a really robust and relevant degree program. What types of experiences do you feel would be of the greatest benefit to someone trying to get into this type of a career? Tom, what do you suggest we make sure to include?

Thanks for a stimulating discussion!

Great post!! I completely agree with you. Even my educational qualification is different than what I actually do. But for instructional designer job, one needs to have creative mind and patience, rational mind behind designing a course.

Thanks again!

Great post and love the comments.

All things being equal a degree is good for many of the reasons above. However, considering the cost of getting the degrees is it worth it? Shouldn’t there be a better way to get the acceptable level of skills/expertise?

4 year:
public $89,044
private $173,156

public $28,400
private $38,700

Assuming you start today and work through a masters’s, the cost to get it is going to be from $100,000 to $200,000. How long will it take to recover the cost?

I currently work as a Sr. ID/ID Project Manager & have an M.Ed. in Training & Development. ID coursework was required as part of the curriculum. Starting out, I would not have been able to get my first ID job without the degree, so in that sense, it was useful in opening doors for me. However, many of the classes I had to take in grad school had very little to do with the work I do as an ID.

Whether or not you choose to go the degree route, you MUST know how to design good-quality, instructionally-sound, and effective training – which requires a solid understanding of adult learning theory and the systems, processes and theories behind instructional design. Just knowing how to use learning software like Articulate Engage or Storyline is NOT enough. That knowledge of the process, theory, etc. is what sets a “real” ID apart and makes you a professional. But, you can get that training & experience through a good quality graduate-level certificate program.

Other useful tools for future ID’s: (1) a good understanding of how biz works; (2) experience with project management and/or working in a tightly controlled, deadline and cost oriented environment; (3) a “consultant” orientation; (4) excellent communication skills – particularly questioning skills and being able to explain things to others in “plain English;” and (5) good analytical skills; (6) ability to think “out of the box” & find creative solutions to both ordinary & difficult/oddball requests; (7)a good understanding of what development tools are available, their capabilities, & what they can be used for. Even if you’re not an expert at actually using the tools yourself, you need to know what they do & how to explain that to your clients.

There are many different areas / specialties in instructional design, and the skills required depend on your goals and which aspects you want to focus on.

September 17th, 2013

I got my M.A. in Slavic Languages and Literatures back in 1994. I was lucky to be attending the University of Illinois where I could sub-specialize in Computer Assisted Instruction (as it was known back then). I’ve been an instructional designer and course developer ever since.

Having hired other ID’s, I must admit that I look for core competencies over a degree. It’s great if you can spout adult learning theory, but if you can’t get in there and learn a new software system that you have to write a course about, then I can’t afford to have you on my team.

Great discussion, by the way!

@Bruce: good question. I’m not sure how the hiring process works outside of the US and how much more or less tolerant organizations are when looking for those who design elearning courses in regards to their level of education versus experience. From what I understand there’s a greater focus on vocational training so perhaps there’s more acceptance of that route than there is in the US.

@all: good comments and some great points being made.

Personally, I did find that my education contributed to my opportunities and earning power.

@Sophia: that’s the big question–is the cost of getting a degree worth it? Unfortunately our educational system is slow to change. But considering the market, people are being priced out and saddle with debt. I assume the market will respond to the costs and lack of money to go to school. With digital technology, there’s an opportunity for new thinking about education in a general sense and vocational training to acquire practical skills and experience.

There’s no reason why a focused certificate program can’t be seen as valuable as a four year degree when it comes to the skills required to function at work.

Nice post, Tom. I thought comments from the readers above were insightful, too.

Gladly, my experience jibes with your comments about hiring managers who prefer looking at your portfolio and discovering the candidate’s design approach through the interview process.

I agree, too, that much of what happens “at the speed of business” tends to fall into the information sharing bucket — especially when designing (learning/information) content with consideration for internal customers vs. external customers and customer prospects…. Which leads me to suggest that friends breaking into this field consider gaining a foothold through the Marketing department.

Many corporate marketing approaches today include content marketing that seeks to educate/inform customers and prospects without necessarily seeking performance improvements from the learner. I’ve found colleagues who go this route find opportunities to not only add value in “kicking up a notch” marketing’s information content by occasionally baking-in sound instructional design components, but also find opportunities to use the resulting portfolio as “prototype material” to collaborate with the internal training department on “what else is possible” when marketing’s engaging multimedia design is married with training’s performance improvement objectives.

September 17th, 2013

I got my Learning and Instruction degree back in the Dark Ages before we even thought about the personal computer and computer learning was not even practical with the room sized computers and all. 1974 was a long time ago.

But the knowledge I gained in those years is still useful. Knowing how people learn is invaluable and helps you make decisions about what will work and what will not. Learning Theory can help you identify alternative approaches. Research techniques have been valuable over the years and have informed how I search the internet. And one of the chief pieces of knowledge is how to communicate.

Not everything I was taught was useful. But I am a much better teacher/trainer with the degree than I was without it. So I would vote for getting the degree for all the wealth of knowledge and experience that it will give you.

I came from an IT technical background and went back for a Masters in Instructional Design because I loved technical training. Granted, the Master’s program did not teach the software, but it gave me a firm foundation for what makes good instructional design. I utilize those skills on a daily basis and then learn the software along the way.

A degree might not be required. However, some formal training in instructional design should be. I have been working as an ID for almost 10 years and I don’t have an ID degree. But I do have a masters in education, and have taken several courses about ID at the masters and doctoral level. My degree will not be an ID degree. Based on ‘strict’ criteria I would not be hired.

And all this feedback within the same day that you posted this question…you have quite the impressive community going, Tom!
One word a few people invoked here was “discipline”, from both the educational AND instructional design perspectives.

The degree demonstrates that you have the discipline to stick with things (not to mention the skills and education learned by the way…)
The degree in ID provides the disciplined approach to learning design.
I don’t have all that many years to go in the work environment but I am enrolled in an IDT degree program now to keep learning and I use what I learn every single day on the job as, no coincidence, an instructional designer. Can you design a good course without the ID degree? I am sure you can produce something. Will your development cycle and results be as focused, disciplined, fast, and effective as with the degree? I doubt it…

Like another posting from you in the past, I love this one as well, Tom – thank you! I could relate very well with your suggestions and comments; much appreciated! Cheers, Jason

I agree with much of what you say about the need for a degree. The point about eLearning designers needing a good grounding in visual media is particularly well taken.

On the other hand, I believe a quality degree in Instructional Technology is important. An academic grounding has helped me work with clients. Sometimes by adding in a small dose of theory can prevent clients from making poor design choices.

As professional designers we have an obligation to the craft. The responsibility includes guiding clients to high quality and ethical results. To their detriment, many designers slavishly follow the dictates of their clients rather than the principles of good design.

A degree course challenges your thinking which is useful for any vocation you may find yourself.
What did I learn in critical thinking 101? Well, for a start let’s take a phrase from one of Tom’s graphics: “E-learning courses promote the commodification of humanity” – or, How I Learned to Stop Thinking for Myself and Buy Tom’s commodity.

“Nice one Centurion. Like it.” (quote from the Life of Brian – Monty Python films).

E-learning courses promote diversity in thinking Tom. Sales people promote commodities.

Dear Tom – I believe that it depends on HOW YOU DEFINE “instructional design”! As a classroom teacher, I thought I knew about teaching and learning – HA – what a joke! Until I completed a PhD in “instructional design” – focussing on specifics of teaching examples and strategies to effectively teach reading comprehension (UNDERSTANDING what you read), I realised I had NO idea!! I believe you are confusing “designing e-learning” with “instructional design”? While I believe there is some overlap in these concepts – they are NOT identical. I agree with your point about someone being asked to take content and turn it into something online – that is e-learning? My understanding of the complex concept of “instructional design” is to present the content with the widest range of appropriate (and inappropriate) examples to teach ANY concept to ANY learner, along with strategies, and to do this in a way that leads to successful learning and application. I believe ANYONE can take content (as is) and just put it online – if the teaching examples are POOR = then the learning will be POOR. There are SO MANY e-learning courses and APPS that already do this, and people (teachers and others) take any app, and believe it will be OK – when the specific content (teaching examples) are poor, or there is NO strategy for how to learn to do the task??

So, I believe “instructional design” goes WAY BEYOND what e-learning includes?

Also, I’m wondering if you have put this view, to get people to “rise to battle” and argue this point with you?
I don’t post back often – and I do VALUE your posts and the comments of others.
I hope that this personal view of mine make sense, and adds some clarity to this complex discussion? I have to admit, while I think that I understand many of the concepts around instructional design – I am STILL a novice at e-learning!! I hope to continue learning always!!

best always, Gail

@Bsidey: funny thing about the commodification quote. It came from a professor’s take on corporate training. Her contention was that corporations were only concerned about commodification of people essentially replacing their social relationships with material exchange. In her views, anything we did on the corporate side of training had nothing to do with the betterment of a person’s life or livelihood. Of course this thinking was derived from her Marxist views. All of this was fine, but did little to help me build better learning experiences. In fact, she continually went out of her way knock the corporate people in her program. And only supported diversity of thought as long as it aligned with hers. 🙂

Do you need an ID degree to be an instructional designer? No. It helps, but the only time an ID degree is required is if a job posting says so. One of the best instructional designers I’ve ever worked with used to run a pet store specializing in fish. What he brought to the table was attention to detail, awesome listening kills and an amazing ability to craft messages that stick (check out the book with that title to really get what I mean). Lacking a degree in education or instructional design you absolutely need a portfolio demonstrating what you can do.

Develop a personal learning network (PLN) or participating in communities of practice (Twitter chat hashtags like #lrnchat, #chat2lrn, #showyourwork will help you smooth out your rough edges). Join elearning guild (a basic membership is free). You can learn a lot through webinars, too. Training Magazine offers many free webinars. One of the best is next week: @JaneBozarth’s Show Your Work:
The Payoffs of Working and Learning Out Loud.

One more thing: check out MOOC offerings from Stanford University (brand name NovoEd). Their crash creativity and design thinking courses offer a good foundation on the creative problem solving side of things.

@Gail: good stuff. I’m only throwing out the question as I’m asked it quite a bit by people who have to build elearning courses. So in that sense the context is a bit limited because as you and many of the other commenters have stated, ID is much bigger and more complex than building elearning courses.

“When you look at a course that draws the learner in, sets expectations, provides practice activities with feedback, effectively assesses their understanding, and creates the means for them to transfer the learning to the real world, you see a course that embraces sound learning theory and instructional design.” Tom Kuhlmann

That was an excerpt in the comments section from a Nov.3, 2009 blog post from Tom – and what I strive for. Not sure you need a masters to create that type of learning. But I did need someone with a masters to open my eyes to that bit of wisdom. Thanks Tom.

I was teaching high school English for ten years before moving into instructional design. I’ve now worked in two different organisations and I can see how important my teaching experience is in designing good courses, unfortunately because I’ve been able to see the courses other people have created … very badly.

With my teaching experience, I always know I need to break the content down well, assess strategically and write simply. In fact, I have regular debates with my SMEs to make sure I can do what I need to do to do the right thing by the learner. They probably found it a little confronting at first, but now that they’ve seen my ‘product’, they’ve told me they like how passionate I am about getting it right. My current employer has had some terrible IDs before me. My previous employer had some terrible courses, but thought they were doing things well and didn’t bother trying to make the most of having someone with massive teaching experience. They simply thought that if they were making good-looking courses then they were making great courses, despite never bothering to get feedback about the learner’s experience. (We actually learned that people were *cheating* on some of their courses, but they still didn’t realise they needed a massive overhaul in how they were doing things.)

Anyhow, in a nutshell (and excuse the rambling here, but I’m trying to say what I want quickly and get back to work!), I think training is *very* important. Not necessarily specifically in instructional design, but IDs definitely need a good understanding of teaching concepts. I guess I learned the design part from my previous job though.

September 18th, 2013

According to my experience one should have a formal degree in Instructional Design. Instructional Designing is an exclusive professional subject matter which could bring or make the difference in learning attitudes and for organizations. There are theories, models, principles, procedures, strategies and methodologies exist that supports or assures the high quality instructions or content delivery.

An ID should:
* Assess the needs
* Identify the gaps
* Analyse relevance
* Understand environment/platforms
* Design instructions
* Apply theoretical knowledge (theories, models, strategies and methodologies etc.)
* Apply standards
* Evaluate
* Motivate
* Understand technologies (tools used for knowledge transfer)
* Good language skills such as written and spoken
* Creativity
* Finally the commonsense

like wise there are many issues which could be discussed systematically in a degree program. To me it is necessary, otherwise the chances of project failure percentage may be up to 80%.

To me ID: Instructional design is a systematic presentation of the instructions (subject matter) to the audience to meet their knowledge needs and requirements.

Thank You
~ Asif

Tom, what you share rings true. But in real life, particularly abroad when you don’t have connections to get you pass the robotic HR filtering process, I’d say you need a recognized qualification of some sort to get some corporate entity to pay for your professional services. As you imply, having the qualifications does not make one an excellent course designer or trainer. However, having the skills without the formally recognized qualification doesn’t entitle one to get the title of chair person or dean of an instructional institution though. I’ve worked for an institution where the dean or department chair person has his or her advanced degree in fields not relevant to the department or type of college they are supposedly managing, but they have the ‘nice’ sounding degrees. I don’t blame them; I admire them because they know what it takes beat the system and get their positions.

Tom, I think you hit it right on the head.

Great advice. Straightly shot. Simply stated. And kept it real.

Thanks for that. Keep up the good work.

This has such amazing feedback! I think I started as an ID (not even knowing what that was at the time) when I was on a company helpdesk. I would take screenshots and put explanations to them for the users that would call in with problems.

I then found myself in the training dept. and worked with two of the most helpful people in the world that did have ID experience. I started learning from them and worked with them for about two years. During that time I created the training and also delivered it. I decided to go to school for ID. I signed up to start my Masters degree and lost my job three days before I was to start.

I am so glad I decided to go anyway. I learned so much and also found out that what I had learned from my co-workers was spot on. My education then just added all the theory behind ID for me.

I was fortunate that I did get my degree as that was what tipped the scales in my favor of getting the position I am in currently. I am in a very small department so I am the training dept., I make good money and I love my job!!

Tom, thank you for so many wonderful posts, tutorials and all you do. I loved reading all the posts this question generated! Keep up the great work! I have used so many of your techniques.
Thank you, Dorothy

I’ve participated in the development of a variety of proprietary learning applications and consulted for venture capitalist companies evaluating e-learning companies for potential investment and don’t possess an Instructional Design Degree but have 3 other degrees and have written content, white papers, etc., on the topic.

A degree is a “foot-in-the-door” thanks to the training we’ve all been exposed too – degree = ability + expertise (thank you universities and marketing departments).

As many responders have stated the formal training they’ve received has helped them and they have benefited from it and I agree it is a faster way to get the knowledge than through self study and or real world experience.

The situation is those hiring ID or E-Learning staff commonly overly rely on a degree as evidence of skill / expertise. If you are coming from a different discipline or are self taught with a lot of “real world” experience you tend not get the same respect as those with specific degrees unless you understand how to market yourself.

E-Learning Content Creators are different from Instructional Designers. Think of the difference like this; Instructional Designers are the bun and E-Learning Content creators are the meat of the knowledge snack.

I also would like to echo my thanks to you for your expertise and willingness to share with the rest of us.


September 18th, 2013

What a disheartening message. I have come to expect the masses to show contempt for what it takes to become an effective educator, but I’m sincerely surprised and dismayed to see it show up here.

Implying (if not openly stating) that the value of an education is to make oneself marketable but that it is otherwise irrelevant outside of possibly lending perspective and confirming skills one already has is patently absurd. Is there seriously a debate here? No one would condone using a doctor, plumber, or accountant who had established their career by reading online articles, attending workshops, and just practicing. To suggest that it’s acceptable to become an educator through those methods shows incredible disrespect both for the art of instruction and for accomplished educators.

The Instructional Design profession is already badly diluted by people who struggle just to identify valid learning objectives (the cornerstone of our craft), let alone to design materials to truly support those objectives and mechanisms for assessing success. These are *difficult* skills that take serious study to acquire …period. I see *far* too many instances of people who have acquired the title “Instructional Designer” and are rapidly grinding out CBTs that fail to address actual training needs. This dilution of our profession makes it difficult for the accomplished, seasoned professionals among us to demonstrate to clients what we truly have to offer.

I’m not saying that a degree guarantees success, nor am I overlooking some uncommon but truly talented individuals who are able to find less-formal ways to grow that talent (although commonly by working alongside experienced IDs). But I *am* saying that Instructional Designers need formal exposure to the basics of education. Experience with graphic design, educational technology, multimedia development, communications, technical writing, etc. have value, but don’t mistake those for training in Instructional Design. To state “No, you don’t need a degree … but you need to know how to design a good course” is to talk out of both sides of your mouth. This post strikes me as naked disrespect for education, and leaves me not only discouraged for our profession, but—-frankly–offended.

@mark: I appreciate your feedback and perspective. I agree that there are a lot of people who are “instructional designers” who don’t have the skills. I assume many of them had some sort of formal education because most jobs require it.

Getting to your point. You raise some valid concerns, however I think contempt is a strong word. The question I’m asked by those who build courses if they should go out and get an ID degree. I tried to frame it in a balanced way showing some pros/cons.

It’s assumptive to say that knowing how to design a good course requires a degree. Knowing how to design a good course requires an understanding of instructional design. Understanding instructional design (and applying it to the courses designed) does not require that the ID acquired that understanding in a formal academic setting. Where they acquired the skills is irrelevant as long as they can demonstrate using them. Does that mean getting a degree is bad? No. But it also doesn’t mean getting a degree is going to help the person build a better course.

Interesting discussion but Id like to throw in some questions that have been worrying me since I recently entered into the realms of education where all learning has been designed (I was previously only in tertiary sector).
Because I have not had previous experience with this type of super-controlled learning environment I find it quite challenging to my educational philosophy. I also currently have to complete one of these types of training programs, and I look at the program with complete dismay. I can barely make myself read through the detailed (anal retentive?), exhaustive list of chores I must work through in order to achieve competency. I have been a learner all my life and despite several degrees am mostly self taught (especially with regard to my digital skills). This course is going to be torture for someone like me. So I guess I am throwing out the question – why is it just assumed that if an instructional designer has set up the course that this is a good thing?
From where I stand, initiative, adventure, outside the box thinking and the joy of discovering the next step in the learning process have been sacrificed for certainty of end result. The course I have to do will be tedious almost beyond endurance. This style of teaching saps any joy in the learning process so far as I can see.
What am I missing?

Hi Tom,

This was an interesting and very commonly asked question as I have experienced in my career of 8 years as well. Elearning professionals builiding excellent courses and having no education in instructional design but very good understanding of creating courses/information designs as per the end user and client requirements. They have asked me…What extra do you guys with ID degree know that we dont know? and how differently will you desgin a course from what we design?..well….I would say….the degree curriculum gives you a structured and formal education in this field jsut like a management degrre or any other education gives. And above all….it is a compettive advantage and corporate qualifier for the career to bloom and start off!

September 19th, 2013


In your response to Mark Durkin, you state “Does that mean getting a degree is bad? No. But it also doesn’t mean getting a degree is going to help the person build a better course.” This is where I strongly disagree. Assuming the person doesn’t already have a degree in an education related field, getting a degree can only help them build better courses, assuming they pursue a quality degree in a related field. The formal study of instructional design through a degree program will give them a background in learning theory, as well as the basic principles of good course design. They will be exposed to the building blocks of instructional design such as Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction, which a large number of people in the profession have no exposure to.

I am not opposed to informal learning, and think there is a wealth of information out there that will help people become better instructional designers. The issue is that there is also a large amount of mis-information and just plain bad information that is also available. Without some kind of guidance, it can be difficult to sort through all of this information. I have seen “instructional designers” with more than 10 years experience who have difficulty designing good courses because they have been exposed, through informal learning, to all kinds of nonsense that has no factual basis. They haven’t had the proper guidance to help them sort out the useful from the nonsense. For example, a former colleague of mine designed courses based on the notion that people learn best in 3s, so all information was organized in groups of 3s and/or repeated 3 times. A better understanding of adult learning and instructional design principles would have helped the numerous learners taking courses that she designed.

While a degree doesn’t automatically make someone a good instructional designer (nothing can guarantee that), a degree does give someone the basic foundational knowledge to help them make sense of their experiences and sift through the large volume of information available with a critical eye so that they can better incorporate that information into their work.

There should be a distinction made between “Degree” and “Formal Education.” I have no degree. In anything, from anywhere. I attended college for 3 years but ran out of money and didn’t graduate. Then I started working in the corporate world and eventually ended up in training. What I DO have, though, is some formal instructional design education. I have completed 3 separate certificate programs that have taught me the stuff I need to know, and completed every training offered by the various technical resources. A 4 year degree in ID would have taught me the same information, maybe.
And yet, even with no degree, I have a very strong portfolio of work that has kept headhunters and HR types in constant pursuit. In my previous life in management, I had people with honors degrees from prestigious colleges who couldn’t do the job as well as the guy who worked as a teller with no degree. Like everything else, it is subjective. Some may get a great deal of worth from a degree, while others may not. What matters at the end of the day is not what pieces of paper I have hanging on my wall (or not) but what kind of work I produce. Just learning as I go would have not yielded the same professional results for me, so I definitely recommend that people in ID pursue additional educational opportunities, whatever they may be.

September 19th, 2013


I’m an instructional systems designer with advanced degrees and 20-years experience. When I first saw your article I was pissed off! However, being an educated man I read your article and even skimmed through the responses. I actually agree with part of your premise but I also disagree too; you need to be VERY CAREFUL how you package your message to those in our field. Yes, the degree gets you “in the door” but it also lays a very important foundation in learning theory, ISD process, evaluation, etc.,(you get my point I’m sure) that prepares you for the “workplace”. It provides you the “framework” and credibility to practice (apply) your skills. Without this foundation YOU WILL struggle because you have know point of reference to apply sound ISD principles. I work with some folks that were hired without a degree in design, and boy are they lost. They don’t know “how” to facilitate design meetings (this is a very tough skill to master), they don’t know “how” to perform test item analysis, and they don’t know “how” to write training objectives correctly. They don’t even know who Bloom, Kirkpatrick, or Gronlund are nor do really understand why they should. Bottom line: The degree is necessary, but the “experience” (which is what I think your point is really) is critical to becoming an effective ISD. Please don’t discount the degree as only a “ticket to get in”. It is necessary!

September 21st, 2013

I hold two grad degrees – workplace adult/learning and instructional design/performance technology. In my context (Western Canada)there are few if any qualifications needed for “instructional designers” – a term rarely used, with no local programs in that area. An undergrad degree seems like a pre-requisite but is by know means a requirement. Some of the wealthiest of people in L&D own e-learning companies that may or may not be producing quality courses. The notion that anyone can develop or deliver training (online or F2F), is true. But that does not mean it will be designed effectively to promote learning, retention or application. (Then again, some high qualified people in the field may not be producing excellent courses themselves.)

I fully appreciate that most adult learning is informal/on-the-job and that learning best practices or what works, is of immense value. Pursuing a related formal designation/certification provides a person with at least a foundation or the minimal requirements, to make decisions based on best practice.

Has my education made a difference in income? status? Not in my context, though I suspect things would be quite different, if I lived somewhere where ID was a well-known term, or if I lived in a region with more people in the field developing e-learning/training for more large corporations.

The best advice: learn all that you can in the field (any means) to be the best IDer that you can be, and get the best results for clients. I recommend pursuing at least a certificate/designation, diploma or undergrad degree in the field, for foundational knowledge. In larger, ID-savvy centers, it aids employability.

Frequently, I have to complete mandatory or compliance training designed by someone who has no idea how to develop these modules. Some of these training modules cover very important and serious topics and the outcome is less than optimal. I’d like to see an end to this kind of incompetence. So, maybe a requirement for a degree or at least a certification would be a step in the right direction.

That being said, I have managed to learn a lot about instructional design on my own. But, it has been mostly trial and error and the learning curve has taken too much time. I have not had the benefit of industry best practices, nor have I been able to join a community of practice by working solo. So, I would say a degree or certification program would shortcut the learning process, provide a source of reliable reviewers and help develop a group of colleague who would be a professional network.

September 22nd, 2013

I agree with Kim Lorek’s comment regarding the need for Project Management training in a formal program of studies.

My opinion – get a recongized formal education backed by relevant industry experience.

I have an English degree (grammar granny) If you can’t write, spell and punctuate, you look like an amateur.

I have an Education degree – the experience must be relevant, in context with real life (experiential), have engaging activities (Here is where the e-learning world has not advanced quickly enough and where, I believe, the Tin Can api will improve what many do outside of the PPT frames – by gathering multimedia and other links and real life experience into the evaluation of performance and behaviour modifications) and feedback on learning through conversations with others within a shared community of practice. Mentoring, Monitoring and designing distributed / iterative learning requires knowledge of how to build learning that is continuous and progressive. We need to know where people are on a learning scale and give and let people advance as individuals.

I also use simulation in training – properly designed simulation requires specific knowledge of how to present materials in a precise order. 3D graphics are proven to increase learning acquisition. Check the credible research to back up that claim!

I have a Masters in Communications and Technology – perhaps a bit too academic in the foundational programs, but an amazing introduction into a vast array of fields of study and specialization. I happen to believe that the academic approach to master’s research – thesis-based or project-based, still lacks the collaboration needed in real life. I’d like to see a Master’s degree based on a team managing, bulding and executing projects – more realistic of what it is on the ground.‎

I also took a Strategic Communications certificate program through Ithaca College – very doable online with a great business foundation. If one doesn’t understand the theory behind a corporation’s Vision, Mission, Goals, KPI’s, Balanced Scorecards all the way down to each required compentency, how can one properly design instruction that is relevant to each individual’s performance? This Ithaca College Course is recognized by the International Association of Business Communicators towards IABC professional designation.

And, finally, my education is my global currency. Without a degree, you are ok if you stay where you are, but if you want mobility, you’d better have the passports to get you to other places. My Master’s is my passport.

My only other advise is to thoroughly research the programs and to ensure that the program is internationally recognized and accredited. Many online programs are not recognized. Also, make sure that any courses you do take will map to a degree or professionally recognized program of studies and professional designation.

Anyone that thinks a degree is needed to be a good designer should read Dragon Slaying and the Curriculum by Roger Schank. I think what should be important and is increasingly ignored among all the technology tools is experience teaching or training adults. Also acknowledging that design is an art as well as a science. Some people with PhD in the field cannot design at all and others sans degrees have an instinctive ability to understand how people access and absorb material.

I don’t think you need a degree on paper to design a course. That said, I also don’t think you can just take anyone off the street and have then design a course.

Most of the people who I know who are in a role of instructional designer but who didn’t get a degree in instructional design were introduced to their position gradually. They began as a subject-matter expert, technical writer, graphic artist who was assigned to work as a member of a training team. They were exposed to the process of creating a course and gradually took on more responsibility as an instructional designer. Their on the job training was much like attending a course for a degree program. Many are interested in the industry and will read blogs, articles, and other sources to continue their education. While they lack a formal degree, it is quite possible to become a productive member of a team and gain the skills needed.

I am more concerned about the comments that the various degree programs don’t provide value to the typical instructional designer. Now, maybe these people have been designers for years and already have figured out the basics (see above about why you may not need the degree) but if they were a traditional college student who happened to pick instructional design much like one might pick biology as a college major, the reaction to the classes may be totally different. The question to ask them is if the degree program helped prepare them for their job or not.

I’ve been in the training field since 2002. At that time, I had only a bachelors in business. Once I decided I’d stay in the training field, I felt the need to get an advanced degree in Instructional design to make myself more marketable in the field (Masters in Education-Instructional Technology. It worked! I make 3 times more than I made when I started out (and I made a pretty nice salary then), and it’s primarily because I was able to apply for high salary positions that required a masters degree in Instructional Design or similar. So, understand and recognize that the HR/filtering system is still very much a standard with a lot of companies. Any way of getting aroung it with an advanced degree in addition to instructional design “experience” is golden! I have never regretted my decision to get a masters once. It was worth every dime. Once your student loans are paid, they’re paid forever. Your salary lasts the rest of your career…and I’m still young. My advice, go for it! Especially if you’re an individual that knows how to “work” your degree. Not everybody can. Most ppl who encourage ppl to not go to college are ppl that are sitting on their degrees and have no idea how to apply it towards a career.

Because of this article, I have started inquiring about the requirements for a Masters. I have learned that it is something my company values and will, through tuition reimbursement, pay for my entire post-education. I am excited to move forward and start taking classes, hopefully next year. It will take me about four years to complete, but the experience and future earning potential are going to be well worth the effort, I hope!

The degree helped me define and ramp up my existing skills, which I acquired w/ a mentor on the job. I was able to explain and examine the work that I did on a completely new level. I had the experience and then went for the degree to bring it all together and it allowed me to be taken seriously when I went for a new job. The degree was a requirement, which got me to better pay.

In my case I went for the MS in education w/ a specialty in ID for online, which was a perfect fit for me as I had a lot of the experience down.

If you don’t have the degree, you may not be taken seriously on paper. I say this having sat on search committees and couldn’t see the connection from the resume to the job position being filled. The degree stands out first and then I look for the experience. You can’t fake being an ID im. It is easier for a eL developer to get a job w/o a specific degree in my experience.

I don’t have a degree. I have worked my way up and having held the position I am now creating content for really helps. That and the rapid e-learning blog. 🙂

Whilst I agree that formal qualifications are important and are often asked for by employers, first hand practical experience is essential.

In Australia, prospective employers typically ask to see a portfolio of work and discuss the success of programmes implemented.

In Australia, we are required to hold an education degree relevant to the education sector we are working in. We have three formal sectors: K-12 (broken down into three degrees: Kinder, Primary and Secondary Education), Vocational Education and Training (VET) and Higher ED.

All quals take a broad approach to instructional design and additional “skill sets” (made up of Units of Competency or Higher Education Subjects) are available for specialty design areas (one of which is eLearning).

I don’t believe that you need an instructional design degree to write good courseware – but do agree that you need both a practical and theoretical understanding of learning concepts relevant to the education sector that you are writing for.

I do hold a Secondary Education qualification and mulitple VET quals (including an instructional design qual and skill sets) – but what got me the job every time was my provable practical experience.

From an Australian perspective, it is interesting to see that some models are still taught in other countries as ‘design models’ – in particular ‘ADDIE’. Over here, that model is considered more of a project plan and is largely viewed (at least in the VET sector) as out of touch. ADDIE was pretty common about 20 years ago (showing my age here), but we tend to use different models over here. Interestingly, a lot of Tom’s theory posts reflect our models!

For my money, as an educator – I firmly believe in education. However, I believe that education comes in many forms and formal degrees are just one.

If you want to know how to write good eLearning, I agree that you need an understanding of project management, your education sector, your intended audience, learning theory and how to use tools to build your courseware.

But back to Tom’s fundamental question – do you need an instructional design degree to build a good eLearn course? Not necessarily.

Also, nearly fell off my chair when I saw the costings of US degrees… Ouch!!!!

For those in Australia, Yum Productions does an excellent Dip TAE Skill Set in eLearning and a number of excellent design short courses.

I use to work in a helpdesk department and then an opening came up for an elearning developer. I didn’t have the background but I had a passion for design and I had the right attitude that my employer would invest in the knowledge gaps.

I worked with instructional designers to design and develop content and I indirectly learned what went into designing courses, good design etc. After 6 years in a developer/LMS support role, an opportunity came up to be a designer in another company. All I had was my six years of experience and a few portfolio pieces.

Fortunately enough I had a friend who knew someone in HR who at least got me to the interview process where I showed enough that the company was willing to give me a chance. I do plan on pursuing more formal education but building your COI and have a strong portfolio were factors in finding work in the field.

Having a strong portfolio, network of people who believe in your work and right attitude are the keys to success. I definately feel blessed to have thrived in this field for so long and hopefully my journey as the underdog will encourage others in a similar situation.

Ultimately, it depends on what you mean by “need.” In the U.S., it appears that you need a master’s degree to get by (through?) the HR people, but you need a portfolio to demonstrate your competency to an interview committee. People mentioned the importance of networking. In any industry, networking can’t hurt. I think when it comes to portfolios, they should be “living, breathing” compositions of your work.

I was wondering if the issue of lack of baccalaureate degrees would come up in this discussion. I did some investigation into this 3 or 4 years ago and found an article on the ‘net titled Meeting Market Demand for Bachelor-level Instructional Designers. ID is not the only field to lack bachelor’s level offerings. Library science is another example. Interestingly, it is the for-profit colleges currently that are only offering bachelor’s in ID. I also found in my research only one non-profit college offers an associate degree in ID if they even still do. Non-profits only offering master’s degrees seems to reflect two possible beliefs 1. They sincerely believe you need 6 years of post-secondary education to perform professional level work (and be a professional (as in a noun)?) or 2. They want to earn more money off of the students pursuing this field as graduate tuition is higher than undergraduate tuition.

Two things come to mind as I read the conversations this topic has created. First, I believe it was Mark Twain who said he never let his schooling interfere with his education. My undergrad is in psychology specifically learning and cognition and my grad work is comprised of degrees in instructional design (ID) for on-line learning and in ID & performance technology (improvement).

All of my degrees helped me fully understand what I had been doing as a curriculum designer for 10+ years in the Marines. This leads to my second observation; its not what you know or who you know, its who you know knowing what you know. Having all the experience or educational does no good unless your current or future employer knows the value of both, especially in combination. The degree is the easiest for a lay person in management to rely on for likelihood of expertise but its easy to argue that education does not equal intelligence or ability.

I believe in the short term with a lot of passion, a little reading and the right software, good training can be developed but the long view will require a wider and deeper knowledge for an organizations success. Besides, training is frequently one of the more costly and time consuming aspects for organizational improvement but that’s another conversation…

I enjoy working with graphics and layouts but I am not the creative design type but I am an enthusiastic cert iv qualified trainer here in Australia and after completing the Master Elearning course with BOnline Learning I have found that the Instructional Design component has expanded my thinking on how to design and present learning.

I’m not sure where people are getting their numbers for the cost of a degree in instructional design. There are many very good online masters’ programs that cost less than $16,000 which is cheaper than a cheap car. From what I’ve seen the costs run from $11,000 to $40,000 depending on the program and the $40,000 programs often don’t seem to give you much more for the money.

I am new to the education and learning industry. I live in South Africa and I am considering persuing a degree in Instructional Design, however I work full time. Any insight as to what institution I should study through?
Thank you

@John: there are some good programs. Many schools in the US offer certification programs that can be applied to BA or MA credits. In Washington state they have a certificate that is very good that only lasts a year. Not too long and not too expensive so a good investment if you’re not sure about long term career. I’m sure other states have similar programs. I’m not sure about international programs, though.