Pros and Cons of an Instructional Design Specialist Career
Instructional design specialists typically work in schools to help design curriculum or training materials for teachers as well as assist in stream-lining classroom procedures (including the introduction of technology in education). When considering this career path, take a moment to consider the following pros and cons:
|Pros of an Instructional Design Specialist Career|
|High job-growth field (as fast as average; 7% between 2014-2024)*|
|Opportunity to improve schools by observing teaching staff**|
|Many specialization options in subject areas*|
|Improve students' learning by developing new teaching techniques**|
|Cons of an Instructional Design Specialist Career|
|Master's degree in education or curriculum development often required*|
|Work long hours and over the summer*|
|Stressful due to being held accountable for the changes*|
|Requires ongoing education to remain current with trends*|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O*NET OnLine.
Job Description and Duties
Instructional design specialists are sometimes referred to as instructional coordinators or instructional designers. These specialists handle a variety of education-related reforms and updates, which can range from teaching techniques to incorporating technology into the classroom. Most instructional design specialists evaluate schools' current curricula, including textbooks and other teaching materials, for effectiveness. However, companies and education-based publishers also hire instructional design specialists to evaluate their training and e-learning programs.
In recent years, instructional design specialists have been looking for ways to use technology as a teaching tool, according to InstructionalDesign.org, the website of the deputy director of the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Educational Technology. As a result, specialists should be familiar with ways that technology can be used to teach students in classroom settings. Instructional design specialists might instruct teachers on how to create websites for their classes, use video editing software for student projects, and incorporate tablet computers during instruction. When working with teaching professionals to develop and improve their performance, specialists develop workshops, presentations and training procedures. They may also conduct research in the field to find out what changes need to be made in the curriculum.
Career Prospects and Salary
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), this field is expected to grow by 7% between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). Salaries are likely to vary based on state and district budgets. For instance, as of May 2014, instructional coordinators living in Washington, DC earned an average salary of about $82,530, while coordinators residing in Colorado earned an average of about $70,730.
What Are the Requirements?
Typically, instructional designers have a master's degree in the education field. In fact, according to O*Net OnLine (a website supported by the U.S. Department of Labor), 65% of professionals had a master's degree in the field as of 2013. Only 26% held just a bachelor's degree (www.onetonline.org).
According to the BLS, those wanting to become instructional design specialists usually need teaching experience in a specific subject area, such as math, history or English. The requirements for teaching licensure vary from state to state; however, common requirements include at least a bachelor's degree, field experience and licensure testing. Furthermore, each state has its own requirements for license renewal. In many states, individuals must attain continuing professional development credentials through graduate-level classes.
Top Skills for Instructional Design Specialists
Instructional design specialists evaluate, train and mentor professionals in the education field, which includes teachers and administrators. InstructionalDesign.org reports that instructional designers analyze curricula based on how well the assessments match up with the course objectives. Among the skills you will need in this field are:
- Strong teaching skills
- Social and communication skills
- Technical skills
Job Postings from Real Employers
Because there are many education publishing industries, you might find employment as an instructional design specialist outside of a school setting. However, the education requirements remain largely the same. Below are examples of what some real employers were looking for in job postings during March 2012:
- A research institute in California looked for an instructional design specialist to evaluate its e-learning program. A bachelor's degree was required, along with 3 years of experience in instructional design.
- A Massachusetts-based education company advertised for an applicant who had experience in the classroom, a master's degree in education and the ability to travel.
- A university in Tennessee looked for an instructional design specialist who held a master's or doctoral degree and had experience in the field and knowledge of technology.
- A Massachusetts public school sought an instructional design specialist who held a master's degree and had teaching experience to help other educators incorporate technology into the curriculum.
How to Maximize Your Skills
Because technology plays such a prevalent role in an instructional designer's job, it can be beneficial to seek additional technology-related training. As indicated by job postings on Monster.com in March 2012, companies prefer instructional designers who have experience in e-learning environments as well as knowledge of specific programs like Illustrator and Fireworks.
Consider going to technology conferences, such as EdMedia, which is a world conference organized by the Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education. Similar conferences are offered by other organizations for educators at all levels. They allow educators to interact with cutting-edge technology and experience how it can be used in the classroom.
Other Fields to Consider
Human Resource Trainer
If you like the idea of training professionals, but you are more interested in a non-school setting, consider a career as a trainer in a human resources department. These training specialists and managers tend to work in corporate settings and help employees develop and improve their skill sets. In this field, the BLS says that a bachelor's degree in human resources, business or liberal arts is usually required. The BLS additionally reports that this field is expected to grow by 21% during the 2010-2020 decade. Although annual salaries will vary based on the employer, location and position, the median annual wage for a training specialist was approximately $59,000 as of May 2011.
If the school setting appeals to you but curriculum design doesn't, you might consider other leadership roles in the field of education, such as principal or assistant principal. Unlike instructional design specialists, principals and assistant principals do not have to travel. Instead, they spend all of their time in a single school or district.
They manage the finances, evaluate teachers, and develop a sense of community within a school. Across the country, principals' salaries averaged to about $87,000 in May 2010.