Instructional Design Degrees

Clive Shepherd and Cammy Bean asked late last week about how many instructional designers have a degree in ID and whether it matters. Cammy also has a survey about degrees, so if you’re an instructional designer and haven’t completed her survey yet, it’s still open as of today.

I’ve worked with people with instructional design degrees, but I think most have come to ID from some other related field (usually education or training). When I worked in a larger team at a previous job, it was interesting to find out how people had actually gotten into the field and what their degrees were actually in. I can’t remember everyone, but here’s what I do recall.

Among the instructional designers (a snapshot of one period in time):

  • Masters in Instructional Design, no prior ID experience
  • Masters in Organizational Development, prior ID experience
  • Masters in Creative Writing, high school teaching background, no prior ID experience
  • Bachelor in Recreational Science, training and ID experience
  • PhD in Computer Science, lots of technical experience, some college teaching
  • M.Div–not sure what her focus was in school, but some of her prior experience was in training, plus teaching during her missionary work

We had 2 other instructional designers at that point in time, but I don’t believe either had ID degrees. That’s 8 instructional designers, only one with an actual degree in ID. None of the managers (including project managers) had ID degrees either, although most had started as instructional designers and were promoted.

Manager degrees & experience:

  • Bachelor in information systems, some training experience
  • Masters in Math, teaching experience
  • Bachelor in IT, training experience
  • Masters in Education, HS teaching experience
  • Bachelor degree (can’t remember what–international studies?), training experience
  • Master in Performance Improvement (this included some ID courses)
  • Bachelor of Music Education, teaching and training experience (that’s me–I had no prior ID experience before this job)

This particular team may have been more eclectic than most, but I have seen more IDs who started in some other field and then switched to instructional design. Most people seem to do that route rather than going directly to the instructional design degree.

As Tracy Hamilton pointed out in her comment on Cammy’s post, degrees in ID seem to all be masters degrees (although I’ve seen lots of job posting for “bachelors in instructional design”–where are they finding that?). Tracy asks whether we really all need masters degrees and whether a certificate of some sort might be a better fit. I do think that the academic environment may care more about the degrees than corporate arena. Universities are also more likely to have firm requirements for the level of a degree, especially if it ties to their accreditation.

Clive has a great point about the importance of keeping current in the field and continually learning. I’d rather work with a lifelong learner with no degree than someone who has impeccable academic credentials but isn’t passionate about updating his or her own skills. For that particular team, we were less worried about specific design experience and more about people who could learn quickly and adapt to our expectations.

I’m curious what others out there have experienced. Do you look for ID degrees when you’re hiring, or for anything related to education/training/writing? I’ve also seen some unusual degrees (I admit to being surprised by recreational science myself). Anyone out there have a great story of a unique path to an instructional design career, starting with a non-obvious degree?

Update: Read all my posts about Instructional Design Careers here.

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14 thoughts on “Instructional Design Degrees”

  1. I am finishing my BA in Instructional Design through Ashford University’s online program. I chose Ashford specifically for the ID degree after working as a designer for the US Navy. From my experience, it’s rare to find a school which offers an undergraduate degree in ID. I am planning on pursuing my masters when complete, but in HR. I am hoping that would make me more marketable for corporate training/design positions. Any thoughts?

    1. An HR degree would give you more options, but in the broader HR field rather than in training or instructional design.

      Why not just apply for ID positions once you have your bachelor’s degree in ID? You have experience from the Navy, and you’ll have a degree. Assuming you have a portfolio, that should be enough to get an entry level ID position.

      If your long-term goal is to work up to a VP or CLO role, then a masters in HR makes more sense.

  2. Like many others in the field I stumbled upon this position. I currenly have an AS in Business Computer Systems and Management. I love the work I do but I’m having trouble finding a program to obtain a certificate. Most schools provide certificates to graduate students only. Any advice as to how and where I should start?

    1. The certificates are generally graduate level, so they do require a bachelor degree first.

      What about getting a bachelor degree in ID? There aren’t a lot of programs out there, but there are a few. You might find some more with some research.

      Any bachelor degree would qualify you for a grad certificate program, so you could also look for any bachelor program that would accept your associate degree as half of the requirements.

  3. I work in software development, as a Business Analyst but do not have a bachelors degree. I am in the process of a web design assoc. degree, which I will finish up in June.

    My thought is that since I have done quite a bit of training & training development over the years, that I could get my bachelors in Instructional Design. I think it’s a good ending to my degree beginning.

    I had thought maybe a Bachelors in Technology Management might be another option.

    In my current role as Business Analyst, I will write training docs for the software I am working on. It seems a degree in Instructional Design would both help me in my current work, and help me to go forward. What do you all think?


    1. What degree you decide really depends on which direction you want your career to take. If you want to stay more on the technical side of things, perhaps managing or customizing an LMS or online tools, then go with a technology degree. If you want to do more writing, including perhaps developing face-to-face training, go with an instructional design degree. The web design background helps either way, so it’s a matter of what you’d rather do in the future.

  4. Mustafa, can you please clarify your comment? I’m not sure I understand your question. Are you asking what qualifications an ID should have in Malaysia? If so, I have to admit I have no idea; I’ve only worked in the US.

  5. Inland Revenue Board of Malaysia is training centre for taxation subjects, ICT and international participants. We have Multimedia learning systems consisting of power points slides only.

    We are goint to develop eLearning contents, what are the qulaification of IDs, Graphical designers and programmers to develope the eleraning systems. In Malaysia, the government sectors does not accomodate these kind of expertise and thre are 5 universities which produce degree in IDs and Graf Desgnr

  6. Pingback: Multiple Paths to Instructional Design Careers « Experiencing E-Learning

  7. Cammy-

    The storyboard exercise was actually something where candidates had a few days to complete it. It was sort of a “gate” between the first and second interviews. We did have an interview question that was specifically about spontaneous creativity though. I talked about it in the eLearning Guild forums a while back, and it was quoted by Jeff at Caddickisms. It was a fun interview question, and you really did get to see how people dealt with instructional challenges.

    As a side note, that eLearning Guild discussion was about the use of storytelling in ID. One person commented that her team had been hiring people with English, creative writing, and drama backgrounds because they “got” the creative storytelling aspect.


    You’re right, that’s a unique path. You’re the first ID I’ve known with a history/poli sci degree. You’ve obviously had a lot of training and teaching experience though, and that background is all relevant for your current ID work.

    I’m curious; do you feel like getting the formal master’s degree was beneficial for your learning, or was the learning something you could have done on your own if you didn’t need the diploma?

  8. I am one of those unique cases, I have a Bachelor’s in History/Political Science. Spent 20+ years in hotel food and beverage operations management (the last 5 years in that career I was in training with responsibility for over 1000 employees). From there, I moved to teaching Hotel/Restaurant Management at a community college, served as Director of Career Placement while working on a Master’s in Education with a Distance Learning focus and I’m now the sole Instructional Designer for our school along with being the online course management back up Sys admin.

  9. That’s an interesting interviewing technique. I like it. Creativity on the spot!

    I work with someone who is getting his ID Master’s Degree at UMassBoston right now (he’s a programmer looking to make the leap). The program folks there urge people to first go for the certificate and then decide later if they want to get the full Master’s. So what’s that tell you?

    Myself, I’m on the informal M.Ed track, feeling like you that I’m learning so much just putting myself out here in the ‘sphere and trying to soak it all up…(coupled with the fact that I just don’t have the time or energy to go back to school right now).

  10. The music one on the survey is probably me (unless you had 2 people with music degrees). Good writing skills is definitely important.

    For that team, the hiring process after the first interview included having them create a storyboard for an interactive practice. Even people with teaching experience (but no prior ID or e-learning experience) could often figure out how to do a storyboard in PowerPoint when given an example. Much of what we were looking for there was a focus on scenarios and storytelling; people who did pageturners with a handful of abstract multiple choice questions didn’t get hired. We saw some really terrible storyboards from people who didn’t get the concept at all. The storyboard exercise was a better judge of how people would do on the job than their degree.

    I’d been planning on getting my masters degree in instructional design. Now I’m not as sure that I need it. To some extent, I feel like I’m learning so much just reading and participating in the blogosphere that I’m already doing a lot to keep my skills fresh. Tracy’s idea of a certificate might be more in line with what I need. Right now I’m just going to wait and see; maybe at some point later a masters degree will feel more necessary.

    I’m looking forward to seeing your survey results. Hopefully you’ll get a few more responses. Thanks for the preview of what you’re seeing!

  11. Your experience bears out with what I’m seeing so far in the survey results. Of 15 instructional designers who have responded, only two have an actual degree (Masters) in the field (one in ID, the other in Educational Technology — which is pretty close). Everyone else: English majors, accounting, music, industrial relations. We’re all over the map.

    We’ve turned down folks applying for ID jobs who have a masters in ID but no experience. We’ll take experience over degree. And good writing skills (thus all the English majors, I suppose….)

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