Instructional Design Certificate or Masters Degree

A reader sent me this question:

I’m very seriously considering a career change into ID.  (I’ve spent 20 years in various business assignments with the last 8 in IT.) I’m involved in teaching extra-curricular activities to kids and adults in my community.  I very fulfilled when I’m teaching and I’ve come to the conclusion that I want to follow this as a career path.  Having said this, I’m exploring a master’s degree in ID.

I was hoping you would give me your opinion on the topic of graduate certificate vs MS degree.  I’ve narrowed my search down to 2 schools.  1 school offers a grad cert along the way to getting an MS degree while the other is the MS degree on its own.

So the question is… would employers have value someone who has a lot of business experience (including facilitation skills) and only the grad cert or is the MS degree the minimum requirement.  What is your opinion?  (I realize this is going to depend on the company.)

Where Will You Learn More?

My answer is that you should do the one where you think you will learn more. A certificate from a great program is probably more valuable than a masters degree from a mediocre program (although I expect your choice isn’t as black and white as that). Which program looks more interesting and personally motivating for you?

Portfolios and Practical Experience

One measure of where you’ll learn more is whether or not the program helps you build a portfolio. A certificate program that provides opportunities to gain practical experience, creating realistic samples that could be used in a portfolio would be preferred to a theory-only masters program. If the program doesn’t explicitly help you assemble a portfolio, creating course samples is important. Your work shouldn’t all be academic essays and discussions.

Regardless of your formal credentials, you will need a portfolio.

Flexibility for a Masters Later

Some certificate program provide the flexibility of continuing on for the masters later. So, if you do the certificate and you really feel like you’re learning a lot and would continue to learn more, you could do the second half of the program and do the masters too.

Masters Preferred in Higher Ed

In corporate environments, many hiring managers are much more interested in your portfolio than your formal training. A certificate is likely to open about as many doors as a masters degree with those managers. A masters might be preferred, but not required.

In higher education, a masters degree is much more likely to be a firm requirement. The formal credentials are important if you want to work in a university environment rather than in workplace training.

Available Programs

Scott Winstead has collected a list of online instructional design certificate programs, including tuition costs when available.

Connie Malamed maintains an extensive list of both certificate and degree programs on her site.

What do you think?

So that’s my perspective, as someone without either a certificate or a masters. What do you think? Would you look at a certificate differently from a masters when hiring? Do you think a masters provides a better learning experience? Would you argue for a certificate or masters in certain situations, but not others?

Originally published November 6, 2008. Last updated May 30, 2019.

91 thoughts on “Instructional Design Certificate or Masters Degree”

  1. Pingback: How to Become an Instructional Designer: The Ultimate Resource List - Scissortail Creative Services, LLC

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  3. Thank you Christy for this excellent blog. I stumbled across it and I found it to be so relevant. I have some teaching experience in K-12 but my goal is to become a Cooperate Instructional Designer. I was deliberating for a while about doing a Masters and eventually chose to go for it. I am going through Boise State University, which is geared to cooperate ID and has a very strong focus on portfolio building. I haven’t started the program but I am so far, very impressed with the course offerings. The main reason I chose to do it is to motivate me to get my portfolio done. Although it seems like a pricey investment, I have found it very hard to create a strong portfolio without real projects to work on. I guess technically I can do the same thing through a certificate but I don’t have a Master’s yet and I really want to get one. The program does offer certificates so technically, I don’t need to finish the full Master’s program if I find that I am job ready without the full program. I am doing an ID internship as well which I will include in my portfolio. I currently work in Social Media Management where I develop social media content for businesses. I was wondering if there is any way to leverage that experience while job searching. Thanks again for such an awesome blog.

    1. I have heard good reviews of the Boise State program. If you have used the free resources and are still struggling to create a portfolio, then the investment of time and money for a more structured program makes sense.

      I think your social media experience might be relevant in your job search if you approach it as knowing how to communicate in a concise format and being fluent in technology. You could also talk about how that social media experience helped you improve your graphic design or multimedia skills.

      You might also look into some of the ways people use text messages for elearning with tools like Arist, or at other microlearning tools like 7taps. Those sorts of microlearning approaches might be more similar to to your current social media work.

  4. Pingback: Podcast: Instructional Design Certificate or Master's Degree - Experiencing eLearning

  5. Christy, thanks for raising this question! I just wrote an overview of available ID certificate programs and added this question as a postscript survey Hope you don’t mind. With many years of relevant experience, I don’t have a Master’s in Education or Instructional Design either. This fact has never caused any issues during my career, but I thought it might be interesting to spot any mindset changes in this regard.

  6. Christy, I know your post is older, but it’s still relevant for me. I have a Bachelors in elementary ed and a Masters, and on top of that I have a Rank I certification (where I went through a thorough process of becoming a National Board Certified Teacher.) I am following a former colleague’s advice who left the education world to become an instructional designer. I am a motivated learner, have watched tutorials and practiced along, downloaded the free trial of Storyline 2 (before I commit to paying for the program by myself!) And I’m reading and learning more everyday about instructional design. Since I already have above a Masters albeit in another area, do you recommend going the certificate route or another Masters? I really don’t want to spend gobs of money…again…and time on another Masters degree or go further and get a Ph.D. I read one of your comments stating how a Ph.D. would sort of be overkill for a newbie. My former colleague says I don’t even need a certificate; that as a teacher, I’ve designed curriculum and have pretty much done everything expected as an instructional designer (she is one now doing very well.) Thank you for any help!

    1. Your colleague is correct that you don’t need a certificate, but it may be easier to break into the field if you have one. You only need to do a masters or doctorate if you’re personally motivated to do one, which it sounds like isn’t the case.

      Teaching experience plus a fantastic online portfolio is probably enough. You’re doing all the things I recommend to people. Learning Storyline is a good plan, as is reading and learning about instructional design.

      Designers for Learning is planning to do another free online course this fall. That would give you both some formal training to put on your resume and some experience creating real materials that will be used by adult learners.

      1. Thank you so much for your reply! I really appreciate it, and your blog has been extremely helpful! Thanks again…

  7. Hi, Christy.
    I am currently a technical writer on a software development team. Since we are a small team, My chief role was to build online help systems, and .pdf guides for clients. But since our team is small, I’ve worn a few different hats over the years, and have intermediate experience in graphical design, and building web tutorials. I am looking to grow that skill set, and fully pursue a career in ID. I am stumped, however, on the education I should seek, and researching led me to your blog. I currently have a master’s degree in writing and literature, and a bachelor’s in English. I am wanting to fast track the educational side, and am wondering if it would be best to grab a quick certificate from ASTD, enroll in a master’s certification program or pursue the doctorate since I already have a master’s degree. I have also taught writing on the college level, and also have trained many clients both remotely and face-to-face. In sum, I have post-graduate education, experience in teaching & training, and technology skills. I’m just lacking the stamp of formal ID education. Do you think picking up something like the ASTD certificate would provide a sufficient amount of core theory to accompany my experience or to go ahead and enroll is something more course intensive?

    1. A doctorate would probably be overkill for an instructional design position. Many employers would be skeptical of someone with a PhD but no experience. You’d probably get screened out for being overqualified (or at least over-educated).

      My initial instinct is to recommend a graduate certificate. Many of those take less than a year to complete. However, since you’re a technical writer with experience teaching, you might be able to get enough with the ATD (formerly ASTD) Designing Learning certificate. I hardly ever recommend those short-term certifications; they just don’t have the same respect in the field as graduate certificates. The ATD program covers a lot of ground with foundational information, and it is a recognized name; it’s just not going to mean as much to prospective employers. (By the way, do not enroll in Langevin’s program. I’ve actually heard people say they flat out reject any candidates with that certification because it has such a poor reputation.)

      The short-term certifications also won’t help you with a portfolio. ATD’s program should at least give you one example, which is helpful as a starting point.

      You won’t get the same kind of networking or assistance from a career center with a short term program, but I don’t think those are as much of a barrier to someone with your experience.

      You also have to weigh the difference in cost. ATD’s Designing Learning certificate is $1500 for members. UW-Stout’s ID certificate is about $5000. Is the 3 days of learning through ATD a good value in comparison to what you’ll learn in 8 months at UW-Stout? No matter how good the ATD program is, you’ll learn a lot more at UW-Stout for about 3 times the cost.

      Bottom line, your experience is strong enough to get away with the short term certificate through ATD, especially if you build a portfolio and spend a lot of time continuously learning on your own. Your skills will be stronger if you do a graduate certificate though.

  8. Janet DiVincenzo

    I’d like to throw my two cents in.

    I am one of the instructors for the fully online Elearning Instructional Design certificate program at the University of California-Irvine Extension. This program has been around for a little over two years. We offer a six-course curriculum. No GRE is required. For more information, please see the website:

  9. Unfortunately, I’m old school, lots of experience on the print side of graphics, but a few years back forced myself to acclimate to the web side. I’m familiar with the basics of Flash, but not much beyond that. So, I’ll redirect my efforts elsewhere. Thanks for the advice.
    I purchased Design for How People Learn and have just finished reading it. Very interesting and informative. I think I will have to read it one or two more times to feel confident that I understand all the information presented in it.
    As I continue down my new career path, I’m sure I will be posting additional questions. Thanks for all your suggestions so far.

  10. Initially, I wanted to teach face-to-face classes (and have taught a couple), but I found that for full-time most institutes require a Masters (in fine arts or education). So, someone suggested the Online Teaching Masters Certificate. A couple of parts of the course cover Instructional Design (ADDIE) and yes, it is supposed to be based on a course teachers are already teaching or have taught. But, I am having to create my own. In the end, we are supposed to have our own complete course finished. But, we also have to build it as if someone else would be teaching it. So, I am not sure how valuable this would be to a resume directed to Instructional Design.
    I find I like the interaction with the other students during group projects, the planning of the course and the evaluating of current courses. My instructors have told me that I “promote critical thinking in the discussions more than anyone else in the class”. But, this may be because they are just wanting to pass and do not have the same expectations I do, since they are not risking a career change.
    The Adult Ed. Diploma course was suggested to me by a friend who was in HR, then completed the course and is now a corporate training director.
    And to top it off, I had this weird idea that I would be able to use my graphics experience more (create graphics for teachers, e-learning sites or online training programs), but now, I find it harder to see how that could work.
    To sum it up, I really am not sure what I’m trying to accomplish (maybe because I don’t understand what options are actually available).

    1. If you want to teach in a university, face-to-face or online, you’ll need at least a master’s degree. That’s a requirement of basically any regionally accredited college or university. There are exceptions sometimes; I’ve seen people with a BFA and 20 years experience allowed to teach BFA courses, for example. However, basically, you need to have a degree one level higher than what you’re teaching (master’s to teach bachelor’s, doctorate to teach master’s). The certificate plus your existing degree and experience might be enough to get you into one of the big for-profit universities (University of Phoenix, Art Institutes, etc.), but expect a lot of closed doors if you try for a traditional university, even one with online programs.

      If you wanted to use more of your graphic design experience, there are roles for multimedia developers in e-learning. I’m not sure about creating graphics for teachers (where would they be used?), but sometimes instructional designers work with graphic designers. An instructional designer might design an online course, write a script, and develop a storyboard; a multimedia developer might design the user interface, create custom graphics, and build the interactions and animation. The developer might use an e-learning tool like Captivate or Storyline, or he/she might use Flash or HTML5.

      Does the multimedia developer role sound more like what you’re interested in? Do you want to actually do the writing of a course, or do you mostly want to do the graphics and development?

      1. Thanks for the clarification, Christy. That’s what I needed.
        I have taken a hard look at the path I am trying to navigate.

        And after reading some of your other articles, I will certainly be adding to my technical skills. I know Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and Muse/Dreamweaver very well. But, it looks like I need to add Flash, Captivate, Storyline, and etc. I’ve also purchased Instructional Theories in Action and First Principles of Instruction.

        My plan is to one day write the courses. (I can live with not teaching them.) Right now, I would like to get my foot in the door by doing the graphics and/or development (preferably freelance). Do you think that is a viable path?


        1. If you don’t know Flash already, it probably isn’t worth the investment in time at this point. Flash use is decreasing in favor of HTML5. There will continue to be Flash development for several years to come, but it will take you a few years to really become a strong programmer. Sorry–I know a number of graphic designers with Flash experience, so I assumed you already were familiar with it.

          If you want to do elearning development, I’d focus on Captivate and Storyline as rapid development tools. If you can do HTML5, that’s also good, especially for mobile learning. There are definitely freelance jobs out there for developers. You’ll find it’s mostly corporate learning, not higher ed, but it would let you get your foot in the door.

          On the design side, I recommend Julie Dirksen’s Design for How People Learn as a foundation for understanding how to write courses.

  11. Hi Christy,
    I am a freelance graphic designer (with BFA in graphics and 20 years experience) currently enrolled in a Master of Online Teaching Certificate program. I have read your article regarding degree or certification, but I am wondering if I should look for more education, since I do not have an Education or English degree. I have considered enrolling in a program that offers an Adult Education diploma, but I am not sure if the course will open up more opportunities for me or not.
    Any thoughts?

    1. Are you hoping to work as an instructional designer or as an online instructor? Would you rather work in education or corporate learning? Without looking at the specifics of the programs, I’d guess that both the Online Teaching Certificate and the Adult Education diploma are more geared towards education environments and online teaching. Will either of those programs help you build a portfolio so you can show off your new skills?

      In your current Online Teaching program, is there any training on how to design courses? That will help you, although it may not be enough. Those programs tend to help teachers learn to design courses that they will teach themselves. They aren’t as good for helping instructional designers learn to design courses either for other people to teach or for self-paced learning.

  12. I’m a certified US Navy Instructor and Master Training Specialist trying to find a job, and I have to say, even with 15 years professional experience, it is becoming extremely frustrating. Education is a small problem, I only have an Associate’s in General Studies, but I have over a decade of experience as an instructor, as a curriculum designer and as a training manager. Anyone know if there is a certificate I can get that will add to my “hire-ability”?

    1. Do you have a portfolio? If not, I’d focus on that before getting a certificate.

      If you’re looking at government jobs, then you may have no choice but to go back to school for at least a bachelor’s degree and probably a master’s. In the corporate world, your 15 years of experience is more important than your degree, at least if you have a portfolio to demonstrate your skills.

      If you do want to pursue a certificate, check out UW-Stout, San Diego State University, and Bloomsburg University. Learning Solutions magazine published an article on picking the right program that lists several others.

  13. Hello,
    I came across your comment regarding a need for a masters degree/ certificate in order
    to apply for an Instructional Design position.
    Would you be able to list the top 7-10 charactertistic colleges look for when hiring
    an Instructional Designer? I have @ 11 years
    teaching experience in New York and maintain four New York State teaching certifications with a masters in Educational Computing . I am unsure of how to apply for
    a position as an Instructional Designer at the collegiate level of education. Any suggestions would be much appreciated. Thank you.

    1. Take a look at the job postings in your area and see what your local employers are looking for and what skills are most in demand. I like Indeed as a quick way to get a feel for the job market, since it aggregates listings from multiple sources.

      Understanding how people learn is critical, as are good writing and communication skills. Most jobs have some requirements for technology skills, although not every job. Having some skills with tools like Captivate or Storyline gives you more opportunities though. Writing good assessments that actually measure learning and knowing how to evaluate if your training is successful are also good skills.

      A portfolio is generally expected when you’re applying for instructional design positions. If you haven’t created one yet, that’s the place to start.

  14. Hi Christy, I am a teacher looking to transition into Instructional Design. I have over 7 years of teaching experience at the middle/elementary levels with a Masters in Business Administration and Masters in teaching. My teaching has also given me considerable exposure to training/PD for teachers, curriculum design in addition to lesson planning. I enjoy the planning and designing part and am especially enthusiastic about teachnology in the classroom. Can you please guide on how to enter the field of Instructional design? I am not looking for another Masters since I have 2 Master’s degrees but would be open to any online/certificate programs that can help me enter this field. I do not know how to develop/ gain experience in ID in order to build my portfolio to enter the field. Can you please give me guidance? How is the market for Instructional Designers in Houston, TX? Thanks in advance.

    1. I have written a number of posts on instructional design careers and how to get started in the field. If you haven’t read those posts yet, check them out. Instructional Design Experience Before Your First Job specifically gives some ideas on how to get experience and build your portfolio. You might also be able to use some examples of your teacher PD in your portfolio, especially if you’ve provided some technology training.

      For online certificate programs, check out San Diego State University, UW-Stout, Bloomsburg, and Indiana University. There are a number of others out there as well, but I hear those programs come up regularly. You might not actually need a certificate since you already have two masters degrees, but if you decide to go for the formal credentials, those programs are a good place to start your research.

      I’m not familiar with the market in Houston. I did a quick search for “instructional design” on Indeed and came up with over 150 results though, so it looks like there are opportunities.

  15. Hey Christy,
    I’m an RN with an AAS Degree and wanted to move into the Instructional Design career field. Although I saw the majority of posts speaking about a Master’s vs. certificate program, I wanted to let you know that Walden University now offers an online BS degree in ID and offers three different concentrations! To find the details, look under Bachelor’s degrees and then Education. With my experience teaching/training/orienting fellow nurses, do you think this would be enough, or should I also look towards the Master’s degree as well?
    By the way, I’m making a carrer change at 50 years old, so I don’t have LOTS of time. 😉

    1. You’re right that most people are looking at a masters or certificate. The majority of people I talk to who are looking to get into instructional design already have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in another area. Also, there aren’t that many bachelor’s degrees in ID; Walden is in the minority by offering one.

      Because you’re 50, I suspect that a masters degree would cost so much that you’d never make the cost of tuition back in increased income over the course of your career. I would go for the bachelor’s degree and then get a portfolio together. An internship or volunteer project would be good too. I think in your specific situation, you’ll benefit more from demonstrating that you have skills and experience than from getting the degree.

  16. Thanks for the advise, Christy.
    The Bloomsburg program does appeal to me, I plan to check out your other recommendations as well.
    Best TJ

  17. Wow, so glad I stumbled upon this blog.
    so much valuable information, thanks!

    A bit about me, I’ve recently become interested in branching into ID.
    and have been searching around for certificate programs online to see what might help me break into the field.

    Thing is, I have a background in graphic design (15+ years) and a masters in multimedia. Additionally I have been teaching as an adjunct instructor for a private university for the last 10 years and have a lot of experience putting together curriculum. With my background, I feel I may already be well positioned to break into ID, but feel like I am lacking the theoretical knowledge required.

    Also, job listings all seem to want prior experience as an ID, and I am not sure how to break into the field without the certificate. Any thoughts?

    1. PS, has anyone heard anything about full Sail’s Education Media Design & Technology or heard of similar programs? It is definitely overpriced, but I was attracted to some of the course offerings like “Game Strategies and Motivation”

      1. I agree with you about needing some more of the theoretical background. You probably can do a certificate program rather than a full masters degree, especially if you already have another masters.

        I have heard of Full Sail, but I don’t know much about it. It is nationally accredited rather than regionally accredited, which is not a factor in its favor. Traditional universities are regionally accredited; national accreditation is used by vocational schools and religious schools who don’t qualify for regular accreditation. The program may be good, but I don’t think it has the respect of even a program through a regionally accredited university like University of Phoenix. It’s much less respected than an online certificate through a traditional university like Indiana University, San Diego State University, or even UW-Stout. If you’re specifically looking for some game and simulation design courses, check out Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania.

        If you don’t want to pursue a certificate, definitely plan to spend a lot of time reading and researching on your own. There’s lots of great resources out there, so I do believe this is a viable option (although others will disagree with me).

        As for experience, check out my post on Instructional Design Experience Before Your First Job for some ideas on how to break into the field.

  18. Hello all! Wondering what the difference is between Master of Science in Educational Technology and the Masters in Educationak Technology?

    1. Honestly, without looking at the specific programs, I couldn’t tell you. One is probably out of an education department and the other is out of somewhere else–IT, engineering, psychology… I’d guess that the Masters of Science might have a bit heavier technology program, potentially including more programming, especially if it’s out of an IT or engineering department.

      In terms of practical difference for getting a job, no employer will care unless they happened to go to the same university (and even then I’m not sure). Which set of courses appeals to you more?

    1. I agree, Great program. But the out-of-state tuition is killer for anyone but a California resident. The recent buget issues in California pretty much ensure no waivers …although you would think for an online program they would get more participants if they waived the out-of-state fees. There are some excellent programs out there that charge far less per credit hour.

  19. I’m surprised I didn’t see more posts related to the work/life balance and more disucssion about the rewards versus the costs …especially in the corportate world. I have 20 years experience as a corportate trainer (B.A. in Communication from Ohio State) plus certificates with the Adobe eLearning Suite. Grad certificate = good. Master’s = better. However the cost of a Grad Cert is much lower in time and money. Are you looking in the corporate world or educational world? How much is that Master’s going to cost you? Will you need a loan? Will you be reimbursed by your employer? Partially or fully? How much time do you have to attend school outside of work and family? For how long? Bottom line: Is it worth it? I’d love to get a Master’s, however I’m working on the Grad Cert right now (courses do apply to the Master’s) and my company will pay $3000/year and the Grad Cert is almost as good as the Master’s when it comes to a salary increase for my current company. More importantly, the time spent attending class/studying takes away from my family. There may be a Master’s degree in my future, but for right now I’ll take the Grad Cert.

    Great topic and I enjoyed most of the posts. Best of luck to everyone!

    1. Three years into this discussion, and you’re the first person to bring up work-life balance and the time commitment. This is why I leave comments open even on my old posts–the conversations continue to be valuable!

      One of the big reasons I still haven’t done a graduate program myself is the time required. When I was looking at it more seriously (I was close enough to starting that I actually filled out an application), I did plan to do a certificate program initially. I figured I could do the masters later if I wanted, but there was very little downside to starting with a certificate.

  20. Thanks for the interesting discussion! I have a follow up question. I’m finishing up a master’s in Educational Technology at San Diego State (SDSU) and am considering getting certified by the ASTD. Do people think that would be worthwhile or redundant when it comes to getting a job?

    I should mention that in my case, I am in the process of changing careers and so most of my experience has come through SDSU.

    1. To be honest, I’m not sure the ASTD certification would add that much. More credentials without experience probably won’t make that much difference, especially since you’re in a well-respected program already.

      You’re better off focusing on your portfolio. The time you’d spend getting the ASTD certification could be spent doing a volunteer project for a non-profit that would give you some experience and a portfolio example.

  21. Lots of great information here. I am seriously considering a cert of master program at either LaSalle University or Bloomsburg University. Both are in PA and are near me (although both offer online programs). I already have a master’s degree in educational psychology. My work experience has been in behavioral/clinical psychology. I also have teaching experience as an adjunct. I would like to transition into instruction design (corporate training or at a university) and would also like to continue teaching as an adjunct. My question to you is do you think I should do a cert of get the second masters? Also, as a working mother & wife with two small kids, can you give me some insight into the day to day life in ID? Is it long hours of work per week? Do many people work remotely? Will I still have time for my family? What is the income potential really like? Just wanted to explore things before I take the plunge….


    1. My guess is that the masters in ed psych will count for most corporate instructional design jobs, and a second masters won’t give you much advantage over a certificate in that respect. It’s really a matter of what experience you’ll gain in the additional classes and how that will complement your current skills.

      As far as adjunct teaching, a certificate probably won’t open any doors for additional teaching the way a second masters would. If you’re hoping to expand your teaching opportunities beyond the teaching you’re already doing, then the masters makes more sense.

      The day to day depends a lot on whether you’re working corporate, university, salaried, contract, freelance, etc. My first instructional design job at a for-profit university was 45-60+ hours a week, in the office in a cubicle farm every day. The corporate contracts I’ve done (W-2 contracts, not freelance) have both allowed some working from home and a little more flexibility. One of those jobs had me regularly working 5-10 hours of unpaid overtime a week (5-6 months later I finally was able to comp all my overtime). Performance Learning Systems (for-profit graduate courses) was a great opportunity to work 100% from home with a lot of flexibility. Now that I’m starting to do freelance full time, I will have more variability. Last week was really slow, but I know other weeks I’ll work 70 hours. In all of those environments, I worked with other IDs with kids and families who made it work. You can choose jobs and work environments that give you more flexibility or a better work/life balance, but you have to do your research. If health insurance isn’t an issue for you and you’re comfortable with variability in income, you may prefer to do freelance so you can control how much work you accept and still have time for your family.

      As for salary, I recommend joining the eLearning Guild at least as an Associate Member. The free membership gives you access to their salary survey. You can also use this salary calculator to get an idea what you might make.

  22. I’m interested in ISD too, but I’m having a hard time finding a certificate program offered by an accredited institution. I’m not interested in something from Joe Shmo’s ISD School, and I don’t really think I have the money to go to graduate school right now. Does anyone know of a certificate offered by an accredited institution? Thanks.

  23. I’m not familiar with the Boston program. Check out the new Learning Solutions article on online education for instructional designers. It doesn’t mention that program specifically, but it has some insight on choosing programs.

    For technical skills, I suggest visiting a job metasearch site like and looking at what’s in demand in your area. Captivate seems very popular, so if I had to pick one program to recommend, that would be the one. If you’re up to learning Flash, that certainly opens other doors.

    David, I think you should be able to leverage your technical communications experience, especially since you have some practical projects behind you. You just have to figure out how to connect those dots for potential employers.

  24. With David, I have also been researching the ID certificate from UMass Boston, and would love to know if anyone has any experience with or perspective on this program~


  25. Hello, all,

    I am about to complete an M.A. in Technical Communication from the University of Central Florida. Since starting this program, I’ve gained an interest in Instructional Design and definitely feel this is the direction I want to go in professionally.

    I’ve been on a very protracted path academically and would like to look at an online, university-affiliated ID certificate as my /last/ stop after my M.A. is done, as far as long-term university training goes.

    I have been looking at the ID certificate offered by UMass Boston. Does anyone have any insight into this?

    Also, what technical skills are in demand for ID? I have some basic experience with Adobe products, but that’s all. I am not afraid to pick up programming and technical tools, though.

    Last, the question I’m almost afraid to ask: will a background in technical communication (mainly in terms of theory, but with several practical projects accomplished inside and outside the classroom) help me in ID?



    1. David,

      I have been a technical writer for about 20 years and am now pursuing an online M.S. in Instructional Design and Technology degree from Walden University. As a technical writer, I have frequently created training courses and found that I enjoyed those projects. However, when I tried applying to ID jobs specifically, no one was interested because I lacked formal training in instructional methodologies and software tools. I believe that many of the skills I have acquired as a technical writer are transferrable to ID, so you should not discount what you have already learned. I would recommend that you look for a technical communication position that may allow you to do some course development in addition to the normal duties. This will give you valuable work experience while you pursue either a certificate or degree in ID. Think of yourself as a communications professional who can effectively transfer knowledge to readers/learners through multiple delivery methods. I believe (hope!) that technical communication plus ID will be a marketable combination of skills.

      The Walden program offers both a degree and a certificate, which I found appealing. They do not require a GRE and have a flexible schedule with classes starting every two months. For someone like myself who is focused on ID in the business world, their program was a good match. Walden requires students to purchase Adobe software to complete their course projects, so I know I will be getting hands-on experience with the tools used in the trade. Some of the other schools I considered did not require any software, making me think their programs would lack practical application. Walden also requires students to compile an online portfolio, which is something I would do anyway. So, those are some things you might consider when evaluating different programs.

      Good luck!

  26. I would look to see if getting a Masters Degree will open up doors, such as teaching at a community college or working as an adjunct instructor at a university. If you get a certificate, I don’t think you can go that route.

    1. True–if you think teaching is something you want to do, it can make a difference. Community colleges may have less strict requirements; my dad used to teach at a community college, and he never finished his masters.

      Lots of us in the ID world would rather stay behind the scenes than be in front of the classroom though, so I expect this isn’t a real consideration for many people.

  27. Considering getting a Master’s in ID here at UNM. They dont require a GRE, you can take it online in case you move, or don’t live close by, and they charge in -state tuition for online courses no matter where you live (in state tuition in New Mexico is NOTHING!) I already have a MFA and have been adjunct teaching at the University level. Does this kind of teaching experience count in the ID world? I already have a Masters degree that I really can’t find a decent job with, wondering if I should take the plunge again, I need a degree I can use to get work! What are people’s thoughts/experiences as far as finding work right out of Master’s graduation?

    1. Mike, I think you can leverage any teaching or training as an ID, so I’d certainly consider your experience relevant. I’ve seen people who taught at the college level who were great and developing, and I’ve seen some who were not so great, so I wouldn’t say it’s an automatic transfer, but it is helpful.

      What kind of career center and support does UNM offer? One of the advantages of a local college should be their network with businesses. If you haven’t yet, ask about the job placement rates for graduates of the program. If it’s low, then they probably don’t offer enough support.

  28. Interesting, I am looking at starting a masters in ID. Most of the posted jobs on the Internet seemed to be asking for the M.A. People who have done any web design will be able to fall in line since the Digital Media aspect is close. I have a Psychology background but that does not teach you education or teaching per se. I would suggest if you have Web skill sets but lack Education to look at the masters program. Education but just need the technical skill I would say a certificate. I would assume we are not just building boring power points, or mediocre web pages since that can be produced by a 12 year old. I would think that the design aspect is based on some Cognitive theories of Education or Psychology and a method of producing interesting, educational and functional materials that do deliver a high level performance. The program I am looking at is a state college(reasonable) but does have some teaching courses integrated in with the multimedia. I think you must somewhere get an education background to really produce an truly beneficial instructional product.

  29. First my bunch of thanks to christy for such a useful article, yes a degree will open many doors but as you said, its not important to focus on the credentials, instead look at the most valuable learning experience and give you the best skills. Nice article, i will bookmark and share with my friends. 🙂

  30. I’m really glad I found this site. I am in my second week of an instructional design certificate with the option of continuing on to a Masters degree. After reading the above comments I now think that I will stick with just the certificate because it includes most of the “hands-on” courses in the program. I was surprised to learn that some employers would prefer candidates with just a certificate because of the higher salary expectations of someone with a Masters. I find it rather ironic that additional education would be penalized in the education industry.

    1. I agree, I think that is sort of an urban myth that has been around forever. Just go to the job sites and the majority of them are asking for an M.a. I have yet to see any looking for a grad certificate. Phd yes overqualified but the norm as far as job survey seems to be B.A. and mostly a GRADUATE DEGREE in some form of Instructional Design. Most people who are hiring for their department are quite savvy on job requirements so why are they asking for this preference. This seems to contradict the flow of most of our more experienced participants.

      1. Leah, I’m not sure who you were directing your comment to. The comments you directly replied to were left in 2010. I’m not sure that Design Instruction and Bill are still following this thread. “Design Instruction” was studying at Walden at the time.

        Bill was right (and is still right 9 years later) that most job listings will ask for a masters degree. However, where I disagree with Bill is on how job requirements get created. People ask for their “wish list” for the ideal candidate. In practice, they will often compromise. In corporate jobs, a certificate plus a good portfolio will often be enough. I know several people who have gotten jobs with just a certificate in the last 2 years. Off the top of my head, I can think of two people from the UCI program, one from the UW-Stout program, and one from the edX micromasters.

  31. Pingback: eLearning Certifications | Blog SDN

  32. Tracy, I don’t personally know anything about Langevin’s program. I wouldn’t expect it to carry the same weight as something over the course of a year at a university. However, if it allows you to create some content to build your portfolio, that would be beneficial. Just because it’s not equal doesn’t mean it’s without value.

    I did a quick check on LinkedIn’s Q&A, and I did see a few mentions of Langevin’s program. If you’re on LinkedIn, you might try contacting those individuals for more info.

  33. Tracy McLaughlin

    Does anyone know anything about the certificate offered through Langevin? It’s an 8 day program. I assume that would not be looked at the same from an employer as a certificate from a university? (I guess my question is, are all certificates considered “equal”?).

  34. Most of the certificate programs are offered through universities, but there are some short-term certificate programs offered through ASTD and the Instructional Design Institute. I’m sure you’d find some value in those 2-3 day programs, but I don’t think they would be equivalent to a certificate that takes a year or more through a university.

    Based on the comments and discussion here, I’d recommend looking at Boise State and San Diego State University. Indiana University in Bloomington and Bloomsburg University also have online certificate programs that look good.

  35. I’m looking for a certification program in instructional design that doesn’t necessarily lead into getting a Master’s Degree. Does anyone know the best program out there, online, that has a robust technical and comprehensive curriculum? Much appreciated…

  36. That is very interesting. I’ve heard of a few rare cases where people were denied jobs due to not having the degree, but never people being turned away because they do have it. I can see universities wanting the PhD though.

    I wish you luck!

  37. I have gotten the feed back that I am “overqualified” for a job (read: perhaps too expensive or old. Surprisingly enough, I can get jobs (temporary or short-term). It is just the more secure long term jobs that employers shy away from (although I have been offered long term employment once I am working).

    On the other hand, I am “underqualified” for university work, which is why I have gone back for my Ph.D.

  38. @Virginia, definitely some of the value in a formal program is being able to justify the design decisions you make. I think you can get some of that in either a full degree or a certificate, although probably more of it in a full masters program.

    It is heartening to me that it sounds like employers are really primarily concerned with what you can actually do, not the credentials or the formal path you took to learn those skills. I actually think that’s a good thing overall. I’m sorry to hear that you’re finding a masters being a disadvantage in hiring though; I think there should be a place for both formal and informal paths in the field.

  39. In my experience, most of the jobs I have looked at, do not require a Master’s. In fact, I am finding it is a disadvantage as most employers are like Mike outlined: they want the technology skills with some of the educational background. Often they go outside for instructional models or they have the “instructional side” and “technology side” (and ne’er the two shall meet!).

    If you have both, the technical and the educational, then you will be golden. If you have done training in the community, and enjoy it and do it well, then a certificate will give you the vocabulary and theoretical base to discuss why you do what you do and why it is effective.

    1. I have 8 years experience in public education. 3 years teaching, 1 year of instructional coaching. And 4 years as an Assistant Principal. I am looking for a career change into the private sector and Instructional Design is very intriguing and also seems to make sense with my background. Any advice on how to best transition myself successfully? Do I need a degree or certificate in ID? Thank you in advance for any response.

      1. Thomas, if you have a masters degree already, you probably don’t need a second one. A graduate certificate would be the most straightforward path into ID.

        You can also learn on your own and create a portfolio to show off your skills. Designers for Learning is doing a free course (starting today!) in instructional design where you’ll create some actual training materials. That would be a good place to dip your toe in and see if you enjoy instructional design.

        If you want to move into corporate learning, you’ll probably want to learn either Adobe Captivate or Articulate Storyline. Both have pros and cons, but they’re both commonly used in companies. Having portfolio examples with at least one of those tools will open up more opportunities.

  40. @Joe, San Diego State’s program does look good, and the model of certificate leading to masters is a beneficial structure. I believe that’s the program where a tuition discount is available for eLearning Guild members, right?

  41. I am enrolled in the Ed Tech program at San Diego State and am loving it. They cover a great range of topics covering instructional design and eLearning Development and do a great job of giving you real world experience. Much like Boise State you can start out by working on a certificate then move on to the Masters. The downside is that the GRE is a requirement. Good Luck

  42. Thanks everyone for your comments and feedback! All of you have hit on great points!

    In case you are wondering, the two schools that I narrowed down to are Bosie State and Western Governors.

    I looked at about 25 online programs and these two meet my affordability and do not require a GRE. After reading reviews on both programs from other students and considering feedback here, I’ve decided that Boise is the best option. They have a solid program, tuition is reasonable, no GRE, starts with a cert leading into MS, opportunity to build a portfolio, and integration of technology.

    So thanks again everyone!

  43. @Jean, good point. That’s definitely something to plan for at least, even if it isn’t a final deciding factor.

    @Mark, I like your focus on real world experience. I think that echoes Cammy’s point about portfolios: if you have a program with real world experience, you should be able to create real projects to include in a portfolio.

    I really need to keep working on learning Flash; that’s where my skills aren’t there yet. It’s an ongoing learning process.

  44. Go for the certificate if it has a good program with some great professors. That way you can immediately start looking for a job in the field. If you look for a technical training position then your IT background will be a great plus for your resume. Most technical training departments value ‘real world’ experience, particularly if they are chock full of ID’s/trainers with a Masters in ID but no real world experience in any of the topics they primarily train on.

    Once your foot is in the door with your first legit training job, then the masters degree is rendered useless anyway. Your performance will be what matters. As it should be.

    There are lots of folks out there coming out of Masters programs that have no experience. They are as qualified as those who have no Masters and no experience.

    By the way…learn the tools. Countless people say they are elearning developers but have no clue how to develop anything unless it’s in powerpoint. Learn html, learn flash (not just how to animate bouncing balls – learn actionscript, which is what really will set your apart), and learn how to develop and edit good graphics using Photoshop and/or Fireworks. Learn Captivate. If you know the Adobe Suite and Captivate and can show some interest then you can get a job.


    1. Absolute rubbish equating no degree and no experience with degree and no experience. Obviously, you are like many of the other posters, namely, lacking in formal education or even passing familiarity with the processes involved in same. As an FYI thing, since you are way off base, ANYONE who earns a M.S. in Education – Instructional Design will have a great deal of EXPERIENCE. It’s called “course work” and for those lacking anything in the realm of graduate education, “no” … grad school is not like undergrad only harder. There is a tremendous amount of converting theory to practice and the assignments are essentially practical exercises.

      As a CERIFIED teacher (secondary) and holding an M.S. in Instructional Design I have forgot more about the reality of what constitutes GOOD instructional design than the vast majority of the so called “on the job training and lacking a degree” crowd. Unlike the “shake and bake” who hold out their “experience” as some form of shield I KNOW for a FACt by way of repeated experience what the end user product needs to look like in order to function as intended. You uneducated as simply over inflated hacks who couldn’t construct a viable lesson plan to save your own life … much less actually get up on platform and teach.

      1. You may have graduated from a program that makes people put theory into practice, but many of the programs are theory only. See Karl Kapp’s Help, I have an Instructional Design Master’s Degree and I Can’t Create E-Learning for an example. In those programs, the course work seems to be just attending lectures and writing research papers. Do you really think that traditional academic research papers qualify as “experience”? If the course work is authentic assessment, using the tools and creating learning, that’s a different issue entirely, and in that case I would agree with you that it is relevant experience. I think that’s really where this discussion ended up: programs that help you create a portfolio of work are valuable; purely theory-based programs aren’t. You can disagree about the relative value of a certificate over a full masters program, of course, but do you really want to argue that any masters degree, even in a purely theory-based program, is automatically better than someone with a proven track record of creating successful learning?

        I also find it incredibly hypocritical for you to discount the fact that I was a certified teacher and have an education degree because I haven’t done the masters, but still count that teaching experience for yourself. Pick a state or national music standard for any age K-12 and I’ll happily write you a lesson plan. So why does your teaching experience count, but mine makes me an uneducated and “inflated hack”?

      2. Kudos to you Christy! For the poster’s information I graduated with an MA from an excellent program in Chicago. In the 3-year program, I learned to create assessment tools, storyboards, project manage etc., but without the technology it’s useless. I beg to differ that anyone who does not have a “formal” ID education lacks the knowledge, skills and abilities to create relevant content. I would trade my MA for Christy’s experience any day if it meant using the knowledge in a the real world.

  45. Another thing to keep in mind is that most of the masters programs out there require the GRE. If you haven’t taken it in the past 5 years, you will need to take it again. This was an issue for me when I went back to school, so I opted to go for the IST Certificate at Indiana University, which does not require the GRE. This allowed me to get started right away and left my options open as far as preparing for the GRE if I decided to go on and get my masters.

    1. Actually there are quite a few programs that do not require a GRE exam. University of Central Florida has a M.A. Instructional Media no GRE and you can earn it over the web…..good luck….

      1. I want to shed some light on the UCF program as I work there full time and applied to the ISD masters prog twice and got rejected both times (even though I have another grad cert in online educational media and have worked in the instructional resources office for over 3 years…along with years of technology experience). Even though they don’t make you take the GRE, applier beware! They are much more strict on your undergrad GPA…meaning even if you had a 2.999, with excellent references and experience like mine…they will NOT except you into the program. They don’t budge on the undergrad requirements…has to be 3.0 or higher. They will not look at anything else. You can even appeal and it won’t matter. So…I’m actually look at the ISD sim cert and thinking that just might be more valuable anyways than the Masters. That and as was mentioned a portfolio to land that first ISD job.

  46. That’s an excellent point–I didn’t think about portfolio creation as part of the program. That’s a definite plus though, and a good portfolio is a better way to show your skills than a line on your resume.

  47. I would say that it all comes down to the program. Look for the one that will give you the most practical, hands-on experience so that you have a portfolio of examples you can show for yourself at the end.

    As an employer, I’m not hung up on whether you have a degree, but rather whether you have the skills, expertise, interest, creativity, and experience.

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