Technology Skills for Instructional Designers

If you’re hoping to move into a career in instructional design, chances are you need to gain some technology skills with common tools.

If you’re hoping to move into a career in instructional design, chances are you need to learn some of the common tools and technology. Most instructional designers need at least some basic technology skills to get their first job. But, there are so many tools available that it can be overwhelming to know where to start. In this post, I’ll help you prioritize what to learn and share resources for learning those important skills in authoring tools and other technology.

This is part 4 in a series about how to become an instructional designer. You can find links to the rest of the series at the end of this post.

Technology Skills for Instructional Designers

Authoring Tools

Most people need to be familiar with an authoring tool. The two big ones in the market are Articulate Storyline and Adobe Captivate. Both have their pros and cons (and their staunch defenders).

You don’t need to know both programs, but I recommend at least a basic understanding of at least one of these tools. Storyline is easier to learn because it’s more similar to PowerPoint, and it’s the more common tool used in most workplaces.

One tip for job seekers: Check the job listings in your local area. What tools are most requested? Let that guide your decision on which tool to learn first.

Free trials and discounts

Both of these tools offer free trials. Try to storyboard or plan a sample to develop before downloading the trial so you can get the most out of your free trial time. If you need additional time, Articulate may extend a free trial if you request it. Adobe also offers ways to earn points in their community in order to get a free Captivate license.

Both Articulate and Adobe offer educational discounts as well. If you are a teacher or enrolled as a student at a university, it’s worth looking at those discounts.

Storyline resources

  • The User Guide for Articulate Storyline 360 provides comprehensive documentation on the tool. To get started, review numbers 1-15 (the basics of setting up a new project, the Storyline interface, and working with slides and layers). The rest of the features you can review as you need them for projects.
  • Articulate’s online community and forums are very active and helpful.
  • Tim Slade’s Beginner’s Guide to Articulate Storyline is a good introduction to the tool, plus Tim has additional videos on his YouTube channel.
  • Artisan Elearning hosted a webinar on The Least You Need to Know about Articulate Storyline 360. This was recorded early in the pandemic with a goal of providing a way to get up to speed quickly. Use this as a starting point to prepare you for other training.
  • Ashley Chiasson has a growing collection of Storyline tutorials on her website.
  • The eLearning Uncovered Storyline 360 book is another solid reference. (That’s an Amazon affiliate link. If you buy a book from a link on my blog, it doesn’t cost you anything extra, but I get a small portion of the profits to help pay for hosting this site.)

Captivate resources

You can find free tutorials on YouTube and other sites.

Other authoring tools

Other authoring tools are available, such as H5P, 7taps, Easygenerator, and Lectora. I don’t think these tools are as high a priority when you’re just starting in the field. The exception would be if something is in-demand in your local area. For example, some tools have gained popularity in Europe without being used often in the US or Canada. Check your job market to see what employers want.

Learning Management Systems

If you’re looking for an instructional design job in higher education, experience with a Learning Management System (LMS) is very helpful. You can try Moodle for free (or even install it on your own server if you’re ambitious). Canvas also allows a free trial.

If you’re seeking jobs in workplace training, expertise in an LMS is likely not as critical. You can usually learn on the job anything you need to know about LMSs for most corporate instructional design jobs.

When job listings ask for “SCORM” knowledge, they usually just mean knowing how to publish from Storyline or Captivate in SCORM format. You might need to do some testing and troubleshooting with different settings, but it’s rare to need more than that.

Media Tools

Basic experience with image, audio, and video editing is beneficial. Of the three, image editing skills are the most important. Realistically, you can probably learn these skills on the job if you don’t already have them. These are all “nice to have” rather than required if you’re just getting started.

Photos and images

You don’t need to be a pro at Photoshop, but you need to know how to crop images and do some basic editing like removing backgrounds and recoloring images.

If you’re on a budget, the Affinity suite is much more affordable than the Adobe Creative Cloud. Affinity requires a one-time payment rather than a subscription model. I use both Affinity Design and Affinity Photo for my own work (Design for illustrations, Photo for photographs).

SnagIt is great for screen captures, especially if you’re doing software documentation.

Audio

I use the open source tool Audacity for audio editing.

Video

  • I primarily use Camtasia for screen recording and video editing. Camtasia also has animation tools for text and objects, as well as the ability to create interactive videos with hotspots and questions.
  • OpenShot is a free, open source video editor.
  • Canva has free video editing (and a Pro version with more options).
  • Vyond creates animated videos with characters. I use Vyond for creating short videos and for scenarios with animated characters.
  • Powtoon is another tool for creating animated videos.

Microsoft Office

Note: The above list assumes that you are already familiar with Microsoft Office programs, including PowerPoint. If not, start with those skills. Instructional design for face-to-face training often means developing PowerPoint presentations and Word handouts. Creating elearning often involves storyboarding, usually in Word or PowerPoint. Spreadsheets are used for analyzing data, tracking time, and other business tasks.

Do you really need technology skills?

Some instructional design jobs don’t require any technology skills at all. Companies with larger teams often split into specialized roles for instructional designers (who focus on analysis, design, and storyboarding) and elearning or multimedia developers (who build courses in authoring tools or as custom development). This is more likely at elearning agencies and vendors who create training for other companies.

However, it’s harder to find a job (especially a first job in the field) if you don’t have any of these technical skills. Having more skills opens up more options and opportunities. This is especially true now in 2023 when there are so many people transitioning to the field of instructional design and the competition for entry-level jobs is stiff.

When I originally posted this in 2007, it generated a lot of discussion about whether or not technology skills are necessary. (Because this was an older post, the references to specific software are pretty dated.) Learning the tools isn’t sufficient for becoming an instructional designer, but I do think you need some of these technology skills to be successful.

In another post, I described two big technology skills that I think are critical:

  • Learning technology quickly and independently: You don’t stop learning once you get your first job. You keep learning all the time. Technology changes quickly, so you have to continuously improve. The recent proliferation of AI tools means the pace of change is increasing. Nobody knows for certain what the tools in the field will look like 5 or 10 years from now, so you need to prepare to keep learning and growing your skills to adapt.
  • Understanding how different tools can be used effectively: Even if you don’t do development yourself, you need to understand the capabilities of the tools and be able to describe what you want to others. This is also about choosing the right tool for the situation.

If you hate learning new technology or really struggle to learn it on your own, instructional design may not be a career that really makes you happy. Later in this series, I talk more about figuring out if instructional design is a good career choice or not.

Other Posts in this Series

  1. What Does an Instructional Designer Do?
  2. Getting Into Instructional Design
  3. Resources for Learning Instructional Design Skills
  4. Technology Skills for Instructional Designers (current post)
  5. Professional Organizations for Instructional Designers
  6. Is Instructional Design the Right Career?

Read all my posts about Instructional Design Careers here.

Originally published June 7, 2007. Republished with significant updates March 7, 2019. Updated 6/10/20, 5/15/2023. My list of technology skills recommended here has changed quite a bit in that time. When I first published this, Flash was a common requested tool for instructional designers. When I revised this in 2019, we were planning for Flash’s demise. I’m now focusing this post on just a few basic skills to get started, although my original post listed 10+ skills. The comments on this post reflect the changes in the field over the last 15+ years.

46 thoughts on “Technology Skills for Instructional Designers

  1. Articulate Storyline is the one rapid development tool that I would recommend people breaking into the field consider. It doesn’t have the market share of Captivate yet since it hasn’t been out long, but it’s great software and I’m hearing increasing demand for it.

    Although not as many jobs require HTML now as I think did when I originally wrote this post, a bit of HTML5 knowledge wouldn’t be bad.

    Mobile learning is starting to be more important, so you should at least keep an eye on this trend. I’d keep an eye on the Tin Can API as well. I don’t think you need deep knowledge of either if you’re just getting started, but being familiar with them would be helpful.

  2. Hi Christy. I recently started my MS in Instructional Design and Technology and I find your posts very informative for someone who is new to the field. The program I am in will allow me to work with Adobe products (in addition to other software) and I look forward to testing out the other technology tools you have listed. This post is a few years old and technology is ever changing. Are there any new products on the market that you recommend learning how to use? Thanks for the help and keep up the great work!

  3. This has been very informative. I am trying to get into this field at my present job. Unfortunately they went outside the company to hire someone for our technical trainer position here but I will start beefing up on these skills you have posted.

  4. Practical and knowledge sharing approach. Instead of the ‘lecturing’ or ‘ sell something’ variety.
    I have writing skills but did not know the opportunities in the instructional design field. I promise to work on this right away.

  5. Thank you for providing some really great information. I’m a web developer-designer and came across some job postings in eLearning in 2009 when I was looking for a new job. My forte is obviously in the technology side, but I love teaching and the study of cognition and learning. I hadn’t been aware of eLearning as a career, but the concept lit me up, and I am seriously considering what it would take to make that kind of a career change. I hate to ask this, but to have an honest evaluation I really need to, and you seemed like the right person to ask… what is the pay-scale for an ID? Also, is there a good entry point for a technologists while I’m learning about instructional design? Lastly, is this a field that would be good for a maturing, senior-level consultant (sometime in the future)?

    1. The eLearning Guild’s 2010 Salary Research Report is the most comprehensive data for the salary question. It’s worth signing up for their free membership just to see that report, plus you get access to lots of other resources.

      They found that overall average salary for all e-learning jobs was $79,252, as of January 2010. Of course, many variables affect that–location, education, experience, number of people managed, etc. Entry level instructional design salaries are much less than that. In 2005 I was seeing starting salaries around $50-55K, and the economy means salaries haven’t gotten much better since then.

      With your background, I would also recommend reading Harold Jarche’s So You Want to Be an E-learning Consultant. This is a great resource to start thinking about e-learning from a consultant perspective, so you can decide whether it seems like a good fit for you.

  6. Thank you for your blog. I was in K-12 education when our district decided to cut thousands of teachers. Although I tried to sub and get back in many of the openings never returned and I have been spending the last eight months taking instructional design classes because I have always loved to learn technology and enjoy planning curriculum. Your blog better helps me understand the profession and whether it is a good fit for me. Thanks for your insight!

  7. Hi
    Do you know of a nice book to read about Instructional design theories and practices. Are there any good books on Instructional Designing that you would recommend?

  8. David Merrill’s First Principles of Instruction isn’t a bad place to start, and it’s available for free online.

    John Curry did two posts on reading lists for instructional designers a while back. The first list is more comprehensive; the second list is what he considers essential reading.

    How to get an Instructional Design education without paying tuition
    An immediately accessible instructional design education

    I admit, I’m not a big fan of Gagne, but many people do find his work helpful.

    Cammy Bean’s Essential Reading for Instructional Designers is a good list too. It’s more focused on e-learning than just instructional design, so it depends what you’re looking for.

    1. Hi Christy. I have just now discovered your amazing blog. I am an independent designer/facilitator/consultant with >40 years experience in the corporate learning space. The evolution of has been a fascinating journey! Just want to say that your tips, guidance and feedback are so informative and easy to follow/understand. A breath of fresh air. Just as an aside, would like to know your reservations about Gagne..

      1. I’m glad you found my blog and that it has been helpful.

        My reservations about Gagne are two-fold. First, I see some IDs follow it so strictly and without any thought for the learner experience. That’s not so much a problem with Gagne as with the application though. My second reservation is more serious though. I just don’t see the research support for following that. In fact, other than practice with feedback, you could cut basically everything and still get similar results.

        I explain more here: https://christytuckerlearning.com/questioning-gagne-and-blooms-relevance/

  9. @Prabha, I do have Adobe Captivate, Dreamweaver, Photoshop, and Flash listed. Which Adobe software do you mean–Acrobat, perhaps? I do use Acrobat Pro to create forms and online “worksheets” for courses. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any job listings that required Acrobat though. Besides, most people can learn how to create PDFs on the job.

    Or did you mean a different Adobe program?

  10. Hey its a very informative piece of work, I am very impressed with your blog. You have covered all the points very well. Waiting for your next post to come.

    Mark

  11. Hi Faiza,
    Welcome to my blog, and thank you for commenting!

    Whether or not you can enroll directly in the masters programs really depends on the individual university. As for schools, I’ve heard good reviews of Indiana University in Bloomington, San Diego State University, and Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania. There’s a good post on Tony Karrer’s blog with a number of suggestions for online programs in the comments. I’m more familiar with the US programs, but several of the replies to Tony were for schools in the UK or Canada that might work for you.

    Most masters programs in the US are probably 2-3 years, although you might find some more accelerated programs as well. AIU’s program is only 10 months, but although I helped write the curriculum, I don’t feel comfortable recommending their program.

    I hope this helps.
    Christy

  12. Dear Christy,
    Thanks a lot for all the sincere work you have put into writing these greatly informative posts. They have helped me realize, a career in ID is just the kind of thing I guess I have been looking for all this time. I have a few questions, and I hope that you will be able to help me out. I have an M.A in English language and literature from Chittagong University, Bangladesh. I have taken the GRE and scored 580 in English, if that’s useful. Could you tell me whether I can directly enroll in masters in Instructional Design, or do I need to complete some other prerequisite course?
    Also I would like to know how long it would take to complete it and which schools are the best for ID.
    Your help will be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks,
    Faiza.

  13. Hi Suha,

    I’m not quite sure I understand your question. Writing skills are definitely a requirement for instructional designers. Much of what I do is editing content from SMEs rather than writing original work myself. However, I’d never be able to do my job without a solid background in writing.

    If you’re hoping to do instructional design work for US or UK companies, perhaps you can find some courses where you can improve your writing skills in English. That would be a good foundation to start with.

  14. hi i would like to ask u
    really i would like to work as an instructional design and i have to send my own papers for many companies but can u help me to write these skills ?

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  16. Hi Cammy,

    I appreciate your comments and hearing a different perspective. I’ve written a fairly lengthy response to you as a full post; it was a little long for just a comment. Do Instructional Designers Really Need Technology Skills?

    Jennifer,

    How many jobs will you be able to find as an instructional designer where the only technology you need is web 2.0 technology like Drupal? Down the road, maybe you will. But right now? Find me one listed on Monster or Careerbuilder and I’ll be shocked. Even companies and schools who are using web 2.0 tools aren’t using them exclusively. I think those courses will give you other options for jobs. I also agree with your sister that even this minimal exposure will help you see what is possible and help you speak intelligently with people who know the software better than you ever will.

    You’re right that you’ll never be able to do web design for a living. But you couldn’t work with my team without that Dreamweaver experience because everything we do is built on web pages and plugged into Blackboard.

    I’m curious, especially since I’ve looked at Indiana’s IST program and seriously considered enrolling. What tools do they use for teaching? I know you keep a journal on your Drupal site. Are they using primarily web 2.0 tools rather than Blackboard or more static content? Is that why your expectations are for fully dynamic web 2.0 courses?

  17. I just had a related debate with my sister today. I have several classes in grad school that require us to use Dreamweaver to create static web pages. At first blush, I thought “Why do I need this?” a: it creates output that is so web1.0 (give me a blog, a wiki or a Drupal install any day of the week) and b: this limited exposure to the design software (Flash, Dreamweaver, Fireworks) is not sufficient to ever be able to do web design for a living. However, my sister noted that speaking the language and gaining an appreciation for what is possible and feasible makes it worthwhile. Time will tell …

  18. Let’s not forget that many of us instructional designers don’t have any technical skills whatsoever — nor do we need them! I’ve got no HTML skills, can’t use Dreamweaver, don’t do Flash, can hardly crop an image in Photoshop. Nevertheless, I’ve been an instructional designer for years. That stuff I leave to the programmers and graphic designers. It’s important to speak the language, but I don’t know the tools.

    That said, I’ve been on job interviews/seen plenty of job postings where the hope is that the instructional designer also has the technical skills to build the program.

    My current employer said they interviewed plenty of people for my job who claimed they had both the instructional design skills and the technical piece. But when viewing these individuals’ work samples, it didn’t seem like they could did either well.

    I’m sure there are plenty of great instructional designers who also have great technical skills. But some of us do better just doing the one side of the coin.

    So — for those of you looking into the field of instructional design and e-Learning — don’t think that you have to use all the hard core tools. I get by with PowerPoint, Word, Excel, Snagit (or other screen capture tools), and Visio.

    1. Completely agree; however, the job market is really starting to require application of not only Camtasia and/or Storyline, but others as well.

    1. I recently graduated from Capella Univesity with a MS in Instructional Design. I have had plenty of inquires from recruiters however, their clients want experience in Captivate. My current job does not require ID skills so I am force to forge my way. I plan to create a portfolio. I subscribed to Captivate 30 day trial but was not able to utilize do to time restraints and I cant afford to buy the software at this time. What other options are out there?

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