When I grow up I want to be: an Instructional Designer
January 15, 2015 11:24 AM   Subscribe

I'm currently in pursuit of a Master's in Instructional Design, but what software should I learn to use alongside the theory?

I'm about to start the second semester of my Master's in Instructional Design (an online, two year program), but I would like to start being an instructional designer as soon as I can (I've enjoyed what I've done so far, I've had some experience with curriculum design and teaching, and my work is taking me into a direction where I would be more useful in this type of role). I have some experience with LMS administration, but not with Blackboard. I can also use Camtasia proficiently. What other software should I invest myself in? How much of an investment should I make of my time and skill (beginner, intermediate, expert)?

Bonus points: other useful things to know for a fledgling instructional designer!
posted by thefang to Work & Money (13 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Memail me...
posted by tel3path at 11:29 AM on January 15, 2015

My approach to this would be to pull job ads for 'instructional designer' from indeed.com and other scrapers and make note of 1) any software that's mentioned, 2) if you can determine these, the size, nature and location of companies asking for knowledge of particular software programs, and 3) how salaries fit in with these different markets. (E.g. just quickly, Denny's corporate wants you to know "PowerPoint, Excel, Articulate Storyline, Flash, Lectora, Adobe Design and Production Suite Software ". More than one hospital-based training department wants "Epic Training Manager". Evan Thomas Global (also healthcare related) also wants Epic and pays $100k+ (given relevant experience).
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:45 AM on January 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

I personally really like Storyline Articulate. But Adobe Captivate is pretty similar. I only have passing familiarity with Camtasia-but many people like it.

I think that it would be beneficial to become really familiar and comfortable with one piece of software to be able to demonstrate your skills and build your portfolio. You have no way of knowing what software your future employer may already own or prefer. I would recommend being able to demonstrate your skills at an expert level with your program of choice and general familiarity with the programs that are currently popular.

Become familiar with instructional design and learning theories-not just software.
posted by JennyJupiter at 11:50 AM on January 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Honestly? Software is kind of irrelevant. ISD is about process and methodology -- not tools. That said, Adobe Captivate (aka Craptivate) and Camtasia are pretty popular these days, as well as inhouse tools and anything that a SCORM/AICC wrapper can be applied to for LMS delivery. Do get a handle on the process and do make sure you're taking courses that will give you the skills you need.

I have an M.Ed. in Instructional Design and Technology. Feel free to meMail me.
posted by michellew at 12:06 PM on January 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

Try to figure out what industry you are interested in - academic (working for universities or service providers) corporate training, specialized industries (such as medical), and associations / nonprofit. Expectations will differ depending on which of those you concentrate on. I agree that signing up for indeed results for job descriptions and just becoming familiar with them over time is helpful.

Unless you are going into an instructional technology role, I would try to get some hands-on experience working with a subject matter expert to create instructional materials.

In terms of software, Articulate has the better online community, so it may be easier to start there. Alternatively look and see what academic discounts you can get on software.

Note: Epic is not instructional design software. It is more of a medical records/billing etc/software, so they are looking for a trainer/ID with knowledge of it.
posted by typecloud at 12:06 PM on January 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

I'm a team lead-level ID (in a corporate environment) and have done project managing as well; for the last two years the tools my teams and I have used most frequently have been Adobe Presenter, Storyline Articulate, and Lectora. This is, of course, in addition to having strong PowerPoint and Excel skills - the one ID I saw who didn't know how to work in PPT templates or perform very basic calculations in Excel didn't last very long.

As a new-hire ID, at least where I work, you'd be expected to do a lot of the actual materials building - so having intermediate-to-expert level experience with our tool of choice would be a major plus. However, since different clients sometimes request we use different tools, and since of course there's always going to be a new "latest and greatest" tool out there, we also tend to assume we can bring people up to speed on a given tool relatively quickly - that is, we expect the people we hire to be good at learning these tools quickly. As such, I'd suggest looking for ways to demonstrate that you're proficient at learning new tools, as that is far more valuable than simply knowing one tool.

To your bonus question: thinking about some of my best new IDs, the one quality they've all had is a strong degree of self-sufficiency. I'm sure this goes for all fields and not just instructional design, but you're going to experience a lot of times when the SMEs are unavailable or sloooow to provide content, your teammates are all being pulled in fifty directions, your manager is dealing with five separate fire drills at once, and you're going to feel sort of left to fend for yourself. This is a GREAT time to research content yourself (a company's internal website can provide a wealth of info), come up with proposed instructional approaches, generate a list of specific, targeted questions that you can run through with your SME or fellow IDs, etc. People who can suggest instructionally-sound ideas, and who can not only communicate that a problem exists, but who can also indicate what they've done to attempt to resolve the matter and suggest a few realistic solutions - these are the people who will stand out, and who will have leads fighting over getting them staffed to their projects.

I've been in the field for over a decade in one form or another, so please feel free to add me to your list of folks to memail if you like. Best of luck to you!
posted by DingoMutt at 12:19 PM on January 15, 2015 [7 favorites]

Could you see if your institution has a Center for Teaching Excellence? Or become involved in Hastac?

If you want to memail me I can also send you to citations for some technology/pedagogy articles.
posted by spunweb at 12:20 PM on January 15, 2015

Hey, i'm an instructional writer/designer. The software is honestly going to depend a lot on what job you get. However, most likely, you'll be working in an Adobe program. I am strongly inclined to hire someone who has the Adobe skill sets because they are all extensive programs. Ideally, I think you should learn Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, and InDesign as these are heavily used in my job. If you can't learn all of them, try either Photoshop or Illustrator, as these are the most similar, and InDesign.

I would also become an expert, and I mean expert, at the Microsoft office suite. You'd be surprised how many people will demand that you use those programs instead "because they don't know how to use the other programs." I've had two jobs that have been like this. People outside your department may claim they may want to fiddle with your documents in the future.

As for your online master's degree... I strongly advise against it. Experience, a good portfolio, and networking are more powerful, IME, than a master's. We had a temp worker in my company who had a master's, so basically seemingly more qualified than me with my BS, but I have a permanent position. She had real difficulty finding a job because she was over qualified. If someone has a master's in this field, I think the general feeling is that they should be looking at management positions, but also have relevant experience.

You can gain experience by freelancing, though. I do some proof reading for websites to add to my portfolio. I do that for free, though.

You can join some societies like Society for Technical Communicators to network and see what other jobs fall into the category of instructional design. STC is a national society, so there will most likely be a branch near you. Also having that on your resume makes you look really good if you are interviewing with someone who is family with it. There is a membership fee, unfortunately, but with that membership you also get a yearly packet of stats on the job market. It's incredibly detailed, partly because freelancers use this as a reference to charge clients.

Also, i'm not sure what jobs you are thinking about, but if you're looking at instructional designing, I strongly recommend a great grasp of English and have good proof reading skills. You'll be hired for more than design, but also for the writing. Otherwise, you're a graphic designer. A technical communicator is like a graphic designer and writer in one. And usually instructional design falls under technical communicator. I would recommend becoming family with a style guide like the Chicago Manual of Style.

For books, I read Designing Visual Language, which taught a lot about the theory. I actually read another book published under the same series, but I can't recall that at the moment.

Ok I'm done. I probably gave you way more info than you were looking for, but I really do suggest not pursuing that master's and just try to gain experience and network. If you look at most of the jobs, they rarely mention what kind of credentials you need but almost always mention x amount of years of experience.

Let me know if you have any other questions!
posted by cyanyellow at 12:46 PM on January 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

As a counter-point to cyanyellow's experiences, I'd just like to say that most of the IDs I work with do indeed have an MA or MS (as do I). I can think of one (great) designer I've worked with who started off as an admin and didn't have any formal ID schooling, but I would respectfully disagree that you're wasting your time getting a master's in ID.

Of course it will be different in different organizations, areas of focus, etc. - and I don't think it's 100% necessary as perhaps it is in some fields - but at least where I work, having an MA/MS would be something we weighed strongly in making a hiring decision, and it's opened doors for me in the past.
posted by DingoMutt at 12:54 PM on January 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Is there an ATD chapter near you? If so, start going to the meetings and chatting up the folks there. The eLearning Guild has some good industry reports (1, 2) as well.

As an addendum to cyanyellow's point, you might also consider the Certified Professional Learning & Performance certification.
posted by evoque at 5:49 AM on January 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

To test for the CPLP you need at least 5 years industry experience (you may be able to count some of the teaching/curriculum design experience depending). I'd second DingoMutt that in many settings a master's is a huge plus (not expected necessarily for entry-level but needed for advancement or to get started if you don't have prior experience).
posted by typecloud at 7:23 AM on January 16, 2015

We used uPerform and Snagit A LOT but this was instructional design for teaching software in a business setting.
posted by emkelley at 6:50 PM on January 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I do most of my development for classroom-based training and online instructor-led webinars in Microsoft Word and PowerPoint. However, we are starting to move towards developing more self-led online training, and Storyline Articulate has been fantastic for that. I love how it mimics the ease and simplicity of PowerPoint while adding powerful design tools for building complex interactions. We also use Camtasia for developing software tutorials and other videos, but for a full featured authoring tool, Articulate is the way to go!
posted by platinum at 12:31 AM on January 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

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