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Specialties In Instructional Design and What They Do

Specialties in instructional design can help both job seekers and hiring managers find the right fit for digital learning courses and programs.


An instructional designer is anyone who designs and develops digital learning experiences. That may sound straightforward, but within that vague job title nest dozens of specialties. Even more confusingly, instructional designers may also be called learning designers or learning architects. Their work often overlaps with that of instructional technologists and content creators. Specialties in instructional design help both teammates and hiring managers to navigate this evolving position.

Untangling the complexities of the instructional design role can help both job seekers and hiring managers find the right fit. Identifying a specialty can help professionals carve out their own niche in the instructional design ecosystem. Greater clarity around what instructional designers actually do can help team leaders find the right instructional designer for their project.

What Do Instructional Designers Do?

Instructional designers do many things, which is why the job title has fractured into so many specialties. In the broadest sense, instructional designers oversee or support eLearning course design and development. More specifically, they may analyze course requirements, design courses and materials, develop prototype courses, implement plans, and evaluate results.

Although sometimes confused with eLearning developers, instructional designers have a different role. You can think of instructional designers as the people who plan the learning experience to ensure it is successful. They assess learning outcomes to plan the learning experience including content, activities, and assessments. Sometimes the Instructional Designer also builds the course in a Learning Management System, although Instructional Technologists, those who specialize in online course building,may also fill this need in more sophisticated courses. If a digital learning experience were a house, the instructional designer would be the architect who drew up the plans. The Instructional Technologist would be the builder who followed the plans to build the home and install plumbing, writing, etc. to ensure it all functions. Many times this also requires an eLearning Developer and Graphic Designer to create multimedia assets and branded graphics.

Who Are Instructional Designers?

Instructional designers may work full-time, part-time, or as freelancers. In the United States, full-time instructional designers make about $83,144 per year on average. Those in the corporate industry often make the highest salaries, while those in higher education make the least.

They may hold a master’s degree or have a bachelor’s degree and a wealth of experience. Keep in mind that a designer’s level of education is not the only indicator of their qualifications. Any experienced instructional designer should be able to provide a portfolio showcasing their projects.

Teachers or instructors sometimes make the leap to an instructional design career, bringing their front-line teaching experience as an extra asset. Communication professionals, business analysts, and software developers may also build careers in instructional design.

Specialties In Instructional Design By Industry

Instructional designers work in a range of industries and sectors. While many skills are transferable between industries, each demands something slightly different.


Instructional designers support corporate training by building interactive eLearning courses. These programs help to upskill employees and maintain their proficiency. Corporate instructional designers may work with HR or chief development officers to create learning materials in response to needs.


Within government entities, instructional designers work in the same way as their corporate counterparts. Their job is to create learning tools to train and develop government employees. They may need to work within established systems or parameters to meet regional, state, or national requirements.


Instructional designers in the non-profit sector may create training for employees and volunteers of the non-profit. They may also design courses for members of the public or for the people the non-profit serves. With many stakeholders, instructional design for non-profits can be both challenging and rewarding.

Higher Education

By partnering with faculty, instructional designers transform in-person courses into online offerings. In some cases, they may create new courses from scratch to support new degree offerings. They often design for a specific learning management system used by the college or university.


Elementary, middle, and secondary education is a newer realm for instructional designers. As K-12 learning becomes increasingly digital, some schools and districts are seeking help from instructional designers to create training for teachers and instructors. Some K-12 schools may even utilize instructional designers to convert in-school learning to online formats for students.

Specialties in Instructional Design by Function

While most instructional designers have skills that span the entire design process, many specialize in a particular area. If you are an instructional designer, highlighting your areas of expertise can help differentiate you. Hiring managers or team leaders can find the right teammate for the job by looking for applicants with specialized skills.

Learning Design / Strategy

Instructional design starts with assessing the needs of learners and the organization. Instructional designers who specialize in needs assessment and planning learning experiences may interact with instructors, students, or managers and leadership to design or create a blueprint for an optimal learning experience.

Content Writing

Instructional designers who specialize in content writing create the raw material for courses. They may write outlines, scripts, or learning materials that combine with graphics, video, and interactive elements.

Instructional Technologist

When teachers need help integrating technology into the classroom, or when a school wants to launch online courses they turn to an instructional technologist to build and develop these offerings.

eLearning Developer

Using tools such as Adobe Suite and Articulate Storyline or Rise, these instructional designers develop eLearning.


Video is a core element of many courses. Instructional designers specializing in videography can script, direct, and record videos that integrate with written and interactive course elements.

Graphic and UI/UX Design

The visual and navigational experience is more important than ever before. Digital learning requires standardized and branded designs to both support learners in easy navigation and creating a high-quality experience.

Instructor Training

Training instructors on how to design for digital learning, teach online courses and use tools is a vital part of instructional design. Instructional designers who specialize in instructor training may teach instructors/trainers, create facilitator guides, or assist in implementation to ensure a smooth transition to the new course.

Project Management

Coordinating the instructional design process takes organization, attention to detail, and leadership. Specialists in project management guide the course creation and quality assurance process. They ensure that the team works together toward a common goal and delivers the project on-time.

The Future of Instructional Design

We’ve covered just a few of the possible specialties in instructional design. As the learning and development industry continues to evolve, it will continue to spawn even more, such as assessment specialists, accessibility specialists, and learning data analysts. Now and in the future, instructional designers can edit their job search documents and portfolios to showcase their areas of expertise. Teams seeking instructional designers can use specialties as a guide to seek out the person with the exact skill set they need.

Whether you’re an instructional designer looking for your next opportunity, or a team leader seeking an instructional designer, Teamed can help. Our specialty is connecting qualified learning professionals with organizations that need them. Let’s team-up.


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