Making the Jump from Educator to Instructional Designer

EKU Online > Making the Jump from Educator to Instructional Designer

Like many other professions, instructional design was drastically impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. It made instructional designers’ work more prominent, as many organizations switched to online delivery for their learning needs. This shift resulted in higher demand for instructional design roles, as demonstrated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics data which projects a 10% job growth for the profession between 2020 and 2030.

Transversely, the COVID-19 pandemic negatively impacted the teaching profession. Increasing workload, labor shortages, and challenging work conditions have driven many to seek a career change – and many have found instructional design. Both careers are similar to some extent, but with one significant difference: Instead of teaching in K-12 schools, instructional design focuses mainly on teaching and training adults. What does it take to make that shift from K-12 teacher to instructional designer?

Skills Overview

As you might with any other potential career change, inventory the skills you currently possess and identify areas of opportunity and improvement. Make professional development a priority to build yourself up and become more marketable to companies seeking instructional design and learning technology services. Although this process may take some time, you can immediately begin by asking yourself where you want to work. Do these employers or sectors require a bachelor’s degree, or will an advanced certification or master’s degree be needed? Master’s degrees are increasingly preferred in some segments and purely optional in others. In general, we believe an advanced degree will allow you the freedom to choose your future work environment with ease.

Instructional Design Skills

When you decide to make this career change you are leaving the K-12 classroom and many pedagogical concepts behind. You will be entering a world consisting of adult learners, where the learner-centric teaching model is king. Becoming knowledgeable about learning theories such as behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism, as well as other approaches to meet the diverse needs of adult learners is crucial.

At EKU Online, we highly value the study and practical application of several highly regarded instructional design models. Dick & Carey, the work of Jerrold Kemp, Backward Design, ADDIE, and other models and approaches are a must-have in your toolbox. The Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) provides an excellent survey of instructional design models, and we recommend gaining expertise in at least a few.

Development of other skills such as conducting needs assessments, program evaluations, project management, assessment, communication, and passion for learning are all skillsets required of an excellent instructional designer.


Technology skills are equally important. An old adage of being a “jack of all trades” comes to mind when thinking of instructional designers and their use of digital authoring tools and concepts.

HTML and CSS knowledge come in handy almost daily. You will use it while working with learning management systems, websites, or implementing e-learning content.

Graphic design is an excellent complementary skill to have. Sometimes you won’t have access to a graphic designer, so you will have to independently develop aesthetically pleasing content. So learning about typography, basic design rules, color theory, image, and video editing is a good choice.

Content authoring using e-learning tools such as Captivate or Articulate Storyline is usually a must. Both tools have their pros and cons, so be ready to learn both.

Familiarity with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and creating accessible, extensible content is another requirement. ADA and Section 508 compliance means proper text formatting, use of color, captions for audio and video content, and application of other principles required to fulfill this requirement.


Growing your professional network is essential to the process of creating a successful career. One of the obvious choices for doing this is LinkedIn. When we talk about networking with LinkedIn, we don’t just mean creating your profile and sitting back and waiting for someone to contact you. You need to seek out connections, join groups where instructional designers congregate, and become an active contributor.

In addition to LinkedIn, there are instructional design communities on Facebook, Reddit, Google groups, and more. Finally, don’t forget to join professional organizations such as The Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT), The Association for Talent Development (ATD), The eLearning Guild, and the Online Learning Consortium (OLC).


Your chances of making a successful switch will significantly increase with a professional portfolio. Consider obtaining a website domain and build a portfolio that showcases significant current and past work in a professional manner. In general, you should showcase the types of content and projects you want to work on in the future. Maintain a blog if possible and connect it to your social media accounts.


Transitioning from teaching in K-12 to instructional design is attainable and rewarding with the right amount of preparation and planning. We have seen many K-12 teachers successfully and happily transition to the rich and rewarding field of instructional design and learning technology. Through shifting their mindset and skillset, they are able to shift into high-paying careers that make learning better for millions of people across the world.

Earn your online master’s degree from a regionally accredited university that has been an online education leader for more than 15 years. Complete the form to learn more about how you can earn your master’s in instructional design and learning technology and give yourself a competitive edge in the job market. Contact us today to get started.

Learn More