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Pathways into learning design

“How do I become an instructional designer?

“Do I need a formal degree?”

“How do I know what skills I need to develop?”

Learning designers come from backgrounds as diverse as the various industries they serve. Once you enter the field, you may work with designers who are former teachers, attorneys, bodybuilders, writers, military personnel, police officers—you name it. Not only will their professional experiences be diverse, but their paths for transitioning into this line of work will also vary.

Through this lesson, you should be able to identify a pathway into a learning experience design career that works best for you.

Illustration of a man running on an arrow toward a target

How can I transition into a learning design career?

If you want to become a learning experience designer, you have the flexibility to follow a career transition pathway that best meets your needs. Whatever path you choose, it should help you learn how to “talk the talk,” “walk the walk,” and get the work. Follow the steps below to get started.

Step one: Identify job requirements for learning design roles that interest you.

Spend time reviewing current job listings (e.g. via LinkedIn, Indeed) and bookmark those that appeal to you. During your search, start to narrow down the type of role you are looking for - as well as whether you want a full-time, part-time, or contract role. If you're not sure where to start, search for the following job titles:

  • Instructional designer

  • Instructional developer

  • Curriculum designer

  • Curriculum developer

  • Learning product designer

  • Learning experience designer

  • Learning technologist

  • Learning architect

Once you’ve identified at least a handful of opportunities that you like, identify common requirements among those listings. For instance:

  • Do the jobs that interest you require a formal degree in a specific discipline?

  • Do the roles require you to conduct analysis, design instruction, develop materials, support implementation, create evaluations, manage projects—or a subset of these primary learning design responsibilities?

  • To fulfill the roles, do you need to be familiar with specific course authoring tools? (e.g. Articulate 360, Camtasia, Adobe Captivate)

  • How much (and what type) of experience is requested to apply?

  • In which environment will you be applying learning design skills (e.g. higher education, corporate, nonprofit, or government)?

Step two: Identify your current learning design strengths and opportunities for upskilling.

Instead of selecting an upskilling program right away–or jumping into random courses about learning design–take the time to compare your current knowledge and skillset to those that are required for your desired role.

For instance, Jennifer is an aspiring instructional designer. She has identified the items below as baseline knowledge and skills for her next job. She’ll use this checklist to mark the areas where she has transferable skills, and she’ll consider everything on the list as opportunities for upskilling before she applies for her first instructional design job.

Step three: Develop and follow a personal upskilling plan to help you capitalize on strengths and to fill gaps.

After taking an inventory of the knowledge and skills that are required for your desired job, you’ll need to determine how you will maximize your strengths and fill identified gaps. For instance, some choose to complete formal degree programs in instructional design, educational technology, and related fields–which often provide thorough theoretical knowledge. Others may opt into certificate programs, vocational schools, or online bootcamps that focus more heavily on practical application. Prospective learning designers may also elect to curate their own learning pathway that includes targeted coursework, mentorship exercises, practice opportunities, and more.

As mentioned above, the path you choose should prepare you to “talk the talk,” “walk the walk,” and get the work. In other words, it should provide both theoretical and practical knowledge and skills that will help you succeed in your desired role.

Step four: Create a process-driven portfolio to showcase your learning design approach and skillset.

Most prospective employers will ask you to share a link to a portfolio that showcases both your learning design approach and skillset. As you are upskilling in step three (e.g. via coursework, programs, volunteer projects, internships), ensure you document not only the end products you develop but also the processes you followed to create them. Then, build your portfolio in a way that best highlights your skills and experience.

For instance, you may consider the three options for organizing your portfolio below. Note that option 1 is best for those who are transitioning into this line of work who may not have full projects to showcase.

Summary and next steps

As you consider how to transition into a learning design career, remember that today’s designers come from varying backgrounds–so you’re likely to fit right in! They’ve also been able to apply transferable skills from previous skills into this line of work. By completing the four steps in this lesson, you should be able to select or curate a unique career transition pathway that meets your needs, maximizes your current strengths, and helps you bridge gaps. Remember, the path you ultimately follow should help you “talk the talk,” “walk the walk,” and get the work.

Now that you are familiar with pathways for transitioning into learning design, continue to the next lesson in LXD Factory’s Get started series: Learning design resources.


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