From Teacher to Instructional Designer

instructional design

Now more than ever, there is a need for instructional designers to transition in-person courses to e-learning, not just for K-12, but for universities and the corporate world as well. We’ll give you an overview on how you can transition your career from a teacher to an instructional designer.

Instructional Design Quick Facts

Subject Area: Computer Technology

Education Recommended: Master’s degree 

Pay: $66,290 (Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Job Outlook: Projected to grow 6% in 10 years (Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Work Environment: School or office setting


An instructional designer (ID) develops lessons and courses, creates learning materials, and trains others to deliver the materials. IDs work with subject matter experts (SMEs) to develop accurate and up-to-date content. They also conduct needs assessments, create measures of effective instruction, and solve problems related to barriers to teaching or learning the information. IDs work more “behind the scenes” compared to teachers. They usually work in schools, universities, the government, or corporations. 

Transferable Teaching to Instructional Design Skills

Instructional design would be ideal for the teacher who enjoys developing the curriculum but doesn’t love lesson instruction. Specific skills that teachers use every day are essential to ID, especially those relating to lesson planning. Be sure to highlight your lesson planning skills, such as those below, in your resume!

Differentiated instruction – Both teachers and IDs tailor their instruction to meet the individual needs of each learner. For example, including both visual and auditory cues in a PowerPoint presentation caters to different learning styles. 

Structuring Curriculum- Teachers are often involved in their department’s curriculum design and take part in laying out and creating content. This is a perfect example of a skill to highlight on a resume, as the organization and presentation of content is essential to instructional design.

Formulating objectives – Teachers and IDs both set goals of instruction. For example, an objective for math class may include learning how to solve one or two-step algebraic equations. Objectives can be clearly evaluated with assessments to determine if learners can perform a task or recall information.

Outcome assessment – A teacher and an ID both must determine if the curriculum taught achieves the goals it was intended to reach. Testing is the main mode of outcome assessment and must reflect what the learner was actually taught. 


Most sources report an average salary of $60,000-$65,000 per year across all instruction design. As a freelancer, you could earn six figures. This in-depth salary report by Devin Peck with a sample size of about 360 indicated a higher average salary of about $83,144. Those in corporate jobs earned the most money, while not surprisingly, those in higher education earned the least.

Education Required to Transition from Teacher to Instructional Designer

Some jobs will require a Master’s Degree in Instructional Design or Instructional Technology, however, an advanced degree is not always necessary. Employers (especially in the corporate world) may find connections and a diverse portfolio more important than formal education. Not having a master’s may limit your job search if you do not have connections or much experience. Most agree that a master’s degree does open doors to the field. You can obtain a master’s degree entirely online. You may also pursue an Instructional Design and Technology certificate if you do not want to invest more time and money into a Master’s degree. The eLearning Coach has a full list of master’s degrees and certificate programs for you to research and find the best for you. 


Tools needed to Transition from a Teacher to an Instructional Designer

Knowledge of the tools utilized in the field may be more important than formal education. It is recommended you have an idea of how to create instructional materials with these tools to add to your portfolio (more on portfolios below). 

Two common technologies utilized are Articulate Storyline and Adobe Captivate. Articulate Storyline is a software used for creating interactive e-learning courses. You earn a free 60-day trial with email sign up. Adobe Captivate is another e-learning tool comparable to Storyline. Captivate comes with a free 30-day trial. It may be helpful to be familiar with other Adobe products including Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects, and Premiere to edit photos and videos. 

xAPI is a technology used to monitor how learners are interacting with your course; for example, how long a user spends on a particular slide. Some government agencies or higher education use Blackboard or Canvas to create and manage courses and instructional material. Free tutorials for these technologies are available on Youtube.

There are endless different software, learning management systems, and tools that can be utilized by IDs. The technologies you will most often use will depend mostly on the field you are in and your specific job. Devlin Peck gives an in-depth summary of instructional design with more information about technologies. 

Who Hires Instructional Designers?

There are 3 main entities that hire IDs, and they all typically have different goals.

School/Education- An ID that works in a school setting may work on developing courses from an in-person to an e-learning format. They may also be a part of designing curriculum which would require them to perform duties such as analyze the current curriculum, select textbooks, create outcome assessments, or revise syllabuses.

Government- An ID that works for the government usually has a stable and predictable job with a good work-life balance. There is not as much room for creativity in government jobs as there are in other fields.

Corporate- An ID that works for a corporation develops training for employees aimed to improve productivity, meet regulations, and for professional development. Work for corporations is typically faster paced and may have a higher starting salary compared to government or higher education. 

An ID can be self-employed and may have higher earning potential, however, there may be less work-life balance and greater unpredictability in employment. A self-employed ID may also miss out on benefits such as a 401k, health insurance, and paid time off. Health insurance can greatly impact net compensation. Full-time positions generally provide greater stability, but if you are looking more for flexibility then freelancing may be for you.

When looking for a job, it is best to search for multiple terms to find as many results for potential leads as possible. Other search terms for IDs include instructional developers, instructional systems designers/specialists, or learning/educational technologists.


In order to be successful, a potential ID should be organized, a self-starter, and be able to work individually. An ID may be juggling more than one project at a time and needs to be able to juggle the requirements and deadlines for each project simultaneously. Work throughout the day is completed independently with occasional meetings to discuss progress.

Typical Day

IDs work the typical Monday-Friday 8 AM-5 PM schedule. Most of the time IDs work on projects individually with some collaborative meetings. Before creating a course, an ID will first meet with the client to uncover their needs. Then they will come up with a design plan, interview SMEs, and research the subject matter to ensure the information is accurate, up-to-date, and relevant. 

Most work days are spent working on projects, building courses, creating instructional materials and outcome assessments, and designing engaging graphics/videos. An ID will receive feedback from the SMEs, clients, or course participants and revise as necessary. An ID may also be required to train individuals presenting the course.

instructional designer leading a meeting

Tailor your Resume from Teaching to Instructional Design

Teachers possess the background to create a strong resume for instructional design, even without much experience. Skills related to lesson planning and curriculum design (see Transferable Teaching to Instructional Design Skills above) should be highlighted beneath each teaching position. For example, instead of listing the English classes taught, describe using strong action words how you chose certain pieces of literature based on the learning objectives of the course, how you adapted your classroom instruction for different learning styles, or how you developed quizzes to follow each chapter for To Kill a Mockingbird. 

You will also want to highlight any experience you have with technology such as Storyline and briefly list projects you have worked on. Your portfolio will feature your completed projects. Employers will want to visualize your work, so it is essential to create a portfolio in addition to your resume. 


Highlighting the transition of your curriculum from in-person to e-learning during COVID-19 is a great start to your portfolio. E-learning Heroes provides prompts to help you build a portfolio if you have not worked on any actual projects yet. Another idea is to offer to volunteer to create educational products for an organization that interests you. For example, you can reach out to a local animal shelter and develop content used to teach children about caring for a pet. 

In-depth detail on setting up a portfolio is beyond the scope of this introductory article, however, Ashley Chiasson has a four-part series on setting up a portfolio for ID. She also has tutorials for Storyline available on her website.

Setting up a Linkedin profile is necessary for networking and making connections with other IDs. It can also be useful for finding clients or full-time jobs. Similar to your resume, your Linkedin profile will highlight your planning and design experience as well as your portfolio. 


An interviewer will likely ask questions about your portfolio or projects you have worked on. You should know your projects inside and out and be able to discuss any successes and difficulties you had with the project. 

As a former teacher, describe your own approach to designing classroom instruction. This can include how you developed learning objectives, sequenced activities, and measured the effectiveness of your instruction. Discuss the new technologies you learned, such as Canvas, and how you incorporated them into your own classroom instruction. Give examples about a time when you collaborated on a team and how any disagreements were resolved.

Experiencing Elearning gives an overview of additional interview questions. 

Potential Downfalls of Quitting Teaching to become an Instructional Designer

Landing a job in instructional design without experience, networking connections, or additional education may be difficult. It is likely you will have to obtain a master’s degree or perform some unpaid work to build up a portfolio. An ID should also be technologically savvy to some degree, and this job is not for you if you have difficulty with basic computer skills.

Compared to teaching, Instructional design is less structured. You need to be motivated, organized, and a self-starter to meet deadlines. 

Similar Careers

Curriculum Design

Curriculum design may be synonymous with instructional design in some positions, but this is not always the case. Similar to IDs, Curriculum designers will also design instructional materials. Curriculum designers will play a larger role in refining and developing the curriculum content based on best practices and current evidence rather than solely developing the delivery of the content. The educational path for a Curriculum Designer is similar to that of an ID. 

Graphic Design

IDs work closely with graphic designers to achieve a similar goal. Graphic designers are more focused on the visuals such as graphs, photography, or videos needed to supplement the learning materials. A bachelor’s degree or technical training in graphic design can help you land a job and learn the skills necessary to transition careers.

Helpful Links

Devin Peck– How to become an ID overview and salary report

eLearning Coach– list of ID programs

E-learning Heroes– Prompts for portfolio 

Ashley Chiasson– Portfolio building and Storyline tutorials

Experiencing Elearning– Additional interview questions

Interested in staying in the education field, but want to stay more behind the scenes? Transitioning careers from Teaching to Instructional Design may be for you! Leave a comment below or check out some other career options, including actuarial science or physical therapy!

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