instructional-designer-skillsSo you want to be an instructional designer but you’re not sure the exact qualifications? Well, Today’s Instructional Designer does more than create elearning or live instructor courses, they must wear many hats. This is because IDs have to not only develop, and in some cases deliver content, but they also need to think about this content from the learner’s perspective.

While certainly not an exhaustive list, today’s new and improved instructional designer must play the roles of:

  1. Writer: In many cases, courses are derived from technical documentation, various word documents, PowerPoint slides, and so on. As an ID, you have to take this content and then transpose (write) it in a manner that is concise and makes sense for the audience.
  2. Problem Solver: Inevitably there are problems to be solved when creating training. Be it in logistical problems with course delivery (learning management systems in the case of elearning; training facilities in the case of live training), how to make mobile compatible training, sticking to and delivering on timelines, tech issues, sticking to a budget, etc… issues are around every corner and today’s ID needs to be able to solve them.
  3. Innovator: With so many great tools at the disposal of instructional designers today, there is a great benefit in deploying this innovation to organizations who traditionally don’t do so.
  4. Facilitator: More often than not, the instructional designer is roped into live training in some capacity or another. This only makes sense given that they are exposed to the content, and over time develop intimate knowledge of the topic. Still, if you don’t have good teaching or facilitating techniques, you have a pretty massive gap in your skillset.
  5. Researcher: Wouldn’t it be great if all the content was already available for us as instructional designers? Unfortunately, it isn’t, and we often need to get our hands dirty with good, old-fashioned research.
  6. Developer: Naturally, the ID must be capable in course development – this is the bread and butter!
  7. Project Manager: Larger training implementations require careful budget and time management. If you have a larger team working on a curriculum, then playing the role of project manager is essential. It’s not just good enough to be capable at your craft; you need to show an ability to manage a project and its resources.
  8. Media Expert: Online videos, audio, course development software, Microsoft Office Suite, video recording, image selection and creation… today’s ID should feel comfortable in all these areas.
  9. Editor: Removing your emotional ties to a course you created, and putting your non-bias editor hat on, will go a long way in creating winning training programs.

I’m sure you could think of a good many more traits for today’s modern instructional designer. The point is that we can’t stick to one or two core skills and go from there. We have to be well-rounded and capable of performing many tasks – all critical to a successful training implementation.

Justin Ferriman photo

About Justin Ferriman

Justin Ferriman started LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by Fortune 500 companies, major universities, training organizations, and entrepreneurs worldwide for creating (and selling) their online courses. Justin's Homepage | Twitter


13 responses

Leave a Comment

Great list. As a newbie ID, can you share how to develop these skills?

Avatar Nancy Johnson

Hi Nancy- in some cases, these skills come over time (i.e. Project Manager) as you gain more experience. Focus on development, and you’ll naturally start to build up your areas of writing, research, problem solving, media, and the like. Pro-bono work is good, but even getting onto projects as a junior and/or assistant ID is a good way to get exposure.

That response is precisely true, over time the added skills will improve. I have noticed this in my own day-to-day routine. Skill building, precision, confidence, and knowledge make’s one an expert at what she or he does.

Avatar Elisabeth

I was pleasantly surprised by your list. I like how holistic it is instead of focusing on technology and tools. Far too many descriptions I’ve sign focused on experience with HTML5, Lectora, Articulate etc. These are tools of the technical tools of the trade that, quite frankly, can be easily taught. Some of the other attributes are harder. I believe those are the attributes individuals should look for as they seek to hire or contract an instructional designer.

I agree with Tiffany. These are the real skills – anyone can learn to use a tool. But to what end?

Avatar Mimi Matossian

I agree that it’s a tough job, and am happy to see that the growing skill set required to be a successful ID is being acknowledged. Problem-solving and facilitating have become large daily parts of any project we manage.

Avatar Amy Hilbelink

Do you think it is a requirement for an instructional designer to learn in depth about website development? I mean to learn to read html and write code. or at least learn about a more or less sophisticated software like wordpress?

Hi Antonio…I lead a large ID team. I do not think it is at all necessary for you to be able to “code”. There are folks with years of engineering experience to do this for us IDs. However, I would say it is great to download the trial versions of things like Storyline, Captivate, Articulate Studio, etc. so you are generally familiar with off-the-shelf tools that don’t require coding. There are a lot of online resources to help you stay current. I mention some here on my company’s blog:

When I interview ID candidates, here are the things that are most important to me:
-An easy-to-understand communicate style (written and verbal)
-Having an eye for design and the ability to be creative. We are not all artists, but we can create rough mockups (using PPT or similar) of what we visualize in our heads!
-Professional ID experience working with SMEs, developing DDDs/SBs/scripting (whether in-house, contract or pro bono)
-A positive attitude/presence with a willingness to learn new tools and processes

To piggyback on the notion of the researcher, being a great reporter/interviewer is a crucial skill as it relates to pulling key data points from the subject matter experts. If the instructional designer is working from a problem-based learning approach, then the questioning needs to be directed and thorough to eliminate any potential gaps in the instructional content.

Avatar Tom Kapocius

Supporter – important to close the loop on the end to end responsibilities of the ID. Throughout the design and development life cycle an ID SME emerges that becomes essential in providing ongoing learner support.

Avatar Simon Miller

Hi Justin,

I very much enjoy your post.
You may be interested to read the Top 10 Instructional Designer Skills

If I can be valuable to you do not hesitate to contact me.

Have a wonderful day,
Christopher Pappas


Great representation on the nowadays ID role (almost felt like putting my own face in the picture heheh).

Just one more missing… Team Leader/Manager. As an ID that is something that I’m also required to do and be skilled (coaching, development, etc).


Avatar Carla

Hey Justin,
Have got interdisciplinary information, cross-cultural expertise, along with determination and also interest regarding studying and also engineering. Use a backdrop inside schooling, a crucial frame of mind, and also apparent studying targets. Thanks for sharing this informative post.

Comments are closed.

Your course could already be online!

We offer a 15 day money-back guarantee and have a world class community to help you get your course online today!

See LearnDash in action. Online Demo


👋 Meet LearnDash Webinar

Are you trying to decide if LearnDash is the right learning management system to build your online courses? Join us for our next live walkthrough.

Join Our Next Webinar!

LearnDash webinars are designed to teach you how to build, grow, and scale your course-building business. Join our team in one of our next live webinars.