Do you Need a Degree in eLearning to Be an eLearning Designer?

Have you ever wondered whether or not you need a degree in eLearning or instructional design to be an eLearning designer or instructional designer? Well, it’s actually a very common question folks within our industry ask themselves, especially when they’re early in their career.

The truth is because most of us fell into eLearning or instructional design by accident, most of us don’t hold a degree in eLearning or instructional design. For example, I hold a degree in criminal justice, and that’s because that was what my career was before I eventually fell into eLearning.

In this post and video, I’ll explore whether or not you need a degree in eLearning or instructional design. I’m also curious to hear whether or not you have a degree in eLearning or instructional design and how it had benefited your career. Share your thoughts by commenting below!

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Tim Slade
Tim Slade is a speaker, author, and award-winning freelance eLearning designer. Having spent the last decade working to help others elevate their eLearning and visual communications content, Tim has been recognized and awarded within the eLearning industry multiple times for his creative and innovative design aesthetics. Tim is a regular speaker at international eLearning conferences, is a recognized Articulate Super Hero, author of The eLearning Designer’s Handbook and creator of The eLearning Designer's Academy.

15 Responses to “Do you Need a Degree in eLearning to Be an eLearning Designer?

  • Nope. No degree in the discipline. I did eventually get a Certificate just to understand the industry better but I found that experience is the best teacher.

  • Yes, I have a BA and an M.Ed in Instructional design. Neither of my degree programs taught authoring tools and never really set me up to be an e-learning designer. Most of the courses that I took were based on learning theory and project management which can be taught in other routes other than higher education. However, I would have to say that the market for instructional designers is very quickly becoming saturated and the degree has made me stand out from the competition. At the end of the day what you can do for them now matters but if you cannot get them to look at you won’t get a chance to show what you can do. I do not think a degree is a must, but you need a certification or something to get noticed.

  • Just an ID
    2 years ago

    But isn’t this the very reason why the field is becoming so saturated. Having been a classroom teacher and now an ID, I’ve never understood why anyone thinks he or she can just pick up and be a teacher or someone who has anything to do with learning.

    Learning is a science. It is a field just like dentistry, engineering, medicine, etc. Why is it that learning is always watered down to “experience will teach you”. Yes, experience does teach a doctor, but his training is a key part to his performing his job and knowing his field.

    I have no doubt that there are those who are just technically inclined and work well with technical tools. However, understanding the science of instruction and learning isn’t something that can be learned from just learning Storyline, Captivate, Camtasia, etc.

    One commenter stated that the field is becoming saturated. I would argue it’s becoming that way because any and everyone thinks he or she can be an ID or e-Learning designer just because. And you’re having this clash between folks who can build something pretty in a tool with those who have been trained in ID and know it’s more than that. The salaries are even being watered down because an org can pay someone with no formal training in learning or ID and a decent portfolio a lot less than they can someone with the same portfolio and formal training. Again, there is a science to learning. It’s the same with teachers. Why do you think lawmakers and the powers-that-be don’t respect it and don’t properly fund it? Because it’s been watered down to teaching, oh anyone can do that. It’s easy. The same thing is happening to ID. Why do you think management doesn’t respect ID and training in corporate organizations? They are treating it as the red-headed stepchild just like we treat teachers. It’s always the thing least respected and that anyone can do.

    Sorry to rant! And again I’m sure there are those who think because they are talented at building something pretty in a tool that they are the best e-Learning designer, developer, ID (or whatever you want to call it) in the world. But there is so much more to learning than making something pretty in a tool. Anyone in this field needs to understand learning and the science of it before claiming they know what they’re doing. At the very least, do you homework. But if you claim to be an ID and we can’t talk about anything other than the tricks and trades of building something in Captivate or Storyline, you’re a fraud, and it’s just that simple. There is so much more to Instructional Design than storyboards, Captivate, and Storyline.

    • Thanks for the comment! You made some great point! I agree with you that there are a lot of folks who enter our industry with the idea that anyone can create learning. I think that IS an issue; however, I’ve worked with a lot of folks who do have degrees in learning and instructional design and still don’t know what they’re doing. My point is, you don’t need a degree to be successful in our industry, but it doesn’t mean you don’t have to work to gain the proper experience to do it right. I appreciate you taking the time to write such a great response!

      • 100% agree with the Teacher.

        No inhibitions, someone who just knows how to do fancy stuff like storyboards = teachers lesson plans; TNA = teachers learner profile; Training Cycle = all documented on lesson plans and objectives and implemented using differentiation (not included in a lot of eLearning); VARK assessments are done at beginning of every academic year and reviewed half way through the academic year. Screening of Maths; English; and any ALS needs. Not handled in eLearning. How people learn and assimilate information; eLearning makes assumptions and users just have to adjust to a new way of responding.

        Really eLearning is modernised way of teaching without all the requirements of understanding the learner fully. It’s a new way of making lots and lots of money, so join them or be left behind! I joined the race 🙂 but still maintain my abilities to understand the learner throughout my design process.

  • Carrie W.
    2 years ago

    Let’s first determine the difference between an e-learning designer and a developer. Designers are not just cruising the available interactions of an authoring tool to see what might look cool. If you are truly ‘designing’ the e-learning, you are picking out the right interactions, creating appropriate quiz questions and tactics, developing scenarios all pointed at meeting the course objectives. What? The client doesn’t have objectives, or know what they are? Then you need an instructional designer to help them identify the goals of the course, create objectives, and design and develop to meet those objectives. An actual degree might not be required, but certainly training around the concepts and skills of instructional design…if you are truly designing a course from rough content.

    • Hey Carrie. Thanks for the response! I liked that you differentiated between an instructional designer and eLearning developer. I’ve always considered an eLearning developer as a type of instructional designer, as to your point, they also require experience in creating solid instructional design content. Also, I totally agree with you on the need for having experience and ability for instructional design; however, that doesn’t necessarily require a formal degree. Thanks for the contribution!

  • Jennifer Albat
    2 years ago

    I completely agree. I do have a background in workforce education & development with a master’s in educational technology, however, what really got me my job as an ID at a higher ed institution is teaching experience. I previously taught office skills at a community college which holds a little more weight with faculty. In development, each project is different. Sure, I can follow the steps of ADDIE, but it’s all about whether the SME is going to meet those deadlines. Graphic design is where I feel I’m lacking. Working on some PD for that though. 🙂

  • So much of what Carrie, and “Just an ID”, said resonated with me. When I started in ISD there was a clear differentiation between the instructional designer and developer; part of the reason was the complexity involved with developing what we called “CBT” (CD-ROM) and “WBT” (web-based training).

    The problem today is ID’s have been reduced from “performance consultants” to “eLearning order takers.” eLearning ain’t performance! We no longer use the fine art of performance analysis (HPT) and ISD, but rather gather and convert extent data, make existing PowerPoints interactive, and then pray SME’s give us constructive feedback. That’s not how ISD works…

    Formally educated ID’s learn a whole lot more than just how to use software—they learn everything from systems theory, principles of human performance technology, cognitive & media psychology, and design theory and principles. In fact, the best ISD programs shy away from software and teach most everything “analog” because it keeps students focused on evidence-based practice.

  • Brent Howard
    2 years ago

    I will share a brief story. I had decided to tile my bathroom without any previous training, just based on what I learned from YouTube videos and other online directions. As I was walking across the home depot parking lot a trades person stopped me and said “that tile saw wont help you, you need a real trades person to do that job”. I explained to him that I was just attempting a single room that was self contained and not overly complex. He was furious with me “you cant just do our trade as a hobby!” Well I have no intention of saying I am a trades person I just want to make one good room.

    I respect the trades and I believe in apprentice training. However, there is no reason to believe people cant do some aspects of your job to a high degree without formal training. He is correct in that a very large project, large interconnecting rooms, expansion considerations and a host of other technical concerns come in to effect here. But if I am given a smaller part of that project with some guidance and parameters I can actually do a very nice job.

    Formal training in neuroscience, psychology and Instructional design have helped me to instinctively question how all parts of the system are interconnected. We have professional teachers, graphic artists, writers, voice specialists, coders and project managers for a reason. Yes, you can try to do all these things on your own too but I have learned and benefited so much from people in each of these fields over the years.

    I dont find it necessary to say you cant do e-learning without a degree but I would advise that formal training should add to your skills not detract. Take your natural abilities and expand and showcase them in a formal environment, it will raise the bar for all of us.

  • Tabitha
    1 year ago

    I am currently working toward my master’s degree in Instructional Design. I have to admit, I am personally torn on whether you need a degree. My bachelor’s degree is in Middle School Math and my first job was at a small, private school. Private schools do not require their teachers to have a degree to teach. At that job, I met some of the best teachers who did not have degrees. They were amazing teachers and I would want my children in their classroom. However, these amazing people also taught younger children. Would I want them to teacher my children high level classes? Probably not, just because I can see the benefit of having a degree for that. Even though most days at my job, I feel like I wasted twenty grand to earn my degree and most of my knowledge came from on the job training. There are times when I see just how useful my degree can be. It’s the times when I learned something in a class setting that helps me teach my students that I could not have learned from on the job training. Therefore, I am torn on the to degree or not to degree debate.

  • Joyce Douglas
    1 year ago

    Hi Tim,

    Thanks for sharing your opinion on degrees. Currently I have a Masters in Management and Leadership and work as an Instructional Designer, Facilitator, Project Manager, and Problem Solver. We have recently been highly encouraged/tasked to develop four e-Learning courses. So I decided it might be a good idea to return to school – however, I believe that I may need to just spend time developing too…What is the best way to get started? AND how does Storyline 2 compare to Camtasia 9?


    • Hi Joyce! Thanks for reading and commenting. Sorry it’s taken me so long to respond…I’ve been traveling that last few weeks. Congrats on your Masters! That’s a huge accomplishment. Given the situation you’ve described, I personally wouldn’t suggest going back to school. If you’re already working as an instructional designer, I would focus on learning how to transfer those skills towards eLearning. From an ID perspective, the adult learning principles are the same…you’re just applying them to a different modality (eLearning rather than the classroom). I would suggest figuring out what eLearning authoring tool you want to use (Storyline is a great one), and then learn the fundamentals of the eLearning development process. If you haven’t already done so, I would encourage you to check out my book: The eLearning Designer’s Handbook. It’s written for folks just like you. I also have a 40-lesson online course on the same topic: Getting Started with The eLearning Development Process. Besides that, as for your last question, Storyline and Camtasia are very different tools. Camtasia is a video recording and editing tool…and Storyline is intended for creating interactive eLearning content. They are both great tools and I use them both on a regular basis. I hope that helps. Please let me know if you have any other questions!

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