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!

Additional Resources

Tim Slade
Tim Slade is a speaker, author, and award-winning 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, co-author of the popular E-Learning Uncovered book series, and author of the The eLearning Designer’s Handbook.

11 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
    4 months 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.
    4 months 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
    4 months 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.

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