Develop Your Instructional Design Skills

Instructional design is often a career people fall into. When you scroll through comment sections online, you’ll see the same question from people interested in entering the field: Where do I learn instructional design skills?

While you might find a graduate degree or certificate useful (especially if you plan to work in higher education), it’ll depend on the industry you focus on. Even if you decide to hold off on the degree for now, there’s plenty of low-cost options to help you develop your skills.

Read a book

As a former library assistant, I feel obligated to mention the wealth of knowledge found in books. Goodreads has a great list of Popular Instructional Design Books.

When I read Tim Slade’s “eLearning Designer’s Handbook” as a new designer, I found it useful for thinking about how to organize my projects. But you don’t have to stick to industry-specific books. Instructional design pulls from multiple disciplines, so it’s a good idea to read books from related fields or learn from books far afield.

Read blogs and listen to podcasts

Blogs discuss trends, tackle current issues, and explore future possibilities. Whether written by a tool provider, industry leader, or instructional designer, blogs provide a wealth of information.

You’re not limited to reading blogs—developing your own blog around instructional design and eLearning topics lets you apply the ideas you’re learning. Model eLearning began as a way for our team to research and share our thoughts with the larger eLearning community.

Similarly, podcasts focus on a variety of topics. I’ve subscribed to lots of podcasts, but I’ll admit I’ve yet to listen to most them (there’s only so much time in a day!). Still, I join TLDCast live whenever I can, and I plan to carve out some time in the near future to check out others.

Take a class, webinar, or tutorial

It’s easier than ever to learn technical skills with free tutorials and video explanations on various digital tools. YouTube has tons of tutorials to sharpen your tech skills. Or look for reasonably priced tutorials on LinkedIn Learning (formally, Udemy, Skillcrush, and many more.

Similarly, search for webinars related to training and development from tool providers or industry leaders. Or try a course from edX, Coursera, or NovoEd.

In addition to instructional design skills, consider picking up adjacent skills such as graphic design, video editing, technical writing, user experience design, etc.

Network and build relationships with other instructional designers

Whether you attend a bigger conference or a smaller regional or topical one, you’ll find a range of sessions and networking opportunities. Look for a conference that includes subjects or speakers relevant to your interests or industry. As an eLearning team for a university, our team benefited from attending higher education conferences like the MI OER Summit, e-Cornucopia, Accessible Learning Conference, and the Symposium on Universal Design for Instruction and Learning.

If you can’t make it to a conference, you can still network on social media or in an online community. Use the conference hashtag to learn from the Twitter back channel or follow hashtags related to instructional design.

Additionally, working with a mentor helps you take steps forward in your career. A good one will listen, help you focus on your goals, introduce you to others in the field, and provide feedback. It’s best to find someone who structures expectations and looks for consensus on how the mentoring sessions take place.

Create a portfolio

Portfolios let you show your experience and ability to apply instructional design skills. A hiring manager isn’t likely to employ someone who can’t prove they can do the job. Even if you haven’t joined the field yet, you can get experience by showing how you’d solve a problem. Designers for Learning is nonprofit providing a great way for you to build a portfolio and gain real-life experience.

Learning and development tends to attract lifelong learners. What’s your favorite place to learn instructional design skills?

Author: Jessica Bishop, Instructional Designer

Jessica is a designer and writer focused on learnability, storytelling, sensemaking, wayfinding, and removing barriers to learning. A Michigan native, she likes crafting, reading, walking, and spending way too much time in the distant corners of the internet. You can also find her at

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