Instructional Designer: Job Responsibilities & Salary Expectations

Across today’s fast-paced and ever-changing education industries, the role of an instructional designer has become increasingly important. And it is clear why. Instructional design professionals are responsible for developing engaging learning experiences for students who learn in various settings – including those who are educated in a traditional classroom and those who are taught in a virtual environment. And that’s not all. Instructional designers also help create courses for businesses to train their employees – among other responsibilities. In this article, we’ll explore the role of instructional designer and the salary range those in this profession can expect to see.

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The Role of an Instructional Designer

Tasked with designing custom learning and training programs, instructional designers play a critical role in the worlds of education and business. Their primary responsibilities include analyzing the needs of learners, designing learning objectives and outcomes; and developing educational materials that align with specific goals. Simply put, these designers research the science behind how humans learn and use it to develop instructional materials of all kinds, including:

  • Activity books
  • Textbooks
  • Graphs
  • Charts
  • Maps
  • Infographics
  • Posters
  • Printed brochures
  • Software programs
  • Websites
  • Mobile applications
  • Virtual simulations

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Industrial designers have dynamic roles that come with a lot of responsibility. The following are some of the typical duties of an instructional designer:

  • Evaluate educational needs. Conduct assessments to identify knowledge gaps among students and the overall goals of the learning program. In addition to evaluating needs, instructional designers help determine the best ways to teach the skills required for successful performance. 
  • Design instructional materials. As the job title suggests, instructional design professionals are responsible for designing effective educational materials, including content for courses, learning activities, and assessments. 
  • Develop learning goals. Instructional designers don’t just design the learning materials, they also help develop the learning objectives that identify what the learners should be able to do after completing the instruction. 
  • Choose delivery methods. One of the responsibilities of this role includes selecting the best delivery methods to meet the learning goals and the needs of the students. This may include selecting e-learning courses, in-person classroom instruction, blended learning methods, or implementing the use of simulations. 
  • Manage multiple projects. Designers in this profession play a dynamic role. As a result, they must be able to manage multiple projects that may have competing timelines and varying budgets and resources. 
  • Assess effectiveness. Instructional designers are not just tasked with designing educational materials and developing learning goals, they also evaluate the effectiveness of those materials and how they align with the goals set forth in the project. 
  • Contribute to the development of instructional design best practices. Instructional designers help the industry evolve by refining standards and coming up with new style guides and templates. 
  • Collaborate with subject experts. Design professionals whose careers center around the science of learning must collaborate with other industries all the time. In fact, the successful completion of an instructional designer’s work often depends on them meeting with subject matter experts. 

Good instructional design is a process of taking a complex task and breaking it down into maneageable parts. It’s about understanding how people learn and creating an environment in which they can learn best.”

– Julie Dirksen, Instructional Designer and Author of Design for How People Learn

hands gesture suggesting that someone is explaining a concept

Technical & Soft Skills Instructional Designers Need to Succeed

Instructional design professionals need a variety of skills to succeed in their roles. Here are some of the key technical skills and soft skills employers look for when hiring instructional designers.

Technical Skills

  • Knowledge of instructional design principles and philosophies
  • Proficient experience working with authoring tools such as Articulate, Adobe Captivate, Lectora, and Brainshark.
  • Experience with learning management systems (LMS) and other learning technologies suited for the virtual classroom.
  • Ability to conduct needs assessments, evaluate learning outcomes, and adjust strategies accordingly.
  • Experience working with virtual classrooms and webinar platforms.

Soft Skills

  • Excellent verbal and written communication skills.
  • Extreme attention to detail and ability to maintain accuracy.
  • Strong collaboration skills to work with subject matter experts and colleagues.
  • Ability to take and give constructive criticism.
  • Innovative ideas to develop instructional materials.
  • Problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
  • Adaptability in an evolving industry. 

“The purpose of instructional design is to enable people to learn, whether they are students in a classroom, employees in a corporation, or customers in a retail environment.”

– Ruth Colvin Clark, PhD in Educational Psychology and Instructional Technology and Author of Evidence Based Training Methods: Guide for Training Professionals

Educational Requirements for this Role

The knowledge and skill requirements for an instruction design job can vary widely depending on the type of employer and the industry one works in. However, most employers seek candidates with some form of formal education – in many cases a Bachelor’s degree – and in others, a master’s degree in instructional design or education is preferred. 

A bachelor’s degree in instructional design or a related career field can provide budding designers with a solid foundation for understanding relevant theories, principles, and best practices. Students in bachelor’s programs take courses in topics that explore the science behind learning, the development of a curriculum and eLearning technology. Many programs that offer bachelor’s degrees in instructional design encourage students to design projects or take on internships to gain real-world experience.

A master’s degree in this or a related field can help professionals improve upon their knowledge. It also aids them in advancing their skills in project management, needs assessment, evaluation, and research. Many master’s degree programs also offer specializations in areas like eLearning or educational technology – so learners can take their knowledge to even greater heights.

In addition to acquiring formal training, many instructional design professionals may also benefit from earning certifications in relevant areas as such learning management systems (LMS) or instructional leadership. Certification programs can provide the opportunity for instructional designers to strengthen their expertise and stay up-to-date with current trends in the industry.

an instructional designer stares at a wall of notes with colleagues

Salary Expectations for Professionals in Instructional Design

The average instructional designer’s salary can vary widely depending on where they are located, their level of experience in the field, and what industries they’ll be working for. However, according to data pulled from, the average salary for an instructional design professional in the United States is around $77,000 as of January 2023

The research goes on to reveal that the typical salary range for an instructional design position is between $69,000 and $85,000. Other resources, like, position the entry-level salary for instructional designers a bit lower – with it possibly starting around $55,000. Salary Expert also estimates that senior positions have even higher earning potential – capping out at around $94,000. 

5 Factors That May Impact Your Salary as an Instructional Designer: 

  • Geographic Location: Instructional designer salaries vary depending on where they live. And like most jobs involving tech, candidates will find more opportunities in big city centers such as Los Angeles versus smaller towns. But don’t just take our word for it, review documents like Global eLearning Salary & Compensation Report and see for yourself. 
  • Knowledge of Tech: The learning tools and technologies of the instructional design trade are always evolving. So, designers must stay on top of the authoring tools that enable them to make the learning materials needed in today’s high-technology world. 
  • Level of Experience: Salary is sometimes determined by one’s experience level. So, those with senior-level knowledge (8+ years) can expect to see much higher salaries than those fresh out of college. 
  • Previous Job Positions: One’s career trajectory can be tracked by the positions they’ve held. So, if you’ve been lucky enough to land a leadership role in the past, you can likely expect a higher salary offer than a candidate who has not. 
  • Specialty Skills: eLearning professionals like those who work in instructional design can stand out from the crowd by developing a specialty in a particular platform or industry. Those who master their specialty can typically expect high salary offers from industries seeking folks with those specific skills. 


Instructional design is a vital field that is blossoming across diverse industries. From healthcare and finance to education and technology, professionals who practice instructional design play a critical role in the life of learners. And as the demand for online learning and virtual corporate training continues to grow, the need for skilled instructional designers will too! This means that, for years to come, there will many opportunities for those who work in instructional design to grow their careers and make positive impacts on students.