Looking for the best instructional design certifications?
Today, you’ll get the 28 top certificate programs and courses. We’ll also explore whether a certificate program is necessary for landing a job as an instructional designer.
Ready to learn more? Let’s go.
Instructional designers, or IDs, are an integral part of the fast-growing eLearning industry, which is expected to grow to $325 billion by 2025. As an instructional designer, you create learning experiences for corporations, educational institutions, nonprofits, and governmental agencies.
Maybe you’re looking for the best ways to land your first job. But you’re unsure if you should get an instructional design certification–or even a degree.
So, should you?
Here’s what you need to know!
I recently surveyed 101 hiring managers about the qualifications they look for when hiring instructional designers. Less than 13% of hiring managers included education as one of their top three considerations when hiring. When asked which three things the respondents consider when hiring an instructional designer for a role, they selected:
Outside of these requirements, 42.6% look for applicants with a bachelor’s degree. A third (33.7%) prefer hiring IDs with a master’s degree. And only 17.8% look for instructional designers with a professional-level certificate.
As you can see, it’s much more important to develop your skill set and show it in your portfolio than to pursue a degree. Some skills include eLearning development, communication skills, and the ability to apply instructional design theory and science to learning development–the top three skills hiring managers look for.
My short video explains more about the skills you’ll need to enter the field of instructional design:
Now, many IDs begin their careers as teachers or work in similar roles where they’re helping people learn. These are valid and useful backgrounds for getting into instructional design without having to get another degree.
That said, a degree is necessary in some cases—particularly if you want to work with certain educational institutions or governmental agencies. Typically, they require a master’s degree rather than a bachelor’s degree or a certificate.
However, most instructional designers I work with opt for the private sector. And in those cases, degrees aren’t necessary. If you’d like to work in the corporate space, then the best use of your time will be to build in-demand skills and create a strong portfolio.
But you might feel like a degree will give you credibility and boost your confidence. This may be the case, but it also may not be.
For example, I earned my master’s degree at Florida State University. I learned a lot about the field and made some great connections, but some of the classes weren’t up-to-date, and I had to do a lot of work outside of the classroom to create a competitive portfolio.
My degree did give me confidence in some situations (like when I’m teaching instructional design), but it isn’t necessary for breaking into the field or landing a great job.
I talk more about the pros and cons in this short video:
So that’s my take on degrees in general.
But what about certifications? Let’s take a look.
An instructional design certificate is shorter and more affordable than a degree program. Certificate programs often include a specific number of credit hours (3-5 classes) and can take one to two semesters to complete. The cost is typically at least a few thousand dollars.
At the same time, you can get the same information (and hands-on support) by participating in an A-Z course that shows you how to build your instructional design skills and portfolio. Or you can enroll in a course that builds a specific skill, such as your Articulate Storyline skills.
The biggest argument against certifications is this:
There is no such thing as an instructional design “certification” (AKA proof that you meet industry standards). There are only instructional design certificates.
In other words, an instructional design certification won’t get you “certified.” You’re not checking off a requirement to get a job by earning a certificate.
However, while both can be priced similarly, an A-Z course is often far more hands-on. If the course includes modules on key skills and helps you find a job, then you can often land a job faster without the need to spend time and money on a certificate program.
That said, a certificate can give you a certain structure and a good introduction to the basics of instructional design. Plus, if you get a certificate with the intention to do a master’s degree later on, some certificate programs count credits towards the master’s degree once you enroll in it.
So, if you want to get started right away (without a certificate), then this checklist will show you how to build the necessary skills and portfolio to land high-paying, remote corporate role as an instructional designer:
But if you do want to get a certificate, what certificate should you go for? Here you go!
The best instructional design certificate programs are the ones that teach you everything you need for the ID jobs you want. If you’re moving from an education or technology background into ID, you may already hold many of the necessary skills. In this case, a shorter online instructional design certificate program is your best choice.
These 20 online ID certificate programs will teach you some of the crucial aspects of instructional design. (Note that I haven’t enrolled in these certificate programs, but I’ve listed the most credible, well-known, and/or best-rated programs.)
Florida State University
Florida State University (my alma mater) is one of the leading universities for instructional design education. Their certificate programs consist of 15 credit hours and can be completed online. For the Online Instructional Development certificate, there are three required courses (Introduction to Distance Learning, Technology Design Skills, and Introduction to Systematic Instructional Design), and then you can choose among nine other courses.
You can complete Harvard’s Graduate Certificate in Learning Design and Technology online or on campus. Students need to hold a bachelor’s degree to be eligible for this course. Composed of four shorter courses, students learn foundational instructional design theories, frameworks, and how to develop digital learning experiences.
Relevant technologies, instructional design methods, and project planning techniques are also covered. This course stacks toward three different advanced degrees; Digital Media Design, Mathematics for Teaching, and Museum Studies master’s degrees.
This online certificate in instructional design and technology helps students develop skills for creating new curricula for educational, governmental, military, and corporate clients. The course takes approximately six months to complete. Multiple start dates allow students the flexibility to fit their learning around work and other commitments.
University of Cambridge
Designed to enhance the career and skills development of professionals interested in a range of educational settings. This postgraduate certificate teaches students how adults learn by drawing on a wide range of pedagogical research and theory. Students will develop the knowledge, skills, behaviors, and values necessary to promote innovative practice in learning design.
Price: £6,000 ($7,316) or £9,501 for overseas students ($11,585)
University of Georgia
This eLearning instructional design certificate teaches students how to match engagement levels for online learning with in-person learning experiences. Over two courses, students will learn how to implement the ADDIE instructional design model, explore fundamental learning theories and put eLearning and instructional design theories into practice.
Indiana University Bloomington
This introduction to analyzing, designing, developing, and evaluating educational tools gives students the knowledge and skills needed to advance their careers in instructional design. The 15-hour graduate certificate in instructional design also prepares learners for a master’s or doctorate in Instructional Systems Technology.
Michigan State University
Over the course of a year, students will gain the knowledge and skills needed to become thoughtful and proficient online educators. Successful completion of this eLearning instructional design certificate prepares students for employment with private and non-profit organizations as well as provides credits towards a master’s in Arts and Educational Technology (MAET) degree.
University of Washington
This four-course certificate program gives students a firm foundation in the art and science of eLearning and instructional design. Explore the tools and techniques for developing courses, and the essentials of eLearning while gaining hands-on experience in creating your own eLearning curriculum or training module.
Duke’s Online Learning Certificate gives students an introduction to the process of designing, implementing, and delivering online learning programs. Their course includes tuition on the modes and techniques for creating online courses as well as hands-on experience designing and creating online learning content.
University of Massachusetts
Focusing on the design, assessment, and evaluation elements of instructional design, this post-graduate certificate consists of five courses. Learning theory and design elements pertaining to training and education are also covered.
University of Alberta
Teaching philosophies, learning theories, and methods for teaching and learning in post-secondary settings are covered in this four-course post-graduate certificate. This certificate stacks towards a Master of Education in Educational Studies (MES).
University of British Columbia
This certificate in Educational technology gives students the skills and knowledge needed for a range of different positions. Along with preparing to develop and design learning tools, students will be prepared for leadership roles involving the management and implementation of digital learning solutions.
Texas A&M University
Learn how to analyze, design, develop, implement and evaluate a variety of learning modalities. The program prepares students for positions with private and non-profit organizations as well as government agencies and educational institutions.
University of Ohio
Created to help build students' instructional design technology skills, this graduate certificate provides the knowledge, skills, and experiences needed to work independently and collaboratively in this fast-growing occupation.
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
This two-course certificate can be completed in four months. It covers how to apply the elements of a systematic instructional design process, terminology pertinent to the design of learning systems, and analysis of design models along with other essential knowledge and skills.
The Digital Learning Institute
In three hours of study over a course of eight weeks, you’ll be able to achieve this professional certificate. Students learn how to design, build and implement eLearning while practicing core design principles and working with subject matter experts.
Price: €899 ($958)
University of Toronto
This certificate helps you apply instructional design principles and industry best practices to create appropriate and sustainable training. You’ll delve into adult learning theory, the learning design life cycle, and more. The certificate consists of four modules: Foundations of Instructional Design, Theory and Science of Learning, Developing & Delivering Learning Programs, and Designing and Conducting Evaluations.
There you have it–those are the top certificate programs. But if you want a faster route, online courses might be the thing for you.
And here are the top courses in the industry.
The best way to become an instructional designer is to choose a course that helps you master the skills needed to excel in this profession. Building a portfolio that showcases your strengths is essential, too.
If your goal is to land a job as an instructional designer, look for courses that teach you the most important parts of the role. Also, take a look at the roles the courses aim to prepare you for and where previous alumni have found work. For instance, these are the results our students get after learning with us.
(Note that I haven’t tried all of these courses. These recommendations are based on information online, reviews, and the reputation of the business/university offering these courses.)
Students learn with a community of peers and get hands-on experience with in-demand instructional design tools and technology. One of the greatest outcomes of the bootcamp is the professional portfolio that helps students land high-paying jobs.
The ability to use Articulate Storyline is the most in-demand technical skill in the instructional design space today. In this course, students use all functions and features while creating eight real-world projects for their portfolios.
There are many ways to figure out Storyline, but the Storyline Project Lab fast-tracks learning so you can upskill quickly and thoroughly.
This video provides a taste of what you can expect from this course.
Learn how to quickly synthesize unfamiliar content, evaluate new technologies, and develop learning solutions that best meet the needs of a diverse audience with Harvard’s online course. The project-based approach closes the gap between theory and practice for students
Throughout this 3-week bootcamp, students will learn how to apply instructional design best practices to online course creation. Students begin by learning about the ADDIE process and go on to cover the analysis, design, and development of online courses.
Price: This course is free but requires an application, as seating and student selection are limited
This five-week SHRM-certified NovoEd course provides hands-on learning experience design training, assignments, and peer-to-peer learning with students from a wide range of backgrounds. Students learn how to collaborate effectively and work cross-functionally.
This three-month course with MIT teaches students the fundamentals of design thinking from concept development, to applied creativity, prototyping, and experimentation.
Gain an understanding of the original instructional design framework that is still used today–ADDIE. Students learn the specific action associated with each phase of the ADDIE process and how this framework supports learning experiences in all modalities.
Price: $295 for non-members and $195 for members
Learn how to start using Adobe Illustrator with Coursera’s 1.5-hour guided project. Students will be led through all of the functions and features of this program. This course provides hands-on learning and practical skills building.
Price: Included with Coursera, which costs $39.99 monthly
University of California, Berkeley
Develop your graphic communication and visual design strategy understanding to help you design solutions to real-world problems. Students learn how to apply both conceptual and technical approaches to design problems.
This course gives students a firm grasp of what it takes to create professional videos. Led by LinkedIn’s content manager, Rob Garrott, students will develop skills for getting started in video production and editing.
Price: Included with LinkedIn Learning, which costs $39.99 monthly
Learn in-demand skills for UX designers in less than six months with Google’s professional certificate course. Students will learn foundational UX concepts, how to apply the design process to UX, and build 3 different projects to include in a professional UX portfolio.
Price: Included with Coursera, which costs $39.99 monthly
There you have it! These are the best instructional design certifications and courses.
While you don’t necessarily need a certificate to become an instructional designer, these certificate programs are ideal for those who want to pursue one. And if you’re ready to jump right into instructional design, the courses I’ve listed will help you get started.
Want to jumpstart your own instructional design career?
Get the free checklist that shows you how you can start building your instructional design career: