What is the average instructional design salary?
One of the most common questions that people ask when they consider instructional design as a profession is: how much money do instructional designers make?
Want to learn more? Read on!
Based on a survey I conducted and that got responses from 754 instructional designers across the world, I put together an instructional designer report with the following insights:
We’ll look at each of these stats in more detail below. But first, let’s start with taking a look at what instructional designers do.
Instructional designers create effective eLearning experiences based on best practices from education, design, psychology, creative writing, and systems theory for corporate training or education purposes.
However, instructional designers, or IDs, rarely train audiences themselves. Instead, they work behind the scenes to design the learning experience in collaboration with subject matter experts, and then trainers and teachers deliver the experiences. Alternatively, as is the case most often in corporate settings these days, it's a self-paced learning experience that isn't delivered by anyone.
Yes, instructional designers are in demand. Annual job growth is often estimated at more than 10%.
Most instructional designers work in the public sector (49%). However, there are also plenty of job openings in the private sector (29%) with education in third place (23%). 21% of instructional designers work for Fortune 500 companies, 20% for educational companies, and 11% for tech companies. Other industries include health care, finance, retail, and more.
But is instructional design a good career path? That’s what we’ll look at next.
Yes, instructional design is a great career. It’s frequently mentioned in “top jobs” lists such as this one on CNN. Overall, instructional design can be a fulfilling and interesting career path for people who thrive in multidisciplinary industries.
In this video, I talk more about how to become an instructional designer:
Instructional designers can work as employees, freelancers, or consultants. As an employee, you earn a salary. As a freelancer or consultant, you typically charge by the project or by the hour.
According to my own research, 75% of instructional designers are full-time employees, whereas 12.2% are freelancers or contractors. 12.8% work as both full-time employees and freelancers.
In other words, instructional designers can make money in different ways, but earning a salary is the most common way.
The salary level of instructional designers varies from country to country. And the differences within a country can be equally broad.
The worldwide salary range for instructional designers who are full-time employees is 282 USD on the low end and 183,000 USD on the high end. In the United States, the respondents’ full-time salaries range from 30,000 USD to 183,000 USD.
Self-employed instructional designers worldwide yearly earnings range from 500 USD to 325,000 USD. In the United States, the self-employed respondents’ yearly earnings range from 4,748 USD to 325,000 USD.
The average full-time employee salaries for the countries with more than 10 respondents are as follows:
“N” refers to the number of respondents in a given category. Currency conversations were completed on October 17th, 2021.
If we look at total compensation (full-time salary + self-employed income), then we see the combined average earnings of people who are employed full-time, self-employed, or both:
The big jump in earnings for Australia here indicates that the self-employed earnings of the respondents outpace their earnings from full-time positions.
If you prefer video content, I talk more about ID salaries here:
Since over 400 respondents in the United States completed the survey (and 367 of them are full-time employees), we can analyze the US data even further. All dollar amounts in this section are in USD.
The overall averages for respondents in the US are as follows:
95 of the 411 respondents in the US are earning $100,000 or more, and 61 of the respondents in the US are earning less than $60,000.
The strongest indicator of earning potential for corporate instructional designers in the United States is years of experience. Respondents with portfolios who are new to the field (0-3 years experience) also earn ~15% more than their peers without portfolios.
Corporate instructional designers are the highest earners in the industry. Instructional designers who work in higher education earn almost 30% less.
There is still some salary discrepancy in the instructional design field. Instructional designers who identify as male earn, on average, salaries that are 3.5% higher than female instructional designers.
Salaries by education are varied. However, 90% of US respondents with full-time jobs have a bachelor’s or master’s degree, which makes it hard to draw reliable conclusions from the data.
That said, the data does seem to imply that education doesn’t have a large impact on earning potential as an instructional designer. But as those with master’s degrees earn about $2,000 more than those with bachelor’s degrees, that investment might pay off over the course of a career.
Experience is one of the best indicators for earning potential in full-time positions. Instructional designers tend to earn higher salaries the longer they’ve been in the field.
Since there are not many respondents with more than 20 years of experience, it is hard to draw any conclusions about why respondents with 16-20 years of experience are earning more, on average, than respondents with more than 20 years of experience.
In terms of ethnicity, it seems like hispanic and latino respondents earn the most with white respondents earning the least. This could be due to the sample size of POC respondents, so the data isn’t necessarily conclusive here.
When analyzed through the lens of years of experience, there are no clear patterns or trends to indicate that people of one ethnicity are earning more than people of another ethnicity.
Instructional designers earn similar amounts irrespective of if they have a portfolio or not.
But if we look at the respondents’ experience, the data looks very different. Those with more experience are less likely to have a portfolio, but they are earning more because they’ve been in the field for longer.
If we look at instructional designers with 0-3 years of experience, it’s clear that those with a portfolio earn more than those without a portfolio.
In other words, those with portfolios earn 15% more than those without. They also continue to earn more up until the 15 years of experience mark.
Either portfolios impact earning potential or those with portfolios who spend time on creating their portfolios also spend time on interview prep, resume improvements, and networking.
What this data could tell us is that it might be getting more difficult to stand out and get paid more without a portfolio when someone is new to the field.
Another interesting finding is that those with a portfolio but without a master’s degree or above earn, on average, $88,232 (n=58), whereas those who don’t have a portfolio but do have a master’s degree or above earn $83,709 (n=110).
This data indicates that investing time into creating a portfolio may have higher returns than investing time into a formal education program beyond a bachelor’s degree.
The primary shortcoming with this data is the sample size. Without more responses, it is hard to draw valid conclusions about instructional designer salaries in the USA and beyond.
Furthermore, the primary distribution method for the survey was on LinkedIn. The audience on LinkedIn may be more proactive, since they’re spending their time on a professional social networking platform.
This may indicate that the average salary of instructional designers who are active on LinkedIn is slightly higher than those who are not active on LinkedIn.
I took efforts to combat this by sharing the survey on other platforms where I knew instructional designers were active (Twitter, Reddit, Discord and Slack channels, etc.), and I asked my audience to share it with their networks on other platforms.
Finally, all of this data is self-reported, so respondents may have reported higher salaries than they actually earn.
Most instructional designers who completed this survey are women with master’s degrees working in corporate roles in the United States.
To collect the responses, I distributed the survey on LinkedIn, sent it to my mailing list, shared it in a variety of online instructional design communities, and asked people to share it with their instructional design networks.
The survey ran from August 31st, 2021 to October 5th, 2021. It accrued 754 responses in total, but after filtering out the responses from managers, aspiring instructional designers, and people who did not complete all of the questions, we were left with 615 valid responses from individual contributors who do instructional design work.
The respondents live in over 20 different countries, although there are only 5 countries with more than 10 people who responded to the survey.
The respondents work mostly in the corporate space, which, for this survey, includes healthcare, tech, consulting companies, and other for-profit companies that do not fit into the other categories. The industry breakdown is as follows:
Most of the respondents are also full-time employees (75%). 12.8% of the respondents work full-time and do client work on the side, and 12.2% of respondents are full-time freelancers or contractors (self-employed).
Finally, a large portion of the respondents (44%), are newer to the field:
So, while we will look at a variety of comparisons and statistics, keep in mind that most respondents are full-time employees working corporate jobs in the USA.
Are you interested in breaking into the field or landing a higher paying position?
Take a look at how the ID Bootcamp can help you land your next job (even if you have no experience).