Want to transition from teacher to instructional designer?
You’ve come to the right place. Instructional design can be an extremely fulfilling career path for former teachers. And today, you’ll discover the exact steps you should take to go from teaching to instructional design.
Want to learn more? Read on!
Instructional design is all about creating material to help professionals at companies, organizations, and nonprofits learn new information and skills. Instructional designers create effective and engaging learning experiences by drawing on knowledge and skills from:
Together with subject matter experts (SMEs), instructional designers design and develop learning experiences behind the scenes using rapid authoring tools. They don’t always deliver them directly to the audience (although they sometimes do).
In this short video, I talk more about what instructional design is:
Now, instructional design is a popular career choice among former teachers. Why is that? You’re about to find out.
According to the Wall Street Journal, almost 300,000 teachers quit between February 2020 and May 2022, partly because of understaffed schools and political battles over what teachers can and can’t teach in the classroom.
My audience have reported leaving for a few different reasons, including being underpaid and a lack of work-life balance. The research backs it up, too; K12 teachers are the most burnt-out profession in the US.
At the same time, the global corporate training market is estimated to grow by $46.22 billion from 2021 to 2026. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook forecasts an 11% growth through 2026 for instructional designers and coordinators, which is faster than average.
So, why is instructional design a natural career path for teachers? Because plenty of the skills you’ve developed while teaching are directly transferable. You don’t even have to get a new degree or certificate to get started.
The industry comes with great perks, too. A few of them include:
Case in point: we surveyed almost 700 instructional designers, and 94% of them said they were satisfied with their work-life balance. Also, the average salary is $83,000 per year, and the rise of online learning means that landing a remote job is easier than before. You can even choose to become a freelance instructional designer for more flexibility.
In this video, we talk more about why instructional design is a great career for teachers (and who this career isn’t a fit for):
And in this short video, you get 10 questions that will help you decide if instructional design is the right career choice for you:
Okay, now you know what instructional design is. But how exactly do you go from teacher to instructional designer? That’s what we’ll look at next.
As I mentioned briefly above, many of the skills a teacher uses every day can transfer over to an instructional design role. That’s why many of the instructional designers in my audience are former teachers.
Take my student Joanna Cappuccilli, for example. She transitioned from teaching and became a curriculum developer at Amazon Web Services. Here’s her story:
And here’s Sara’s story. Sara was a K-12 teacher for almost a decade before deciding it was time for a change. While she loved teaching, the downsides of the profession started to wear her down.
Finally, due to a bone tumor, she left her job. While she was uncertain whether she’d be able to use her teaching skills in another field, she landed on instructional design because she loves to create things and fill in skill gaps.
The transition took a lot of work – but as Sara points out, it wasn’t more work than what her teaching job entailed. And today, she works as an instructional designer for a major financial institution.
Find out more about Sara’s journey and how to transition here:
Part of becoming an instructional designer is figuring out how to reframe your experience for your new role. So, what are the most important teacher skills that are useful as an instructional designer? Let’s take a look.
As a teacher, you regularly plan lessons and potentially even help develop curriculum.
Since analyzing training needs is an important aspect of instructional design, these skills are directly transferable into an instructional design role.
Just as you work with learning objectives and map your lessons as a teacher, in instructional design, you align training learning objectives with business or organizational goals. So, for example, if a nonprofit needs to train fundraisers in order to bring in more money, the training needs to correspond to that goal.
In teaching, you need to keep your audience (students) engaged – and you know exactly how demanding that can be. Fortunately, adult learners can often be easier to engage. Still, your teaching experience can be directly applied to your instructional design tasks.
As a teacher, you evaluate your lessons in many ways: how engaged your students were, what they learned, how well they completed tasks, and so on.
Instructional designers also evaluate their lessons, but slightly differently. While teachers are in the classroom, IDs aren’t. So, they rely on surveys, reports, data points, and other information to understand how impactful a learning experience was.
Like teachers, instructional designers create learning experiences that work for their audiences. How? By analyzing their learners. The process is slightly different (again, teachers interact directly with their students, whereas IDs rely on learner personas), but the skills you have as a teacher are highly relevant for this step.
So, those are just a few teaching skills you can use as an instructional designer. But there are plenty of other skills you can use in your new career, such as project management, your communication skills, and so on. As you can see, there’s a lot of overlap between both professions.
Next, let’s take a look at the necessary steps to go from teaching to instructional design.
What is the best way to land instructional design jobs for teachers? Here, I’ve listed the most important steps.
Let’s take a look.
There are two key instructional designer skills you need to master: developing with the tech and applying instructional design theory.
Let’s start with the tech.
Tech tools specifically intended for instructional design are usually the biggest skill gap for teachers transitioning to their new careers. So, even though having a teaching background is valuable, you’ll also need to learn the software that’s most often used in instructional design.
The most important software includes rapid authoring tools like Articulate 360 Storyline. This tool is used to create:
I actually have a whole video on learning Storyline 360:
The next skill you need is an understanding of adult learning theory.
See, instructional design is a field where theory is heavily relied upon because these theories are applicable to projects.
One of the most important theories to grasp is ADDIE, which stands for Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate. Each one of these terms refers to a process within instructional design and can be used to create compelling learning experiences that meet learners’ needs.
Other adult learning theories you should understand are:
I talk more about adult learning theories here:
Your portfolio is your most important asset as a new instructional designer – much more important than your resume. Why? Because employers want to see what you can do.
Remember: your portfolio is where they go to learn more about you and your instructional design skills. It’s also where you'll highlight your best projects. So, you need a portfolio that stands out and helps you land your preferred job opportunities.
Now, don’t worry if you don’t have multiple projects to display yet. A lot of the most effective portfolios I’ve seen highlight one very strong project. Ultimately, that’s all it takes to make a good first impression.
It’s a matter of quality over quantity.
There are three steps to creating a portfolio:
I recommend that you start by creating a flagship project. Here, you build a project from A to Z and implement your ID skills.
For example, you might go in and analyze why a team isn’t reaching its goals. If it’s because of a lack of skills, you’d build a scenario-based learning experience that fills in that skill gap.
You can also include a few supporting projects. These can be storyboarding projects where you create storyboards and explain why and how you created them. Alternatively, you can include short, visually-appealing eLearning interactions.
Then, set up a website with a simple website builder like Squarespace, Wix, Webflow, or WordPress. You can also build a site from scratch.
Here, I explain more about what you need to think about when you’re creating your portfolio:
And here are some great portfolio examples to help you get started:
The next step is to build your network.
Like in most industries, networking is the key to landing a job in instructional design. Why? Because you never know what kinds of opportunities might appear. You’ll always have an advantage if you personally know someone at the company you’re interviewing for.
A great way to network is by leveraging LinkedIn. That’s because many recruiters, hiring managers, and fellow instructional designers hang out there. So, having a presence on LinkedIn can help you land opportunities effectively.
To stand out on LinkedIn, make sure you keyword-optimize your profile based on your resume. Use terms like instructional design, instructional designer, eLearning developer, learning experience designer, and designed learning experiences. You want to use the terminology that’s used in the field throughout your profile.
Another great way are industry communities. For example, join my community for instructional designers.
Here’s how you can help recruiters and hiring managers come to you – and, by extension, drive traffic to your portfolio:
To increase your chances of getting job offers, don’t stop at doing some light background research.
There are two effective steps to answer interview questions:
Understanding these interviewing techniques will change the game for you.
Essentially, a thesis statement is a 5-7 sentence summary of who you are, your work experience, and why you’re the best fit for the role.
And the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, and Result) helps you add structure and tell a clear story when answering interview questions. It comes down to describing the situation/role/responsibility, the actions you took to complete the task or solve the problem, and the outcome or results.
Once you’ve mastered these techniques, your interviews will become a lot easier and more enjoyable.
Now you know what it takes to become an instructional designer. Next, let’s look at something that a lot of new instructional designers struggle with: taking the leap.
Changing careers can be anxiety-inducing. That’s exactly what my friend and client Sean Anderson felt, too.
He was burnt out from his teaching job and wanted to find a new career path. So, when he saw just how useful his education and teaching experience could be as an instructional designer, he decided to pursue an ID career.
At the same time, he was afraid he wouldn’t land a job and would have to return to teaching. He was also unsure of whether he’d learn the tech well enough and whether he’d acquire skills that warranted a much higher salary than what a teaching career offers.
But seeing other people successfully transition from teaching to instructional design made all the difference for him, along with community support in my programs.
After he landed multiple job offers, he chose a flexible, remote instructional design job that offered a complete lifestyle change.
We talk to so many teachers who say the same thing: changing careers feels intimidating. You might feel imposter syndrome creeping up and think you can’t learn the tech or ID skills needed.
Granted, pursuing a new career is a lot of work. But that work can really help you go from a career that leaves you feeling burnt out to one that you love. And Sean’s story highlights that you can get through imposter syndrome.
Watch my full talk with Sean here:
Now you know what it takes to transition from teaching to instructional design.
Technically, you don’t need a degree or instructional design certificate to get started. But if you want to fast-track your instructional design skills, build a community around you, and understand what it takes to land a job in the industry, online courses can help you accelerate your transition.
The programs here on DevlinPeck.com are created for new instructional designers who want to land a job – and many of our students are former teachers.
We offer a few different options:
The ID Bootcamp is for people who are new to instructional design and who want to land corporate instructional design jobs. The program offers personalized, one-on-one feedback from experienced instructional designers, an engaged community of IDs, and small group feedback sessions to help you ensure your portfolio and skills meet all the requirements.
One of our students is Kristin, who went from teaching to instructional design. She says:
“The bootcamp helped me build a flagship project and portfolio that I’m incredibly proud of. As I approached the job market, I felt confident calling myself a learning experience designer and talking with prospective employers about my design process. I was even approached by a few recruiters and hiring managers to apply for roles within their companies after they saw my portfolio on Linkedin.
Ultimately, my portfolio helped me land multiple offers and a great position with my dream company, all thanks to Devlin’s bootcamp!"
The Storyline Project Lab will help you hone your Storyline 360 skills – whether you’re totally new to Storyline or already use it. Ultimately, this course is all about supporting you in creating stand-out projects for your portfolio.
Nicole Brodsky, one of our students, says:
“After 20+ years of experience as a university professor, I can say with 100% certainty that the Storyline Project Lab landed me my first instructional design position. I know this because during my job interview with the recruiter and hiring manager, both pointed to my portfolio as the reason I was being considered. Specifically, they loved the software simulation project, and I never would have done this project without the lab.”
Lastly, here are a few of our students who’ve gone from teaching to instructional design after participating in our programs:
Sara is based in Canada and went from teaching to landing an ID role at Best Buy. Thanks to the flagship project and portfolio website she developed, she was able to gain confidence, improve her skills, and ultimately land multiple offers.
Aleks was a K-12 art teacher who wanted to become an instructional designer. She knew she needed a strong portfolio, so she joined our bootcamp. With her human-centered portfolio website, she was ultimately able to land a learning design role at Fidelity.
David worked as a teacher but wanted to pursue a career in design and technology. That’s why he chose to transition into instructional design. Since he didn’t know how to create a portfolio, he joined our bootcamp.
The result? Thanks to his flagship project and portfolio, David landed a remote curriculum development role at Amazon Web Services.
You can also read more stories on my showcase page.
There you have it! Now you know what it means to build a career as an instructional designer – and how you can transition from teacher to instructional designer yourself.
Want to learn more?
Grab my free checklist to get started as an instructional designer.