Instructional Designer Full Report 2021

Published on 
October 17, 2021
Updated on 
October 17, 2021
Instructional designer full report 2021

Whether you’re trying to become an instructional designer or you’ve been working in the field for years, you probably want to learn more about the field as a whole. That’s why I created and shared the 2021 Instructional Designer survey.

The 2021 Instructional Designer survey data answers questions such as: 

  • How much money do instructional designers make?
  • Are instructional designers satisfied with their roles and work-life balance?
  • Which tasks do instructional designers do on a regular basis for their jobs?

Here are some of the key takeaways:

  • Instructional designers in the United States earn, on average, $85,466 per year. 
  • 94% of instructional designers are either satisfied or very satisfied with their work-life balance.
  • New instructional designers (0-3 years experience) with portfolios earn ~15% more than their peers without portfolios.
  • 2 in 5 instructional designers use Articulate Storyline 360 more than any other instructional design or development tool.

You are welcome to cite any of the data in this report, but please provide a link to this page as the original source.

Audience Overview

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. 

  • United States - 66.8%
  • India - 6.7%
  • Canada - 5.7%
  • Australia - 3.3%
  • United Kingdom - 2.4%
  • Other - 15.1%
Audience by Country

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:

  • Corporate - 71.4%
  • Higher Education - 13%
  • Non-profit - 8.9%
  • Government - 5.4%
  • K-12 - 1.3%
Audience by Industry

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:

  • 0-3 years - 44%
  • 4-8 years - 31%
  • 9-15 years - 15.5%
  • 16-20 years - 6%
  • 21-25 years - 2%
  • 26+ years - 1.5%
Audience by Years of Experience

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.

Instructional Designer Salary

The average total compensation (full-time earnings + self-employed earnings) for respondents worldwide is 70,601 USD, and the average total compensation for respondents in the USA is 85,467 USD. The total compensation for respondents in the USA rose 2.8% from last year (view the 2020 ID Salary Report).

Instructional Designer Salary Range

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.

Instructional Designer Salary by Country

The average full-time employee salaries for the countries with more than 10 respondents are as follows:

  • United States - 81,685 USD (n=367)
  • Australia -  97,313 AUD (72,191 USD, n=16)
  • Canada - 78,851 CAD (63,726 USD, n=31)
  • United Kingdom - 38,426 GBP (52,855 USD, n=12)
  • India - 832,888 INR (11,100 USD, n=39)

“N” refers to the number of respondents in a given category. Currency conversations were completed on October 17th, 2021.

Average Salary by Country (USD)

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:

  • Australia - 121,191 AUD (89,905 USD, n=20)
  • United States - 85,467 USD (n=411)
  • Canada - 78,877 CAD (63,747 USD, n=35)
  • United Kingdom - 37,813 GBP (52,012 USD, n=15)
  • India - 873,032 INR (11,635 USD, n=41)
Average Total Compensation by Country

The big jump in earnings for Australia here indicates that the self-employed earnings of the respondents outpace their earnings from full-time positions.

Instructional Designer Salary in the USA

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:

  • Full-time employee earnings: $81,685 (n=367)
  • Full-time self-employed earnings: $83,942 (n=44)
  • Total compensation: $85,467 (n=411)
  • Side income earnings: $27,449 (n=53)
Average Earnings in USA

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.

Salary by Industry

The data this year confirms once again that corporate instructional designers earn, on average, the highest salaries among all respondents. Their counterparts in higher education earn almost 30% less.

  • Corporate $86,327 (n=245)
  • Government $85,478 (n=23)
  • Non-profit $78,025 (n=38)
  • Higher education $62,068 (n=55)
Average Salary by Industry

Salary by Gender

Respondents who identify as male earn salaries that are 3.5% higher, on average, than the salaries of the respondents who identify as female.

  • Nonbinary - $84,500 (n=4)
  • Male - $83,887 (n=107)
  • Female - 80,926 (n=248)

Salary by Education

The salaries by education this year are varied. 

  • Trade / technical / vocational training - $130,000 (n=2)
  • High school diploma - $84,667 (n=6)
  • Some college - $84,270 (n=6)
  • Doctorate degree - $83,275 (n=20)
  • Master’s degree - $81,783 (n=249)
  • Bachelor’s degree - $79,878 (n=79)
  • Professional degree - $75,333 (n=3)
  • Associate degree - $54,250 (n=1)

Since nearly 90% of the US respondents with full-time jobs have either a bachelor’s or master’s degree, we cannot draw any reliable conclusions from the data above. 

However, if anything, the data does seem to imply that education does not have a large influence on earning potential as an instructional designer. Respondents with master’s degrees earn around $2,000 more per year than respondents with bachelor’s degrees, so that investment may pay off over the course of a career.

Salary by Experience

Years of experience is one of the largest indicators for earning potential in full-time positions. On average, respondents report earning higher salaries the longer they’ve been in the field. This trend seems to fall off past 20 years of experience.

  • 0-3 years $71,961 (n=163)
  • 4-8 years $85,841 (n=118)
  • 9-15 years $88,394 (n=57)
  • 16-20 years $110,737 (n=19)
  • 21-25 years $98,372 (n=6)
  • 26+ years $96,750 (n=4)
Average Salary by Years of Experience

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.

Salary by Ethnicity

If we look at the salary data in relation to ethnicity (where n > 1), we see that hispanic or latino respondents earn the most whereas white respondents earn the least, on average. 

  • Hispanic or Latino - $88,567 (n=33)
  • Asian / Pacific Islander - $81,447 (n=30)
  • Black or African American - $80,284 (n=35)
  • White - $80,283 (n=228)

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.

Earnings by Portfolio

The total compensation of respondents who have portfolios is very close to the total compensation of respondents who do not have portfolios. 

  • With a portfolio - $85,343 (n=253)
  • Without a portfolio - $85,665 (n=158)

However, when we look at this in light of the respondent’s experience, the data tells a different story. Respondents who have more experience are less likely to have a portfolio, but they are earning more money because they have been in the field for longer.

When we look at the total compensation of respondents with 0-3 years of experience, we can see that there’s a significant difference between the earnings of those with a portfolio and the earnings of those without a portfolio.

  • With a portfolio - $75,363 (n=121)
  • Without a portfolio - $65,643 (n=54)
Average Earnings of Instructional Designers with 0-3 years of Experience

The respondents early in their career are earning, on average, 15% more when they have portfolios. And respondents with portfolios earn more, on average, up to the 15 years of experience mark. 

This could indicate that portfolios have an impact on earning potential, but it could also indicate that the people who spend time creating their portfolios also spend more time on interview prep, resume improvements, and networking.

This also may indicate that portfolios have a larger impact early in your career, but it likely speaks more to the changing landscape of the instructional design job market.

As more people enter the field, it may be getting more difficult to stand out and demand higher salaries without a portfolio. 

We can also compare the impact of portfolios and degrees on earning potential. Respondents who have a portfolio but do not have a master’s degree or above earn, on average, $88,232 (n=58). Respondents who do not have a portfolio but do have a master’s degree or above earn, on average, $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.

Instructional Designer Job Satisfaction

Overall, instructional designers are very satisfied with their roles and work-life balance.

When respondents were asked how satisfied they are with their work life balance, they responded as follows:

  • 61% said that they are very satisfied
  • 33% said that they are somewhat satisfied
  • 6% said that they are not satisfied
Instructional Designer Satisfaction with Work-Life Balance

And, when respondents were asked how satisfied they are with their current role, they responded as follows:

  • 50% said that they are very satisfied
  • 41% said that they are somewhat satisfied
  • 9% said that they are not satisfied
Instructional Designer Satisfaction with Current Role

So, while fewer instructional designers are satisfied with their specific role than they are with their overall work-life balance, the numbers still indicate that the field is rife with satisfaction.

Instructional Designer Responsibilities

Many aspiring instructional designers wonder what it’s like to work in the field, and some instructional designers who have been at it for years wonder if their specific instructional design role is typical.

The data in this section shows us that most respondents work with the Articulate 360 Suite, PowerPoint, and learning management systems more than any other software.

They also spend most of their time developing eLearning, writing storyboards, meeting with subject matter experts, and using learning management systems.

Tools and Tech

When it comes to the most popular tools and tech in the field, Articulate 360 has a far lead. Respondents selected the tool that they use most often, and these were the results: 

  • Articulate Storyline 40%
  • Articulate Rise 17%
  • Learning Management System 14%
  • Microsoft PowerPoint 11%
  • TechSmith Camtasia 5%
  • Adobe Captivate 3%
  • Vyond 1.5%
  • Adobe Illustrator 1%
  • Photoshop 0.5%
  • Other 7%
ID Tool Most Often Used

This data indicates that 2 in 5 instructional designers use Articulate Storyline more than any other tool, and, if you combine Storyline and Rise, then the majority of instructional designers (57%) use the Articulate Suite more than any other software.

This data echoes the data from the 2021 Instructional Design Hiring Manager Report, where 86.1% of hiring managers say that instructional designers should be familiar with Articulate Storyline upon hire.

In short, it reinforces that it’s a very good idea to learn Articulate Storyline if you’re trying to become an instructional designer.

Also, when asked which tools the respondents use at least once per month, they answered as follows:

  • Microsoft PowerPoint - 69%
  • Learning management system - 62%
  • Articulate Storyline - 57%
  • Articulate Rise - 44%
  • TechSmith Camtasia - 37%
  • Adobe Photoshop - 28%
  • Adobe Illustrator - 16%
  • Vyond - 16%
  • Adobe Captivate - 11%

This data indicates that most instructional designers work with PowerPoint and a learning management system on a monthly basis, even if they’re not spending the most amount of time in those tools.

It also reinforces the difference in popularity between Adobe Captivate and Articulate Storyline. Storyline appears to have grown to be the tool of choice for most teams and instructional designers. 

That being said, Captivate has a big update in the works, so it will be interesting to see how this data changes over the coming years.

Task Frequency

Respondents were asked how often they perform different ID tasks. They were able to choose weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually, or never.

The most common weekly tasks include developing eLearning in an authoring tool (54%), meeting with subject matter experts (61%), and using a learning management system (58%).

Almost 80% of respondents develop eLearning in an authoring tool on a weekly or monthly basis, and only 7.5% of respondents do not develop eLearning in an authoring tool at all. Here are the full results for developing eLearning in an authoring tool:

  • Weekly 54%
  • Monthly 25%
  • Quarterly 11%
  • Annually 2%
  • Never 7.5%
Develop eLearning in Authoring Tool Frequency

When it comes to writing scripts and storyboards, around 70% of respondents do so on a weekly or monthly basis. A tenth of the respondents never perform this task. Here is the full data for writing scripts and storyboards:

  • Weekly 37%
  • Monthly 33.5%
  • Quarterly 14.5%
  • Annually 5%
  • Never 10%
Writing Scripts and Storyboards Frequency

Meeting with subject matter experts solidified itself as one of the most common instructional design tasks included on this survey. 

Nearly 90% of respondents claim to work with subject matter experts on a weekly or monthly basis, and only 3% of respondents never perform this task. Here’s the full data for meeting with subject matter experts:

  • Weekly 61%
  • Monthly 28%
  • Quarterly 7%
  • Annually 1%
  • Never 3%
Working with SMEs Frequency

Using a learning management system (LMS) is another common task. Nearly 80% of respondents claim to use an LMS on a weekly or monthly basis, but 11% of respondents do not perform this task at all. Here are the full results for using an LMS:

  • Weekly 58%
  • Monthly 21%
  • Quarterly 7%
  • Annually 3%
  • Never 11%
Using an LMS Frequency

Finally, participants were asked how often they facilitate live learning sessions (either face-to-face or virtual). Nearly half of the respondents never perform this task, but around a quarter of them do so on a weekly or monthly basis. Here are the full results for facilitating learning experiences in front of a live audience:

  • Weekly 9%
  • Monthly 17%
  • Quarterly 18%
  • Annually 9%
  • Never 47%
Facilitate Live Learning Frequency

The task-based data indicates that respondents spend most of their time interviewing SMEs, developing eLearning, writing storyboards or scripts, and using an LMS. 

Facilitating live learning experiences is much less common—this is likely because instructional designers often work behind the scenes (and they may hand off a facilitator guide and other learning materials to a trainer or facilitator who will lead the live session).

Landing an ID Opportunity

When the respondents were asked which factor played the biggest role in helping them land their first instructional design role, 27% of them selected “Professional experience.” Networking and portfolio held the next two positions, respectively.

  • Professional experience - 27%
  • Networking - 17.5%
  • Portfolio - 17%
  • Education - 13.5%
  • Luck / happenstance - 12%
  • Interview - 11%
  • Other - 2%
Landing first instructional design role

Keep in mind that the determinations in this section are self-reported, so it may not be what actually had the biggest impact in helping them land their first role. For that data, see the 2021 Instructional Design Hiring Manager Report.

That being said, the data indicates that the largest portion of respondents attribute landing their first role to their previous professional experience. 

This reinforces that experience matters, and it tells aspiring instructional designers that it’s a good idea to learn how to present their past experience in a way that’s relevant to the instructional design profession.

If we look at people who are newer to the profession (0-3 years of experience), their responses about what helped them land their first role look slightly different:

  • Portfolio - 23%
  • Professional experience - 20.5%
  • Networking - 17%
  • Interview - 15%
  • Education - 11.5%
  • Luck / happenstance - 11%
  • Other - 2%
Landing first ID role (0-3 years of experience)

The newer instructional designers think that portfolios played a larger role in helping them land their first instructional design opportunity. That being said, a large portion of them still find that their past professional experience has played a significant role.

The data is even more striking if we look at the respondents with 0-3 years of experience who have a portfolio. 

Of the newer instructional designers who did take the time to complete a portfolio website, 37% of them identified their portfolio as the single biggest factor that helped them land their first role. This is still followed by professional experience (18.5%) and networking (14.5%). 

This trend holds true for the respondents overall, too. Of those who have a portfolio, 29% of them say that their portfolio had the biggest impact in helping them land their first role. 22% of them say professional experience and 17% of them say networking.

This difference may be because people attribute their success to their portfolios once they put in the time to create them, or it may indicate that they saw better results in the job market after completing their portfolio sites.

Learn how to create your portfolio with this guide that I created.

Conclusion

As you can see, the 2021 data reinforces that instructional designers are well-compensated and enjoy a good work-life balance. 

They spend most of their time developing eLearning, writing storyboards, interviewing subject matter experts, and working in a learning management system. The most popular tools are Articulate Storyline, Articulate Rise, Microsoft PowerPoint, and learning management systems.

When it comes to getting into the field, most of the respondents attribute their success to their professional experience, portfolios, and networking. 

If you’re reading this report because you’d like to become an instructional designer, then I’ve prepared the “Become an ID Checklist” just for you. I’ve also written an extensive guide to becoming an instructional designer.

Otherwise, if you’ve been at it for a while and you’re here to learn more about the field, we’d love to connect with you in the ID Community. This is a free space where thousands of current and aspiring instructional designers communicate in real-time.

If you have any questions about this report, then please join us in the community and let’s discuss! 

Finally, feel free to share this report. You are welcome to cite any of the data that you’d like, but please provide a link to this report as the original source. 

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