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An instructional designer (ID) is one of the most interesting positions you can hold in today’s job landscape. Not only is it prestigious and lucrative, but it’s also rewarding as it allows you to tap into your creativity to make effective learning experiences for different people across a wide range of industries. 

One of the downsides of the field is that there’s no clear education path to help you land that instructional designer dream job. Traditional education paths to this career are often long and winding and you may not even know exactly what skills are needed for the role. With that in mind, we’ve compiled the 10 best instructional design courses and programs you can take to break into and succeed in this field.

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Introduction to instructional design

Instructional design is the creation and development of learning experiences and material. While it may seem basic, this field requires professionals to consider how people of all ages learn (educational psychology) to determine the most effective materials and methods that’ll help them achieve their academic goals (learning science). This field also requires professionals to learn about human-computer interaction, systems theory, and much more. 

Instructional design, as a discipline, can be traced back to World War II when hundreds of thousands of people needed to learn how to do specific tasks in a short period. During that time, teachers had to break down complex tasks, so soldiers could easily understand each step of the process. This approach formed the foundations of instructional design, a field that marries education, learning psychology, and communication (physical and virtual). 

Instructional designers can work in different institutions — from secondary schools to big-tech companies like Apple and Meta — or they can own their businesses as consultants, freelancers, or even virtual learning developers. The goal is always the same: to create the best teaching plans and resources for different learning groups. 

The types of projects they work on depend on the positive, but instructional designers often have to create interactive e-learning experiences (i.e. corporate training), video-based courses, virtual learning experiences created with learning management systems (LMS), and materials from instructor-led training (transcripts, documents, slide decks, etc.).

Some skills instructional designers (IDs) need to be successful include: 

  • Knowledge of instructional design theory and learning science
  • Visual design skills
  • Communication skills 
  • Copywriting skills (for scripts and storyboards)
  • Knowledge of learning management systems

​Why choose an online instructional design course?

Instructional design is an in-demand career. In fact, instructional design positions are expected to grow 11% by 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, educators who want to specialize in instructional design are usually required to have a Bachelor or Master of Science in Education (MSEd) degree in Instructional Design and Technology. 

But not everyone can take this route. 

If you’re an educator who wants to become an ID without having to take a graduate course for it, online instructional design courses are your best bet. But you’ll have to take several courses as instructional design is interdisciplinary. Depending on the kinds of learning plans you want to develop and the categories of people/companies you want to make them for, you may need to learn: 

  • Instructional design and its theories 
  • Educational psychology
  • Visual design principles
  • Neuroscience 
  • User experience design 
  • Performance improvement

10 best online instructional design courses

Below are 10 of the best online instructional design courses. Each of these courses covers different aspects of instructional design and was chosen based on the richness of its content as well as its cost and the average duration it’ll take a student to get through it.

  1. University of Pennsylvania’s Gamification Course 

Price: Free

Duration: 3 weeks

Difficulty level: Beginner 

This course, hosted on Coursera, is different from other courses on this list because it doesn’t focus explicitly on instructional design. Instead, it focuses on a technique called gamification. This course explores what gamification is by explaining the psychological reasons why games can help people learn new things. 

During this course, you’ll learn: 

  • What game design is
  • How to apply game design principles in non-game contexts, such as business, social impact challenges, and instructional design
  • A six-step design framework to apply to any gamification project 
  • The challenges and opportunities you’ll face when applying gamification principles
  1. ID Central’s Instructional Design Courses

Price: USD $15 to $49

Duration: Self-paced

Difficulty level: Beginner

ID Central has three micro-courses and one full course that cater to complete newbies in instructional design. These courses cover learning theory, ID models, ID tools, and ID foundations.

These courses teach you: 

  • The basic theories of instructional design 
  • Learning theory and adult learning (or andragogy)
  • Instructional design models and how to work with SMEs
  • How to effectively use media to create wholesome online learning experiences 

These courses also come with handouts, quizzes, challenges, and exams that’ll help solidify your knowledge in instructional design.

  1. Harvard’s Universal Design for Learning: Explore

Price: USD $295

Duration: 3 weeks

Difficulty level: Beginner 

This three-week, instructor-led course is a mix of self-paced learning, cohort learning, and asynchronous group discussions. Its aim is to teach educators the concept known as Universal Design for Learning (UDL) — a framework that helps professionals design learning experiences and opportunities that are both challenging and inclusive for all learners. 

In this course, you’ll:

  • Deepen your knowledge of UDL and understand how you can apply it across different learning environments — both physical and virtual 
  • Learn the principles behind “variability” — the neuroscience that states that all people learn in different and unique ways 
  • See how UDL is applied in the classroom

Each week, you’ll go through different resources (articles, videos, and podcasts) that explain different aspects of UDL. You’ll connect and share your ideas with other educators who are also learning how to create inclusive learning resources, and you’ll get access to new approaches and tools that’ll help you put what you learn into practice. 

  1. ISFET’s ADDIE for Instructional Design Course 

Price: USD $59

Duration: Self-paced

Difficulty level: Intermediate

This online program is designed for teachers, analysts, designers, instructors, and training supervisors who are interested in learning more about the ADDIE model of instructional design.

ADDIE is an acronym for the five stages of a development process: Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation. And this course has five modules — each of them dedicated to a component of the ADDIE model. 

When implemented correctly, the ADDIE model allows professionals to develop training materials that are tailored to fix an instructional problem or performance gap, and help students achieve their academic goals and objectives

  1. Teacher Transition’s From Teacher to Instructional Designer MasterClass

Price: USD $497

Duration: Self-paced 

Difficulty level: Intermediate

If you, as a teacher, feel like your influence is confined only to the classroom and you crave growth, this course is for you. In this course, you’ll learn how to apply your teaching skills to create learning experiences that are engaging, effective, and enjoyable — without having to deal with grading and score entry, behavior management issues, and recess. 

This course is power-packed with online lessons (text- and video-based), and different resources, including a personal packet workbook (where you’ll identify the type of ID work you want to do), a personal portfolio package, an ID template toolkit, resume and cover letter templates, and a guest speaker gallery.

In this course, you’ll:

  • Learn what curriculum designers and instructional designers do
  • See how to get hired as a curriculum designer and/or instructional designer without having to spend thousands of dollars getting a new degree 
  • Learn the skills you need to land a curriculum design or instructional design job 
  • Create your personal portfolio so you can get the job you want 
  • Create a resume and cover letter with optimized templates that come with the course 
  1. Your E-Learning World’s Instructional Design for E-Learning Programs 

Price: $197.99

Duration: Self-paced

Difficulty level: Intermediate

In this course, award-winning instructional design expert, Marina Arshavskiy, teaches people the art and science of creating engaging and results-oriented online courses that people love and want to finish. 

In this course, you’ll: 

  • Learn how to design first-rate e-learning programs using the latest techniques in adaptive instruction, microlearning, and mobile platforms 
  • Learn to apply adult learning principles, methodologies, and techniques to boost learning effectiveness 
  • See how to manage e-learning projects using traditional and agile methodologies 
  • Create your own e-learning portfolio

In addition to over 10 hours of multimedia-based lessons with real-life examples, this course also comes with exercises, quizzes, downloadable resources and templates, and an interactive Facebook community.

  1. MIT’s Mastering Design Thinking Course

Price: USD $3,300, or pre-discounted prices of $2,937 and $3,036

Duration: 3 months

Difficulty level: Graduate

Mastering Design Thinking is a certification course created for individuals and teams that need a proven, systematic approach to new product development. While most people who take the course are (or aspire to be) product managers, UX designers, or growth consultants, you can apply design thinking to your work as an instructional designer, too. 

The principles of design thinking encompass everything from concept development, customer analysis, prototyping, and experimentation — all of which can come in handy when trying to create learning experiences tailored to specific groups of people. 

In this course, you’ll learn: 

  • The design thinking skills needed to create a new product or improve an existing product 
  • How to identify customer needs and use them as building blocks to user innovations 
  • How to perform a financial analysis of your project idea and determine if it has a strong business rationale
  • To apply brainstorming, creativity, and concept generation in your design process
  • How to select and implement a product development process that aligns with your project needs — be it agile, spiral, or staged 

Mastering Design Thinking comes with 128 video lectures, 3 live teaching sessions, 3 group projects, 7 real-world applications, and a capstone project. 

  1. UMGC x USMx’s MicroMasters® Program in Instructional Design and Technology

Price: USD $1,196, or a pre-discounted price of $1,076.40 

Duration: 8 months 

Difficulty level: Graduate 

The MicroMasters® Program in Instructional Design and Technology covers how to create advanced online learning opportunities using the latest tools and techniques that work with digital-first learners. In this course, you’ll learn a unique approach to instructional design that focuses largely on understanding learning theory, and creating online courses by blending traditioning instructional design models with prototyping and data analytics. 

In this course, you’ll learn how to:

  • Identify, evaluate, and integrate emerging technologies to support online learning
  • Apply data mining techniques to design and evaluate learning experiences
  • Select, evaluate, and design digital media to support learning

As part of this program, you’ll gain hands-on experience by developing and publishing online courses through an LMS of choice. This will solidify your knowledge of designing accessible and collaborative learning experiences, and advance your knowledge of educational theory.

  1. UW-Stout’s Instructional Design Certificate Course 

Price: USD $5,712

Duration: 9 months – 3 years 

Difficulty level: Graduate

This instructional design course by the University of Wisconsin comprises 4 three-credit courses, with each covering broad topics, which include “trends and issues in instructional design”, “instructional strategies and assessment methods”, “designing computer-based training (CBT)”, and “project management for instructional development”.

In this course, you’ll learn how to: 

  • Design effective learning materials for any delivery method 
  • Use computer-based training and technology tools to solve instructional problems 
  • Manage the entire instructional design process 
  • Take advantage of career and volunteer instructional design network opportunities

Unlike the introductory courses you find on Coursera and Udemy, this course is very low-level. This means that it will take a long time to complete and you’ll have the best shot with it if you’re an undergraduate or post-graduate student in the education or ICT disciplines.

  1. Harvard Extension School’s Learning Design and Technology Graduate Certificate Course

Price: USD $12,880

Duration: 1-3 years

Difficulty level: Graduate

Just like UW-Scout’s course, this learning design course by Harvard Extension School also consists of 4 credit courses that’ll take you 1-3 years to finish. These courses aim to teach you how to create and implement effective learning experiences on digital platforms

To successfully complete this course, you need a passing grade of “B” in each of the courses, after which you’ll receive a professional graduate certificate in Learning Design and Educational Technology. 

In this course, you’ll learn: 

  • The foundational instructional design theories and frameworks to develop learning experiences for digital platforms, including writing, content expertise, and project planning
  • Relevant technology, methods, and programs, including video, editing, digital design, and interactive media
  • Specializations like content management systems site development, website development, and web programming. 

This course can help you gain the skills you need to start (or advance) your career in K-12 education, higher education, nonprofit education, museums, corporate training, and other related organizations.

How to choose the right instructional design course

There are tons of instructional design courses out there. And, as you might’ve noticed from the ones outlined above, they all differ in pricing, duration, and difficulty level. If you’re having trouble choosing the right instructional design course for yourself, here are some tips to keep in mind: 

  1. ​Consider your career goals

A master’s degree in instructional design isn’t in the cards for everybody. Getting a degree costs time, money, and effort that you just may not have — especially if you’re new to instructional design as a whole. A 4-hour video on YouTube or a free 3-week course might be the level of investment that’s right for you.

But if you want to become a high-level ID specialist or pivot from, say, a project management role, you should consider taking one of the graduate-level courses outlined above. They’re more expensive and time-intensive, but you’ll have a better chance of landing a great ID job with those certificates.

  1. ​Evaluate the course content

Instructional design courses cover a ton of different topics. Some cover basic instructional design theories and digital pedagogy, while others cover learning management systems, curriculum design, prototyping, neuroscience, and visual design, among other things. So before you enroll in any course, check to see that the course content aligns with the trajectory you want to take in your instructional design career. 

If you want to make online learning videos and deliver them through an LMS, take a course that covers video design, editing, and digital learning platforms. But if you want to create unique learning experiences for disabled or neurodivergent learners, you’ll need a course that covers neuroscience, gamification, and concept development. 

  1. ​Check the course duration and flexibility

Before enrolling in any ID course, consider your schedule and plan around it. If you work a remote, part-time job, you may be able to take an intensive, instructor-led, three- to nine-month course to build your instructional design skills. But if you’re working two jobs around the clock, it may be more convenient to take a course that is self-paced. 

  1. ​Consider the course cost

The cost of instructional design courses can range from completely free to as high as $15,000. To pick the right course for you, you’ll need to plan your budget and determine how much money you can invest in an ID course. If you don’t earn much or you have a lot of expenses, you can choose a free or inexpensive course. But if you have enough money to spare (or are willing to make a sacrifice for your career), you can pay for a more expensive course.

Build a lucrative career in instructional design

The average salary of an instructional designer is $85,906 per year, according to Glassdoor. Not only is that way above minimum wage, but instructional designers have the flexibility to work in a wide range of institutions — from K-12 schools to nonprofit organizations to museums. 

If you’re looking to start a career in — or pivot to — instructional design, you’ll need to take specialized courses that’ll help you achieve your goal. We’ve done the heavy lifting for you and outlined 10 of the best ID courses that range from beginner-level to graduate-level for you to pick from.  Think about your career goals, your budget, and your schedule, and choose the course that best aligns with those factors. 

Frequently asked questions

  1. ​What is an instructional design course?

​Instructional design courses teach learners how to create effective educational experiences. These courses cover a range of topics, including eLearning, multimedia, project management, and more.

  1. ​Why should I take an online instructional design course?

​Online instructional design courses offer flexibility and convenience. They allow you to learn at your own pace and from the comfort of your own home.

  1. ​How do I choose the best instructional design course?

​When choosing an instructional design course, consider your career goals, the course content, duration, flexibility, and cost.

  1. ​Are online instructional design courses worth it?

​Yes, online instructional design courses are worth it. They provide valuable skills and knowledge that can enhance your career in the education or corporate training sector.

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