Getting into the online learning industry
Both Tony Bates, and Stephen Downes have commented on the article, Getting into the online learning industry so I thought why not throw in my 2-cents. If you follow me on Twitter you might have noticed that I often share out instructional design (and sometimes ID adjacent) job postings. While I focus primarily on higher education, with some non-profit, municipal, and provincial postings sprinkled in, I do come across ID jobs from a range of sectors. I encourage you to at least skim the original article, and the two other posts, but I would like to focus in on just one thing they all bring up: credentials.
The author of the original piece states, “A college degree in education is required along with knowledge about learning theories, instructional systems, learning models, and adult learning principles, sometimes referred to as andragogy” (emphasis mine). Tony Bates contributes, “You really do need an educational qualification, preferably in educational technology, such as UBC’s Master in Educational Technology, but a general degree in education will also do” although he does not reveal whether this is him just agreeing with the original author, or if this is from his own observations. Finally, Stephen Downes contributes, “My own answer these days might be “no” because there have been so many changes over the years. While I’ve been focused on trends and new instructional technologies, actual practices have changed and developed, and it’s impossible to be everywhere.” My observation is actually more aligned with what Stephen recognized that the other two.
The original author notes that there are a lot of different job titles, a great example of how many there are is captured in an ALT blog post What Makes a Learning Technologist . Tony’s post specifies educational technologist as the role focused on in his comments. For me, I’ll focus on the title instructional designer and in Canada. A cursory look at LinkedIn reveals about 700 people who identify as educational technologists compared to about 7700 as instructional designers. Job bots I have set up do look for both key terms and the ID results are always more bountiful.
To boil it down, my observations are that higher education, and education related organizations generally, tend to (but not always) value education degrees for ID roles – so that bit lines up with the original author and Tony. When you consider the job function it’s obvious why that is, these are often roles that are to support the teaching and learning portfolios of those organizations. It also should not be surprising that organizations that issue credentials really like prospect employees to have the very credentials being issued from the organization. However, when you look at a wider set of organizations from railways, to banks, to insurance, to technology, degree requirements can change dramatically. Sometimes they’re after someone who has a health sciences background, an MBA or other business school credential, or project management credential (e.g. PMP tends to be favoured in North America). Just today I saw one that stated any arts degree at the baccalaureate level would be fine. Then they often include the typical “must know adult learning theory stuff”, but that is not tied to a credential. In places outside of higher education, IDs also often write the courses and training materials, so you’ll often see basically a technical writing job with the ID job title with qualifications that lean on writing and communications not education.
When you hear stories from instructional designers – most of which I get from Dear ID, TLDC Podcast, #IDIODC podcast, and more – is that the term “accidental instructional designer” comes up a lot. This is a term that people use to describe scenarios such as “I finished a linguistics degree and ended up writing training for some small organization and now I’m an ID.” These kinds of stories are much more common than a straight throughshot of “I started in education and now I’m an ID.” (A side note here is that something that’s really hot right now are K12 teachers quitting, making portfolios, and trying to get into ID jobs. As a former teacher myself I ended up doing that about 10 years ago).
In addition to what I’ve noticed in job postings themselves, I also pay attention to what folks in ID who have been hiring managers, such as Christy Tucker and Cara North have to say. In one interview with Christy, she mentioned that some organizations outside of higher education actively avoid those with M.Eds and favour those who can work in training and development with backgrounds in business and or marketing. The approaches favoured in education are not always favoured by other organizations. Whether that is a perception, communication, or knowledge and skills problem is not exactly clear.
In a recent article, Guerra-López, I., & Joshi, R. (2021), the authors compare job postings to courses in ID programs in higher education. They find some overlap (such as knowledge of ADDIE) but also that there are gaps. One of the big ones that comes out, and what I’ve seen as well, have to do with technology that is commonly used. Stepehen also notes this in his comment that I quoted above. A survey from the Learning Guild, for example, identified that about 70% of respondents who work in these roles use Articulate software. That makes it a bit of a dealbreaker if a recent graduate has zero experience with it. The softwares that university programs might focus on could be university based systems (drastically different than corporate ones, for example the LMS world is way more diverse than just Canvas, D2L, Blackboard, and Moodle) and maybe free systems (you see a bunch of this in OERs over the last couple of years trying to get everyone in higher ed moved to online). So if a program focuses more on the knowledge skills and doesn’t balance technology, then someone who has another type of degree and experience would likely be more ideal than the recent ed tech graduate.
One other thing worth mentioning is portfolios. I’ve been fortunate in my role in the Canadian Association of Instructional Designers, and just participating more in ID communities online, is that I’ve had opportunities to provide feedback on ID portfolios. There is a drastic difference between portfolios created at the end of university programs and those that take alternative routes such as through IDOL. The alternative offerings focus on a practical portfolio, much more akin to the old days of dragging a big old folio case around and showing work to potential employers and clients, while the academic portfolios tend to be just that. The academic portfolios often include samples of very detailed and indepth documents (I’ve seen some up to 50 pages), with minimal summary provided. The academic portfolios might include some sample instructional videos, but when you put them beside the alternative route ones you do not necessarily get a sense of “what do I, the client, get if I work with this person.”
This is a long winded way of saying that no, a degree, even an advanced degree, is not always required and not always the first thing you should do if you do pursue one. It’s also critical for educational technology and instructional design programs to reflect on what it is they focus on, how they communicate that with students, and what are they doing to help students navigate the professional landscape they are about to enter.
Lynch, M. (2022) Do You Have the Skills to Succeed in the Online Learning Industry? The Tech Edvocate, April 11
Guerra-López, I., & Joshi, R. (2021). A Study of Instructional Design Master’s Programs and Their Responsiveness to Evolving Professional Expectations and Employer Demand. The Journal of Applied Instructional Design, 10(2).
Online Learning. Maiconfz. Pixabay.