How to Become a Senior Instructional Designer

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Successful people are not passive. They don't wait to see where life takes them next. Discover the steps to pursue for promotion in your instructional design career.

After about four years' experience as a junior designer, you could apply for a senior position.  

What does a senior instructional designer do? 

“The difference between great people and everyone else is that great people create their lives actively." 
- Michael E. Gerber.

Job description

The senior/lead instructional designer plans, creates, implements and manages training and development.  

A junior instructional designer merely discharges the training within the stipulated schedule.

The senior designer also functions as a project manager. He/she helps build and manage eLearning solution architecture. 

Four ways to become eligible for a senior/lead instructional designer role:

1. Get the right credentials

A bachelor’s degree is enough to enter the field of instructional design. Upgrading your education can help you get a promotion.

Consider a master’s degree in Visual Design, Instructional Design, Organization Performance, and Workplace Learning or Education Technology. Get equipped to be a lead instructional coach or an instructional design manager. 

Many premier universities offer eLearning solutions and Capstone projects. These courses are very practical. Such hands-on education can improve your prospects for career advancement. 

You should also stay abreast of the trends in employee talent management and instructional design. 

2. Get the relevant technical expertise

To be a senior instructional designer,  you need extensive hands-on experience using: 

  • Content authoring tools & design software
  • Storyboarding software
  • Knowledge of specialized training models like TPACK, ADDIE, SAM, Dick and Carey, Backward Design, Gerlach-Ely Model, The Kirkpatrick Model, and so on
  • Considerable experience using simulation eLearning tools.

Apart from technical certifications, you also need project management skills. Some of the tools you need to master are:

  • Project management tools like Scoro, Asana, Google Docs, Mavenlink
  • Collaboration tools like Dropbox, Podio, Trello
  • Project administration and monitoring tools like Gantt Charts, CPM, Kanban boards, real-time dashboards
  • Project reporting & business intelligence tools like Cyfe, SAP Business Intelligence, Tableau
  • Financial management techniques like budget tracking, break-even analysis, cash flow forecasting, ratio analysis, ROI measurement, P&L analysis 

3. Gather extensive work experience in a team management role

As a senior instructional designer, a large part of your job will involve managing groups of junior instructional designers. Even temporary experience in managing a team can add great value to your application. 

Get involved with team management roles. Volunteer to take ownership of a part of or an entire project.

You could also double as a buddy for new hires or offer to train new teammates.

These responsibilities or show your entrepreneurial spirit and leadership skills. They also highlight that you are a team player This will enhance your résumé for job applications. 

Learn how to handle monetary and non-monetary resources

Junior instructional designers need to learn how to plan, allocate, and manage resources for entire projects.  These resources may include things like:

  • finances
  • people
  • authoring tools
  • eLearning materials
  • technology, and so on.

As a senior instructional designer you will function as a manager. You will take important decisions about  matters like:

  • project budgets,  
  • project submission schedules
  • service-level agreements and more. 

For this, you will require in-depth insight into how your resources are being utilized. 

Tools like Resource Guru, 10,000ft Plans, eResource Scheduler and Float are convenient.  Use them for managing teams and resources. 

4. Become proficient in simulation and scenario-based eLearning

To be eligible as senior instructional designer you must master simulation and scenario-based eLearning techniques. Self-directed eLearning courses are being used increasingly. The main reason is that they are very hands-on, personal, and immersive. They help learners use their memory and common sense to solve problems in a safe, controlled environment. 

Simulation and scenario-based eLearning both support self-directed eLearning. Employers often judge their junior instructional designers based on this expertise. They are more likely to choose applicants who can, over those who can’t. Finally, applicants who are proficient in designing simulation and scenario-based eLearning modules are often paid more!

Feon Ang, LinkedIn’s vice president for talent and learning solutions in Asia Pacific asserted: "It’s important for companies to continue to invest in their people so that they are upskilling and reskilling their people to keep up with the roles that are in demand. But, at the same time, people need to continue to invest in themselves and have a growth mind set,” she said.

Don't be passive. Take the next step towards career promotion today.


About the author


SimTutor Inc is a global leader in simulation-based learning.

SimTutor Author is an authoring tool designed to help you build interactive procedural simulations and branched scenarios for any industry where realistic, just-in-time, measurable training is critical. 

SIMTICS is a library of ready-to-use simulations for learning medical and healthcare procedures and skills, powered by SimTutor Author.