11 Top Instructional Design Skills

Industry Advice Education

The work of an instructional designer transcends industries, creating a plethora of exciting opportunities for those with the background and skills necessary to land a role in this growing field. For this reason, those looking to break into the industry—or advance into a higher role—should be familiar with the wide array of career options available, and the skills required to land them.

Below, we explore both the practical and soft skills common among the most successful instructional designers.

Practical Skills for Instructional Designers

  • Project Management: Especially for instructional designers who oversee teams or who manage the work of individual contributors during the design process, mastering common project management skills—such as negotiation and leadership—can be incredibly beneficial. 
  • Teaching and Training: Though instructional designers are not required to have advanced training in education, having some experience or exposure to these practices can inform your design development. It will also be beneficial when training relevant parties to implement your instructional design with their learners.
  • Technology: Technology is now a vital skill for professionals across industries, and instructional design is no exception. Knowing how the digital components of the instruction you create work—including interactive assessment products, instruction delivery systems like Blackboard and Moodle, and more—will allow you to better approach these aspects during development. 
  • Multimedia Design: Having web, graphic, and/or multimedia design skills can set instructional designers apart when it comes time to build digital materials to complement instruction.
  • Area-Specific Content Knowledge: Instructional designers with a background in a certain topic often do well building instruction for that specific area. This knowledge means that you will likely be familiar with the audience, will be able to speak the same industry-based language as the SMEs, and will be able to contribute to the content development itself.

Interested in a Career in Instructional Design?

Northeastern’s MPS in Learning Experience Design and Technology can prepare you to succeed in this evolving field.


Soft Skills for Instructional Designers

  • Communication: Instructional designers rely on effective communication throughout the design process. They should be able to strategically lead conversations with not only SMEs, but other stakeholders, team members, and learners. 
  • Time Management: Often, it is up to an instructional designer to ensure all deadlines are met during the development of a learning experience. For this reason, designers who know how to keep a team on-task and efficiently working to meet deadlines will rise above the rest in this field. 
  • Teamwork: Knowing how to work collaboratively is one key to success, especially in organizations where instructional designers work as a unit to develop a learning experience. 
  • Creativity: At the core of their work, an instructional designer must create something out of nothing; they take a slew of materials and information and craft it into something tangible that can be used to impart wisdom. For this reason, skills like innovation, vision, and creativity are especially useful in this field. 
  • Flexibility: Unexpected curveballs can—and do—develop at any point in the instructional design process. The ability to adapt and react quickly and smoothly will help to keep your projects on track.
  • Ability to Give and Take Constructive Criticism: The instructional design process requires a lot of feedback from various parties at different intervals. You must be secure enough in your work to be able to receive criticism professionally and use it to improve. Simultaneously, you must know how to mold feedback you offer to other team members in a way that is useful for them to do the same.

Honing Your Skills With a Master’s in Learning Experience Design

As the wide range of skills above suggests, instructional designers must be true chameleons when it comes to their work. For that reason, those looking to develop these skill sets should consider formal training at a top university like Northeastern.

Northeastern’s Master of Professional Studies in Learning Experience Design and Technology (LXDT) provides aspiring professionals with opportunities to practice their practical and interpersonal skills both in the classroom and in the real world through extensive experiential learning opportunities. What’s more, class sizes are small in Northeastern’s program, providing the chance for more personalized learning. This design also allows those who enter the program with specific areas of interest or career goals in mind to customize their experience in order to best set themselves up for success in the field.

Learn More: 4 Ways to Get Instructional Design Expereince

“If our students come in with an idea, we’re willing to work with them [to make it a reality],” says Elizabeth Mahler—associate teaching professor and faculty lead for Northeastern’s LXDT program, “We’re small enough to be able to do that.”

Learn more about the MPS in Learning Experience Design and Technology at Northeastern, and take your first step toward a career in this exciting field today.

This article was originally published in May 2020. It has since been updated for accuracy and relevance.