Instructional Design in Education

Learning is learning, whether it’s in the corporate world or in the field of education. The job of instructional designer is similar in both settings, but there are a few distinct differences. If you’ve ever wondered what those differences might be, read on.

Instructional Design

Designing for Corporations

If you work for a corporation as an instructional designer, you will most likely work with Human Resources to identify course content and manage the implementation of courses that you design. In business, instructional designers will work with subject matter experts (SMEs), and spend a great deal of time working alone on the actual development and design of courses. It’s up to them to decide on the appropriate instructional strategy, and assessment methodology, and the SME isn’t involved in the delivery of content.

Also there is the question of pace. In a corporation, instructional designers will be under constant pressure to produce content better, faster, and cheaper. There are usually several projects under development at one time, so it certainly will not be boring.

Designing for Education

Instructional designers in education will work directly with professors or other educators to build and maintain courses. Generally faculty members prefer to work in committees, and projects can last an entire semester. The academic world loves collaboration, so instructional designers can expect a lot of input and feedback on their course design and selection of instructional strategies. Also, the educators will be intimately involved in the ultimate delivery of the content, so there is much more of a vested interest.

The salary for instructional designers in education will be lower than their corporate counterparts, but there may be more stability in the position. While corporations can cut training when budgets get tight, in academia learning is the name of the game.


When it comes to designing learning for corporations, typically instructional material will be closely tied to the competencies of the various jobs within the corporation, or about company standards, policies, or procedures. There will be very specific requirements to influence behaviors, with measurable outcomes in terms of knowledge, skills, and abilities.

On the education side, it’s all about expanding horizons, creating “aha” moments, and trying to make learners think differently about the subject. There is greater emphasis on critical thinking, which definitely impacts how an instructional designer will approach the course development.

One Last Thought

In academia there is much more room for experimentation on different technologies and approaches. If it’s not successful, then it was a learning experience. That doesn’t track on the corporate side, where the emphasis is always on results, addressing specific problems, and improving performance. So although the job may have the same title, instructional designers in education approach their work much differently.