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What is an instructional designer and what do they do? 

Female teacher looking at laptop on her desk

At a glance

  • An instructional designer creates school curricula and develops and implements educational material to gauge its performance.
  • ·Curriculum developers may share similarities with instructional designers, but the primary role of curriculum designers is to decide what is taught versus how.
  • Communication, analytical skills and leadership are crucial to being an instructional designer.
  • Learn more about succeeding in this role with a Master of Arts in Education/Curriculum and Instruction at University of Phoenix.

In the past two decades, technology has substantially impacted the classroom. The more we understand learning, the more we need to redesign and update classroom materials and instruction methods. The professionals who design the instructional materials used in the classroom are known as instructional designers. They create educational content that allows students to learn in new ways based on current research.

Instructional designers are the professionals who are creating the classrooms of the future and shaping the current educational landscape. If you’re interested in pursuing a career to help make a difference, then becoming an instructional designer may be for you. 

Click here to learn more about our education degrees.


Instructional design vs. curriculum development

Instructional design and curriculum development are two fields that overlap in many ways. The difference can be summarized as such:

  • Curriculum developers decide what is taught.
  • Instructional designers decide how something is taught.

Curriculum development professionals decide about the learning objectives in different courses and make sure educational information is up to date. Sometimes curriculum developers create new courses from scratch, and sometimes they are tasked with analyzing and revising an existing curriculum.

In contrast, instructional designers focus on the instructional methods teachers use and the effect on students. They redesign existing learning models, train educators, and evaluate and create new virtual learning tools and resources.

While these two careers focus on different parts of the educational process, taken together they provide students with the latest improvements and innovations based on research.

Duties and responsibilities

Instructional designers shoulder a variety of duties and responsibilities, including:

  • Redesigning existing courses to reflect current instructional research
  • Designing from scratch the instructional methods and materials of a new course
  • Staying up to date on research in the education field
  • Training teachers and school administrators in new instructional methods
  • Evaluating courses and determining what changes need to be made to provide a better educational experience
  • Evaluating new virtual learning environments, tools and materials

These duties may differ depending on where instructional designers are employed and how long they’ve been working in this field. For example, a less experienced instructional designer may work with a team of people, while an experienced designer may work alone or be responsible for training educators and speaking publicly about instructional design.

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What is curriculum and instruction in education?


Instructional designers need a variety of skills to be successful, including:

  • Critical thinking: Often, instructional designers work to redesign existing courses. This requires the designer to evaluate the course, make a plan for its redesign and implement the plan.
  • Communication: One of an instructional designer’s responsibilities is communicating changes and ideas to school leadership. Strong communication skills can help designers effectively work with and train teachers and administrators in new instructional methods.
  • Research: Everything an instructional designer does is based on current research in fields such as education, child development and psychology. Staying up to date helps ensure the instructional designer’s work will benefit students in the long run.
  • Leadership: Instructional designers sometimes work to train teachers on new instructional methods. Having confidence, public speaking skills and leadership qualities can make a designer an effective training workshop leader.
  • Creativity: Instructional design is built on creativity. While designers often work with existing materials, they have to use creative thinking skills to incorporate new ideas and practices into an existing course structure.

By developing and using these skills, instructional designers can help schools and teachers provide better educational experiences and opportunities for students. Earning a master’s degree can help aspiring designers develop and refine these skills.


To be hired as an instructional designer, an applicant will typically hold a master’s degree in a related field. For example, a Master of Arts in Education/Curriculum and Instruction would prepare someone for a career as an instructional designer.

While a master’s degree may not be required for every position, earning a degree in the education field can be useful if you’re interested in becoming an instructional designer.

Unlike other careers in education, instructional designers do not always need to hold a specific, standardized certification. For example, those working in the military, business or higher education aren’t required to hold a certification or license.

On the other hand, instructional designers working in a K-12 public school system may be required to hold a valid teaching license. This requirement varies according to local and state requirements.

If you’re required to hold a teaching license to work as an instructional designer in your state, you will need to have a bachelor’s degree in education, student teaching experience, a passing grade on the Praxis® exam and a successful background check.


Instructional designers can work and gain experience in a variety of professional settings. They can be hired by specific schools or school districts to provide training, evaluation and change management.

They can also be hired by large corporations to handle the instructional design of staff training programs and professional development programs. Military or military-adjacent organizations can also hire instructional designers to design educational and instructional materials.

Once instructional designers have sufficient experience, often by working on a team, they can choose to work alone and be contracted by different organizations to provide instructional design services.


As of May 2021, instructional coordinators, also known as instructional designers, made an annual salary between $38,390 to $101,090, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This wide range of income can be explained by the variety of industries open to this role. While this career is connected to the work of other educational professionals, such as teachers, instructional designers work full time (including summer months), which may also impact annual salary.


The job outlook for instructional designers has projected growth of 7% from 2021 and 2031, according to BLS. That matches the average growth rate for all occupations. During the next decade, 20,900 open positions are projected for instructional designers each year.

Resources for aspiring instructional designers

If you’re interested in becoming an instructional designer, there are many ways to learn more about this profession, including:

  • Career resource centers: The professionals at career resource centers are trained to help you make a career plan and write a resumé.
  • College admissions staff: If you want to pursue a master’s degree, college admissions staff can help you apply and also provide additional information about the career opportunities that education degrees can offer.
  • Online research: Websites can provide details on instructional design careers.
  • Internships with instructional design companies: Working with an instructional design team as an intern can give you a behind-the-scenes look at the daily routine of people working in this field.
  • Conversations with mentors: If you’re already pursuing a bachelor’s or master’s degree in education, then your professors may be able to provide more information about instructional design and give advice for entering into this field.

Instructional designers work across several industries to help people learn in new and more effective ways every day. By choosing this career, you are choosing to be at the forefront of the education field.

Curriculum and instruction at University of Phoenix

If you already have a bachelor’s degree and want to learn more about curriculum and instruction, consider an online program at University of Phoenix.

Master of Arts in Education/Curriculum and Instruction — Through this degree program, you will be taught specific skills such as how to develop curriculum assessment skills, use curricular research to adopt best practices in classrooms, integrate technology into teaching lessons, adopt coaching strategies to positively affect learning outcomes, and understand ethical, social and political issues in education.

Post-Master’s Certificate in Curriculum and Instruction — The Post-Master’s Certificate in Curriculum and Instruction (CERT/D-CI) equips you with skills to lead the creation of educational coursework, instructional techniques and student assessments. Credits earned for the CERT/D-CI are transferrable toward the University’s Doctor of Education with a focus in Curriculum and Instruction. This certificate does not lead to teacher licensure.

Doctor of Education — This program prepares you to use analytical, critical and innovative thinking to improve performance and solve complex problems in education. This program does not lead to any educational licensure or certification.


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