Degree and Certificate in instructional design / eLearning

Question: I’m thinking about pursuing a certificate program in Instructional Design. Are these programs worthwhile?


The vast majority of instructional designers and trainers were not formally trained in the art and science of instructional design, education, or related fields.  Most trainers today have naturally gravitated (or were elevated) to a training and development role within their company. So how and why does this happen? For one, certificate and degree programs in Instructional Design are relatively new, so few people have them simply for this reason. Additionally, people who possess the innate qualities of leadership, empathy, and a sincere desire to help others learn and succeed demonstrate these qualities in whatever job roles they have. These people have a natural aptitude for training. When a training need reveals itself and there is an opportunity for someone to step into a training role, oftentimes these “natural trainers” are tapped by their managers to perform this role in addition to their other duties. As time passes these new trainers gain experience by exercising their intuitive ability to:

  1. Recognize where efficiency can be gained (organizational objectives)
  2. Identify the processes and skills necessary to achieve efficiency (learning objectives)
  3. Document and communicate these processes and procedures to others (training)
  4. Assess the impact that training is having on the organization (evaluate)
  5. Continuously work to improve the organization by running through the above steps

These trainers will also hone their skills by reading blogs (like this one), attending seminars, and engaging in other self-directed learning.  If you are considering pursuing a formal training program in instructional design, eLearning development or some related field, then I would recommend that you consider why you feel such a credential would be of value for you and your situation specifically. I have listed a few common reasons and my thoughts related to them below. I hope you find this information of value and wish you success in your endeavors.

Reasons for pursuing instructional design certificate or degree

  • To compensate for lack of experience: Based on my observations, people who wish to transition into a career as a trainer but who lack direct work experience as a trainer enroll in certificate and degree programs so that employers will give them serious consideration. Pursuing a credential primarily to beef up one’s resume is not recommended. Why? While you may be called in for an interview, most employers want to either hire someone within their organization who they have already identified as a natural trainer or they want to hire someone who they have confidence can perform the work to their satisfaction. The best way to evaluate the latter is to consider the person’s experience and to view a portfolio of their previous work. If you have neither experience nor real-world work samples then you will be competing against others who do, and no credential nor degree – no matter how impressive sounding it may be – can compete against proven ability. I hire many people to perform many types of content development roles and without exception those with recent degrees or certificates in instructional design have actually lacked both natural instinct/intuition and the necessary “trainable” skills that they should have learned in the program. So from my perspective, a credential is a potential warning sign that the candidate was looking to compensate for a lack of confidence and ability by pursuing a credential.
  • To stand apart from competing candidates: If you do have a solid portfolio and a few years of experience, you may consider adding a credential to give yourself an extra edge on the competition. In this case, I recommend that you select a program that looks to be the most rigorous and challenging for you. Avoid simply registering for whatever program is available in your area unless that program is of high caliber or offered by a prestigious school. Still, this is not a great reason to make the time and financial investment.
  • To formalize and enhance what you already know intuitively: One of the best reasons to pursue an eLearning or instructional design degree or certificate is to formalize, reinforce, and expand upon what one has already discovered as a trainer on the job. Most professional trainers who have no formal education in the field of education know how to identify learning objectives, select or develop curriculum, design and develop training materials, evaluate their effectiveness, and so on. They have learned these skills through on-the-job experience, Internet research, networking, etc.  Once one has established a fundamental working knowledge of the training and development process, attending a formal degree or certificate program can expose someone to theories and concepts that explain and give deeper meaning and understanding to concepts with which s/he is already familiar and deepen understanding of the profession. This in turn can push one to be more creative, put more logic and purpose into instructional designs, and expand the overall quality of work.

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