When I first came across the title “Instructional Designer” while looking for alternative career options, I was just as confused as anybody would be hearing about our job for the first time. I remember asking questions like: What does an Instructional Designer do? Why is it called Instructional Design? Wouldn’t a title such as Learning Experience Designer or Training Content Developer suit them better? How are their skill sets different from curriculum developers like teachers’? etc.
Then, the more I learnt about the different roles of Instructional Designers, and the more job interviews I had, ironically, the less clarity I had over the companies’ expectations of us.
The truth is that the role of an Instructional Designer varies from company to company. What a person hired with the title “Instructional Designer” ends up doing depends on a range of factors such as the company’s training portfolio, the profile of their learners, the size of the L&D team, the way they use technology, just to mention a few.
When I started interviewing, I ended up having conversations about procuring authoring tools, managing LMSs, writing engaging stories, devising new ID processes, or delivering the training myself. All these in addition to the “traditional”, “textbook-version” tasks of Instructional Designers.
Of course, not all of these jobs were advertised as Instructional Designer roles, but essentially they wanted someone with an in-depth understanding of how people learn, so I applied anyway.
I eventually landed a job as a Learning Content Manager and, while it’s not purely Instructional Design, it does require ID skills, plus more.
“So what job titles should we search for when applying for an ID role?”, many new IDOLs ask.
The answer is that you could look for anything that has “learning”, “instructional”, “training”, “course”, or “curriculum” in it.
In fact, in addition to the mainstream titles of Instructional Designer or Elearning Developer, IDOL members have ended up with job titles such as Learning Content Designer, Course Developer, L&D Coordinator, Training Design Specialist, Learning Architect, Instructional Technologist, Learning Experience Designer, Learning Consultant, Digital Learning Coordinator etc.
I’m not saying they’re all the same. Of course they’re not. Actually, in some cases, these can be different roles within one L&D Team. What I am saying is that most of them work towards the same goal and they require similar skill sets. Besides, during my job search, I had to realise that sometimes companies don’t understand the difference between these roles either and they would post an ad for an Instructional Designer when they want a Technology Specialist for example, or they would create a whole new job title when what they want is a super-skilled ID.
When I started creating the outline of this blog post, my main idea was to clarify the differences between some of these job titles. However, it was not that simple. Instead, I’ll give some rather generalised differentiators.
As a rule of thumb, if it’s an eLearning Developer or Digital Learning Developer role, they would want somebody who’s really good with authoring tools or other software. The job would include taking a storyboard and executing the ID’s vision.
As an Instructional Designer (or other designer titles such as Learning Content-, Training Content-, or Learning Solutions Designer), the role would include working with stakeholders and SMEs and devising strategies to solve performance problems. Writing and storyboarding the content would be most likely to be required, and depending on the company, they might be involved with the development of these solutions too.
For a long time I thought Learning Experience Designer was just another synonym for Instructional Designer, and they could be. In theory, however, LXDs would focus more on the user experience than the content itself. They might map the learner personas, carry out usability tests or recommend modifications to the course format or the LMS to improve the overall experience.
In many cases, an LMS Administrator or LMS Coordinator would create learning content too. However, the main reason they have a different job title is because they are responsible for maintaining the LMS and tracking the data. As such, it’s a more technical role where some coding skills might be needed.
They are surely responsible for something, but it’s not always clear with managerial titles such as eLearning Coordinator, Chief Learning Officer or Learning Solutions Manager whether they are in charge of a whole L&D team or if they’re responsible for the successful execution of the learning solution. In some cases, a coordinator is the sole learning content creator for the company or a manager could be accountable for one aspect of the produced courses.
The role of an L&D Coordinator could be similar to an Instructional Designer. In general, they tend to have more responsibilities though, such as tracking the completion of the courses. In addition, they might be the first point of contact for stakeholders or employees if there’s an emerging training need or they might even outsource the content creation to other companies.
Specialist, Consultants & Strategists:
These roles focus more on making improvements to learning content than actually creating them. A Training Design Specialist or Learning Consultant for example might be well-versed in the latest trends or research in the field. They would act as advisors for the L&D Team and help them fine-tune some strategies or processes and ensure that they deliver the desired outcome.
As I said, the line between these titles can be incredibly blurred and companies can post jobs for roles as they wish. This was just an attempt to clarify some of the main differences between some titles.
My advice is this:
Written by: Ivett Csordas
Ivett is a teacher turned Learning Content Manager/Instructional Designer. She has over 8 years of experience in secondary schools and 5 years in EFL classrooms. As a life-long learner, she is passionate about sharing knowledge and creating meaningful learning experiences. Her niche is breaking concepts down and anticipating potential learning obstacles. Before the pandemic, she loved watching plays in the theatre and going on backpacking adventures. Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her portfolio.