Careers in Government and Military

, , &
CareersGraduate StudentsMilitaryGovernment
As of September 2022, there were 2,322 instructional systems specialists working in the U.S. federal government. However, these professionals work in a space very unique and different from other LIDT professionals. In this chapter, we discuss how to understand the differences in these positions, how to prepare and apply for a position with the U.S. government or military, and the skillsets needed for success.

Author's Note

The opinions or assertions contained herein are the private ones of the authors/speakers and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Department of Defense, the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, or any other agency of the U.S. government. 

When considering potential careers, consider that you could use your skills in Learning & Instructional Design and Technology (LIDT) to serve the public good and/or help support those who serve in the government/military. Every day, thousands of individuals work in full-time, part-time, and contractor capacities as LIDT professionals for the United States (U.S.) government.

It should be noted that just as in private industry, individuals working in LIDT in the U.S. government have many titles. These titles include instructional systems specialist, instructional designer, instructional systems designer, learning engineer, learning architect, training specialist, or instructional technology manager. During this chapter, we will refer to these roles by the common nomenclature of “instructional designer.”

The goal of this chapter is to provide you an entry point for U.S. government instructional design work by:

It should be noted that the authors of this chapter work for the United States government, so the chapter is specific to the United States. However, you might be able to generalize some of these topics to local, state, and international government work.

What is an Instructional Designer in the Federal Government?

In the U.S. government, an instructional designer applies learning sciences and theories while implementing a systematic approach to the design and development of curriculum components. This includes content, learning activities, instructional materials, presentations, and job aids.

The U.S. government uses numerical codes (0000 through 9000) to identify and define the type of work that is done by an employee. Each professional category, and specific jobs that fall within that category, are designated and often referred to by a numerical job series code. For a full description of all of the jobs in the series, and their associated qualifications, review the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s Handbook of Occupational Groups and Families (2018).

In the case of the profession highlighted by this book and chapter, all civilian education professionals are categorized by the 1700 job series. The most frequently encountered 1700 job series professionals are the 1701, 1712, 1730, and the 1750. The 1701 job series covers general education and training professionals. More often, these will be administrators of the educational and training programs or personnel. The 1712 job series designates instructors. These personnel frequently have previous military experience and embody subject matter expertise with the content they will teach. The 1730 job series is for education researchers.

Accordingly, the role of an instructional designer is typically associated with the 1750 job series—Instructional Systems—whose duties are outlined in the Position Classification Flysheet for the Instructional Systems Series (1991):

This series includes professional positions the duties of which are to administer, supervise, advise on, design, develop, or provide educational or training services in formal education or training programs. The work requires knowledge of learning theory and the principles, methods, practices and techniques of one or more specialties of the instructional systems field. The work may require knowledge of one or more subjects or occupations in which educational or training instruction is provided.

According to the Fedscope database, as of September 2022, there were 2,322 instructional systems specialists working in the federal government—an amount that has remained consistent for the past five years. In Figure 1, you will see this number compared to other roles in the 1700 (Education) job series.

Bar graph depicting the number of employees 1700 in various occupational series.
Figure 1. Number of Employees in Each 1700 (Education) Occupational Series.

Interestingly, as opposed to many jobs in the training field that do not require a specific educational background, instructional systems positions require that you have formal education related to instructional design; this means that you should have a degree that includes at least 24 semester hours related to four of the five following areas:

While the role of instructional designer may be operationally defined by the standards of the 1750 series, the specific duties performed by instructional designers will likely vary depending on the goals or mission of the organization. Parker (2020, 2021) found that instructional designers in the U.S. Army were filling roles as administrators, managers, data entry specialists, and instructors (1712 job series) which, while benefiting from the requisite 1750 skill sets, do not require routine performance of specified 1750 job tasks and competencies.

Benefits and Challenges of Working in the Government and Military

Instructional design jobs in the U.S. government are highly sought after by many individuals. In this section, we will review some of the benefits and challenges that come with full-time government instructional design positions.


Benefit 1: Impact a public mission. By working as an instructional designer for the U.S. government and military, you have an opportunity to benefit the citizens and/or service members of the United States of America. This could include developing training that helps to upskill employees of a government agency and/or the military, or it might be to develop educational content to support a mission. By working for the government or military, you can know that the work that you are doing can contribute to those who serve our country.

Benefit 2: Job stability. Unless your job has a specific contract term associated with it, careers with the government and military can be incredibly stable. It is rare that full-time positions are eliminated, and because of due-process rules, it can be difficult to fire a federal employee. This means that once you get your foot in the door with government employment, you can count on having a fairly predictable career.

Benefit 3: Opportunities for development. As a government employee, you become part of a network of other federal agencies and military organizations. This may present you with opportunities to connect across agencies. You may find that your organization will sponsor professional development workshops, classes, or even offer tuition assistance programs to help employees gain additional education. Depending upon your organization, you might also find that funding for conferences or specialized external training is more available. Another benefit is that over time, you may have opportunities to transfer to other agencies within the federal government. In most cases, your benefits, tenure, and pension will stay the same.

Benefit 4: Compensation and benefits. While compensation varies across various instructional design roles and organizations in the government, it is very competitive when compared to similar roles in higher education and corporate learning. According to our analysis of FedScope data from September 2022 (obtained from the Office of Personel Management (n.d)), the average salary for an Instructional Systems Specialist in the U.S. government is $102,818. On the other hand, according to a survey, the average instructional design salary in the United States is $81,685 across all industries, while across higher education it is $62,068 (Peck, 2023). U.S. government positions also come with benefits such as a pension and health care with generally low deductibles.

Benefit 5: No need for profit. There is rarely a need to show a profit in federal instructional design jobs. You need to show that you are using a budget wisely and effectively and must be able to articulate needs. Profit building is not normally part of a government job.


While federal employment comes with a good set of benefits, it also comes with its challenges that individuals should consider before seeking a role:

Challenge 1: Lack of agility. There is a stereotype about federal employment being part of a bureaucratic process, and it is partially true. Because the federal government is so large, it can have a set of processes in place that prevent it from making quick decisions. You will find this particularly true in the hiring process, which can take many months. Software procurement can also be difficult because of the many existing regulations that govern purchases and information technology. While the government and military are making strides in becoming more innovative and agile, there is still a long way to go.

Challenge 2: IT systems. If you meet a government or military professional, they will undoubtedly talk to you about challenges related to information technology infrastructure. This exists for a couple of reasons: First, because the secure nature of government information, special hardware, software, and internet connections require more in-depth vetting. Second, because of requirements on government purchasing and contracts, it can be difficult to secure commercially available software that meet the requirements for government/military use; this results in using software or hardware that can be less than optimal for doing a job.

Challenge 3: Instructional design awareness. One significant challenge to working as an instructional designer within the government or military sector is the unfamiliarity of what an instructional designer is and/or does. More often than not, instructional designers are employed interchangeably with those in other education-oriented positions that do not require the same academic background or carry the same knowledge and skills sets of the instructional designer. Military training organizations, in general, approach training development, design, and delivery from a militaristic perspective rather than an educational one, and therefore often overlook the theoretical, analytical, and design advantages that talented instructional designers can provide to both training and non-training interventions and solutions. It often becomes incumbent upon the persons within instructional design positions to educate the populace on what their profession is capable of doing, and what value it may be to the organization as a whole.

Finding a Job

Civilian vs. Contractor Roles

Before discussing ways to find an instructional design role working for the U.S. government, we should outline the difference between civilian jobs and U.S. government contractor jobs. A contractor is someone who works directly with the government, usually through a company, on a contract basis. Contractors may have job titles and/or job duties similar to full-time government employees; however, there are key differences that should be noted:

It is typically said that contractor jobs pay more, and the positions are easier to get; however, they provide less than adequate job security. By contrast, it is often argued that government jobs have more security and stability, can have better benefits, and provide a truer sense of “serving one's country.”

Searching for Civilian Roles

As of when this chapter was written, is the primary website for finding civilian jobs for the U.S. government. Occasionally, you may find some government organizations that hire outside of USAjobs, but that is an exception. When looking for Instructional Systems Specialist positions on USAjobs, you will produce the best search results if you enter the term “1750” or “Instructional Systems Specialist” into the search bar.

When performing your search, please note that some jobs have certain candidate requirements, meaning that the role is only open to certain individuals (e.g., those who are internal to the agency, those who already work for the federal government, or those who are associated with the military). That means that you may not be able to apply to some of the listed jobs. If you are not a current federal employee, you will likely want to set your search filters to “Public,” as these are the job postings that anyone can apply to.

You should also note that U.S. government jobs are typically classified using the General Schedule (GS) system. GS levels are a means of setting a standard pay scale amongst federal employees and are classified according the “level of difficulty, responsibilities, and qualifications required” (Office of Personnel Management, 2023). There are 15 grades within the GS system. The grade is associated with the level of expected experience and expertise required for successful job performance. Grades 1-6 are considered novices. Grades 7-9 are considered interns. Grades 10-12 are considered journeyman. Grades 13-15 are considered experts and are often in managerial, supervisory, or advisory roles. As an example, an individual accepting a new instructional design position, with some experience, expected to perform work responsibilities with minimal oversight would have a job series and GS pay grade identifier as: General Schedule – Job Series – Pay Grade or GS-1750-12. The most common 1750 GS Levels, along with median salary and years of government experience, from the September 2022 Fedscope data set are displayed in Table 1.

Table 1. Number of Individuals, Salaries, and Experience in Instructional Systems (1750) Roles as of September 2022
GS Level# of individuals% of individualsMedian Salary

USAJobs has a variety of filters that you can apply when reviewing position openings—consider these as you search for an appropriate job. These filters include location, job level (typically GS level), and supervisory status. There is also an option to find jobs that are completely remote; however, these are rare and very competitive. It is important to note is that jobs for the U.S. government are only open to naturalized citizens of the United States.

Applying for a Position

Once you find a role that you are interested in and qualified for, apply. However, be aware of a few things in this process: (a) the application process may be opaque—meaning that it may be difficult to know your job status at any time, and (b) the timeline for hiring in federal roles can be quite long.

Regarding opaqueness, even though USAjobs has an application tracking process (e.g. Reviewing applications, interviewing, job offer)—it is up to the individual agency to update application status, often resulting in inaccurate information. Additionally, if you are not selected for an interview or for an offer for a position, you will likely not get feedback regarding why you were not selected. Thus, if you are interested in federal civilian employment, it is probably a good idea to apply to many jobs.

Another challenge in the hiring process is the timeline, as each step of the process takes time. Typically, applications are processed by the agency Civilian Personnel Office then reviewed by a hiring manager or committee. Even if you receive a job offer, you may find yourself waiting for several months for additional security clearances before you can begin working in that role. Therefore, if you are interested in a U.S. government instructional design position, make sure that you have time, and patience!

Education and Training Formats and Technologies

Education vs. Training

When working for the U.S. government, you may notice a difference between instructional design roles involved in education vs. those involved in training. Operationally, we will define education as the process of imparting knowledge, general skills, strategies, philosophies, reasoning, and judgment. Training is the act of gaining a particular skill set. Training prepares a person for the present job, whereas education prepares a person for their future job and upcoming challenges.

In many ways, the divide between education and training in the U.S. government can be perceivably similar to the difference between higher education and corporate instructional design. In higher education, instructional designers work on developing longer form courses that are usually focused on developing knowledge and softer skills. Corporate IDs, on the other hand, work on training needs that will have an immediate impact on current performance. As with any dichotomy, there is bound to be overlap, but this is generally a helpful distinction in considering the type of work that you may do as part of your role.

If you are thinking about working for the federal government as an instructional designer but want to be in academia, the federal government has many universities that use instructional designers. Most prominently, this includes the colleges and universities associated with each branch of the military, including:

For those who have an interest and background in K-12 education, the Department of Defense also operates elementary and secondary school systems—The Department of Defense Education Activity (DODEA)—offering opportunities to live abroad while supporting military installations around the world. Additionally, the Bureau of Indian Affairs within the Department of Interior also operates a sizable school system serving Native Americans. 

Education and Training Technologies

Regardless of where a position falls on the education and training spectrum, instructional designers in the U.S. government may find themselves creating training and educational opportunities in a variety of formats, depending on the mission of the agency. These might be structured as:

As such, the learning technology used in an instructional design position could vary widely depending on the needs and resources of your agency. Some positions may require you to know about how to build courses in a learning management system (e.g. Canvas), while other positions may require you to understand how to create content with an eLearning authoring tool (such as Adobe Captivate or Articulate Storyline). Additionally, you may find that some agencies are adopting technology standards such as SCORM and xAPI. Having a preliminary knowledge of these standards may be helpful to your position.

Also, as an instructional designer, you could be asked to provide comprehensive reviews of educational products. These reviews are normally part of a systematic approach to assessment or evaluation. Finally, an instructional designer can also be a key member of leadership to help support the education and training mission as well as strategic planning.

Military Members Participating in Virtual Training Exercise
Figure 2. Military Members Participating in Virtual Training Exercise

Higher Education Degrees for Instructional Design

If you are considering gaining more competence in the 1750 job series and are looking at masters or doctoral programs, consider ones that focus on learning different instructional design paradigms. Webster’s Dictionary defines a paradigm as “a philosophical and theoretical framework of a scientific school or discipline within which theories, laws, and generalizations and the experiments performed in support of them are formulated” (Merriam-Webster, 2023). Paradigms provide a guiding theory, formal patterns, and methods to work within instructional design and curriculum development. Assumptions about learning may be different across different paradigms, but there are also similarities. Understanding the role of Instructional Design paradigms (such as Dick and Cary, Diamond, backwards design, Merrill's principles of instruction, and Gagne’s nine events) can help instructional designers better understand the guiding philosophies of the work being undertaken in government environments.

Analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation—commonly known as ADDIE—is not a paradigm, but rather a process and can trace its early history back to the 1950s in the U.S. Army—however, it was not until the 1970s that the process became more commonplace. ADDIE was developed to be a guideline to create effective training for educational materials. While used less today, it is still a prominent process used by many in the creation of educational materials.

An educational program that concentrates on one paradigm does not provide the broad background an instructional designer may need to complete government work. Here are some additional general tips for selecting a program:

Overall, when selecting a program, it is important to ensure that the program has courses that will cover the required 24 credit hours in the areas outlined in the first section of this chapter.

Research and Professional Development in Government and Military

Despite training and education being a part of the U.S. Government and Military for decades, there is a surprising paucity of literature examining the impact of LIDT. As such, the government needs professionals who are passionate about implementing evidence-based practices into their work and who want to then share their research with the rest of the community.

In the remainder of this section, we will explore journals and conferences that are good venues to explore issues related to instructional design and technology in the government and military.


Occasionally, individuals from the federal government will publish their research findings in peer-reviewed journals that are recognized by others in the instructional design field. These journals include:

Additionally, education-focused journals in specific specialties can also provide a source for publishing. For example, if you work in an agency associated with health care, consider Academic Medicine or Medical Science Educator. If you work in military education, consider The Journal of Military Learning.

Organizations and Conferences

As a government instructional designer, you will have opportunities to be connected to the many professional development organizations related to instructional design and technology. These organizations allow you to stay connected to the developments in training and education in higher education and corporate environments:

In addition to these general organizations, there are also professional opportunities and organizations that connect individuals who are developing training and education for government and military audiences. These include:

Overall, the U.S. government would benefit from employees who want to engage with the internal and external instructional design community to share evidence-based practices. Doing so will increase the impact we can have on our public mission.


Being an instructional designer in the federal government can be a rewarding career that offers many benefits, including job security, good pay, and an opportunity to serve the public good. Additionally, because of the diversity of agencies within the government, that means that there are opportunities that align with your interests and abilities. We hope that you will consider ways that you might use your talents to further the education and training mission of the U.S. government and military.


Merriam-Webster. (2023). Paradigm. In Dictionary. Merriam-Webster. Retrieved September 1, 2023, from

Office of Personnel Management. (2023, August 2). General Schedule Classification and Pay.

Office of Personnel Management. (2018). Handbook of occupational groups and families.

Office of Personnel Management. (1991). Position classification flysheet for instructional systems series, GS-1750.

Office of Personnel Management. (n.d.). OPM datasets.

Parker, C. K. (2020). Instructional design perception and practice in United States Army training organizations: A case study [Doctoral dissertation, Indiana University]. IUScholarWorks.

Parker, C.K., & Momeny, L.S. (2021, December 3). Army Training and Talent Management: Finding Developmental Leverage in the Rediscovery of the Instructional Systems Specialist [Presentation]. Inter-service/Industry Training Simulation and Education Conference, Orlando, FL.

Peck, D. (2023, May 5). Instructional designer salary report [Updated].

Rob Nyland
Rob Nyland, Ph.D. is a Learning Architect and Assistant Professor at the Global College of Professional Military Education (PME) at Air University. Air University provides various levels of professional military education to members of the United States Air Force and its sister services. Although Dr. Nyland has only been a civilian in the United States Air Force since 2021, his previous experience working in higher education provides him with a broad perspective on the differences between government and traditional instructional design and technology roles. He has presented at various education conferences and published articles about learning analytics, online learning, and Open Educational Resources in such publications as The Journal of Computing in Higher Education, International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning (IRRODL), and TechTrends.
Dina Kurzweil
Dina Kurzweil, Ph.D. is the director of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU) Education & Technology Innovation (ETI) Support Office and an Associate Professor of Medicine. She has worked for the government in different capacities since 2002. As ETI Director, she provides strategic direction for the ETI, instructional and educational technology support for faculty, supervision of ETI personnel, and management of the ETI office. As Associate Professor, she teaches various courses at USU and provides professional development to faculty and staff. She has presented at various conferences both national and international, and her research focuses on faculty support, learning engineering, instructional design and change.
Christina K. Parker
Christina K. Parker, Ed.D. U.S. Air Force, is a Department of the Air Force civilian since 2023 and serves at the Special Operations Command at Hurlburt Field AFB, FL as the Chief Learning Officer. Christina previously served as a Department of the Army civilian since 2003. She holds degrees from University of South Alabama and her doctorate from Indiana University. She has served as an adjunct professor for Southern Illinois University for 14 years and with Indiana University since 2020. Dr. Parker has presented at various education conferences and symposiums, publishing articles about talent management, change agency, educational technology, and the instructional design profession.

This content is provided to you freely by EdTech Books.

Access it online or download it at