Careers in Higher Education for Non-Faculty

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The field of instructional design continues to grow and evolve based on the impact that emergent technologies and education trends have on education institutions. Higher education institutions keep adding positions for instructional designers, educational technologists, or learning design experts. In this chapter we will discuss instructional design jobs in higher education and how to be qualified for one.

Case Dilemma

In an office filled with annotated scholarly articles and digital design blueprints, Chelsea, the Senior Instructional Designer at a well-regarded campus, commences her multifaceted workday. Her responsibilities include faculty training, as well as the creation, implementation, and evaluation of online and hybrid courses. First on her schedule is a consultation with Professor Allen, a tenured faculty member skeptical of integrating digital elements into his course. “Our traditional methods have always worked,” he contends. Chelsea, leaning on her expertise in pedagogical principles and UX design, counters, “The aim is not to displace, but to enhance. Research supports the value of strategically designed hybrid courses for increased student engagement.” His skepticism begins to wane.

During the meeting, an urgent departmental email surfaces, advocating for the adoption of a yet-to-be-tested e-learning tool. Chelsea faces the complex task of reconciling administrative imperatives with educational quality. Later, in the Faculty and Staff Lounge, she overhears two colleagues discussing prevailing myths. One declares, “Once a course is online, it practically runs itself.” Others chime in, “Why do we need instructional designers when ChatGPT can generate lectures and assignments?” Seizing the opportunity, Chelsea interjects, “While technology and AI can assist, neither replaces the role of effective teaching or the need for a customized, student-focused design strategy. Another issue is that you should be aware of the technology limitations; for example, ChatGPT can fabricate false information and if you are going to use it you should always check the output.”

In navigating these converging challenges, Chelsea’s daily experience encapsulates the complex skill set of an instructional designer working in higher education: including diplomatic acumen and adaptability.

Questions to Ponder:

  1. In what ways can instructional designers like Chelsea navigate the often-conflicting imperatives from faculty and administrative leadership to maintain both pedagogical integrity and institutional objectives?
  2. How might the presence of prevailing myths about educational technology and artificial intelligence influence not just the work of instructional designers, but also the broader institutional approach to learning?
  3. Considering Chelsea’s multifaceted role and the range of skills she employs, what competencies should you prioritize for career growth and effective performance in higher education settings?

The Important Role of Instructional Designers in Higher Education

The field of instructional design continues to grow and evolve based on the impact that emergent technologies and education trends have on education institutions, and higher education is not the exception. Higher education (HE) institutions keep adding positions for instructional designers, educational technologists, or learning design experts. Some HE institutions have added entire departments of instructional design professionals to keep up with the demands of providing professional development to faculty to improve their traditional courses or to train them how to teach in a new format, such as in online or blended ways. Some HE institutions are providing non-traditional learning opportunities with help of instructional design professionals that should create those experiences using new technologies.

However, there are many constraints and challenges for instructional designers working on HE. For example, faculty might have different levels of technology skill or level of desire to adopt technology.  Faculty might understand differently the meaning of quality teaching, and there are some faculty that are resistant to changes on pedagogical practice.

In this chapter we will discuss instructional design jobs in higher education and how to be qualified for one. The 2022 Horizon Report highlighted the growing demand for instructional designers (IDs) in higher education (HE), indicating that they are well positioned as pivotal change agents to create digitally rich and   pedagogically sound learning experiences (Pelletier et al., 2022). The educational crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted even further the important role that instructional designers play for higher education institutions. Moreover, the COVID crisis also expedited the growth of degree and non-degree programs in higher education or the rapid shift towards adoption of credit-bearing certifications increasing the need to hire more instructional designers (Joyner & Eicher, 2022).

While nearly every institution of higher education employs instructional designers in some capacity, different higher education institutions utilize these professionals in different ways. Instructional designers may work in centers for teaching and learning or faculty advisement centers, where they may provide consultation to faculty on curriculum development, assessment, or instructional challenges. They may also work within university libraries, media centers, technology services, freshman orientation, student services, or departments of online/continuing education. In these varied roles, they can influence policy and instruction within small departments or across the entire university. Because of the variety of career options for IDs within higher education, a wide skill set is important, making this an exciting career choice where continual growth is essential.

In this chapter we provide a practical guide to those who are interested in exploring an ID career in HE. Specifically, we will discuss traditional and new IDs’ roles and responsibilities and provide descriptions of several typical ID job positions (See "LIDT in the World" at the end of this chapter). We will also explain what to expect from the work environment in higher education when IDs work with university faculty. Finally, this chapter will provide recommendations of how to find an ID job in higher education and what professional organizations can support further ID skills and competencies development and networking.

What Do Instructional Designers Do in Higher Education? 

Traditional ID Roles and Responsibilities 

IDs’ traditional roles and responsibilities vary depending on the type of institution (Campbell et al., 2007; Dooley et al., 2007; Kenny et al., 2005; Kumar & Ritzhaupt, 2017; Pan et al., 2003; Richardson et al., 2019). The major IDs’ roles and responsibilities in any HE institution are course development and faculty support. In addition, responsibilities vary depending on the type of the ID position, such as junior ID or senior ID. However, the majority of university faculty are still not sure what IDs can do and Dimeo (2017) called IDs the “best kept secret” in HE. Unfortunately, there are still misconceptions about what IDs can do, for example some academic institutions may consider IDs as “tech” people, “techies,” or part of the information technology (IT) department (Ritzhaupt & Kumar, 2015) because of the variety of their position titles, such as educational technologist, instructional technologist, or learning designer. This lack of understanding may also be the result of limited institutional efforts or support to communicate what IDs can do. When institutions fail to promote innovative teaching, ambiguity may arise concerning the roles and contributions of Instructional Designers (IDs), leading to concerns among faculty, administrators, and IDs themselves about the efficacy of teaching and learning improvements. Still, traditionally, IDs have been essential to improving learning experiences for many different types of learning environments including online, face-to-face, hybrid/blended, HyFlex, active learning classroom, and flipped learning.

New ID Roles and Expectations 

As mentioned above, traditionally, IDs have been considered “consultants, facilitators, technology experts, and quality assurance checkers, all wrapped into one” (Magruder et al., 2019, p. 8). As they embody and encourage student-centered and inclusive attitudes in their engagements with faculty, students, and staff, many of these jobs are well-positioned to be high-impact change agents at their institutions (Martin et al., 2021). The emerging demand of equitable learning experiences in online and blended modalities for students has reshaped their roles and responsibilities, offering new pathways and titles such as learning experience designer, learning architect, and learning engineer. This chapter makes no such distinction between those job titles. If you are part of a large team, the various roles and responsibilities can be differentiated, with each professional focusing on a more limited set of skills. Mostly, we see ourselves wearing many hats as a one-member team or a part of a small team. We are expected to apply appropriate learning theories to given design tasks, while leveraging newly available tools that are becoming mainstream or developing new skills to remain relevant. Thus, in this chapter, we address new areas where you might want to upskill and challenge yourself!

UX/UI Methods

With the advent of online education, IDs are expected to implement user-friendly, accessible, and engaging teaching and learning strategies. By incorporating user-experience and user-interface (UX/UI) methods into the design process, IDs can identify diverse needs and preferences of learners, design learner-friendly interfaces, and test the effectiveness of their design work. Thus, IDs employ many common UX design methods, including (a) developing learner personas, or fictional representations of a typical learner created based on surveys, interviews, focus groups, or previous data; (b) utilizing wireframing, or other visual representations of a learning space (layout and functionality); (c) employing prototyping to develop a working model of the learning experience for refinement; (d) using participatory design, a collaborative design approach that involves engaging learners, subject matter experts, and other stakeholders in the design process; (e) conducting cognitive walkthroughs, an evaluation of the usability of the learning experience performed by instructional designers who imagine themselves as the learner; and (f) employing A/B testing, a data-driven evaluation method for two different design variations of a learning experience (control/experimental groups).

Learning Analytics

Learning analytics (LA) can help IDs identify patterns and trends in learner data, which learning activities are most effective, which learners are struggling, and which content needs to be revised or updated. These skills allow IDs to make informed decisions about how to design more engaging and personalized learning experiences. In addition, LA can support IDs to ensure that learning experiences are accessible to all learners. They can identify areas where a certain group of learners may be experiencing barriers to access, such as language barriers or visual impairments. To solve the issue, they can provide transcripts or captions for videos and provide alternate forms of learning materials. Most importantly, LA can help IDs personalize the learning experience by providing insights into each learner’s preferences and learning needs. For example, if real-time data indicates one failed learning task and reported frustration, IDs can model adaptive learning processes that contain adjusted levels of tasks and guidance.

Project Management

ID projects in HE typically involves collaboration with subject matter experts (SMEs), instructional technologists, education program managers, and other stakeholders. Project management (PM) skills help IDs manage resources effectively, i.e., budgets, staff, and technology. Developing project plans, timelines, and resource allocation are considered critical skills that IDs should demonstrate. Another important PM skill is quality control and assurance. By developing evaluation criteria, IDs can ensure that design products meet the desired learning outcomes and effectively support the needs of learners.

Learn More About Project Management for Instructional Designers

To learn more about project management for instructional designers, we recommend reading Project Management for Instructional Designers available through EdTech Books.

Educational Research

IDs need to be able to design learning experiences that are effective, evidence-based, and grounded in learning theories and relevant studies. By staying current with educational research, IDs can not only design learning experiences, but identify areas of improvement and make evidence-based decisions about how to improve the learning experience, which can, in turn, help them generate new knowledge and contribute to the field of ID.

Critical Design Work

Critical design work involves understanding the social and cultural context in which the design work is taking place and designing solutions that address the needs and challenges of diverse learners. To create inclusive, culturally responsive, equitable, and social justice learning environments, IDs must challenge assumptions and power structures that may perpetuate inequality and oppression hidden within the education institution. They must critically reflect on their own assumptions and biases and design learning experiences that question the existing structure to promote social change.

Work Environment

Faculty Collaboration   

IDs in HE work closely with university faculty, but different institutions have different approaches to IDs collaboration with faculty. Thus, the nature of your collaborations will partly depend on the leadership support and overall institutional mission. Some universities require close collaboration and accommodate IDs with favorable conditions for successful collaboration with the faculty, for example, providing flexible and remote work schedules. Because faculty always need professional development to update their skills and competencies including technology and course design skills, some institutions require IDs to conduct professional development training for faculty, cohort-based training at the university level, and/or individualized occasional consultations on-demand to anyone who requests help.

Regardless, IDs are often required to initiate collaborative relationships to create faculty buy-in and trust. Studies have identified several successful characteristics of instructional designers, such as excellent communication skills, time management skills, professional competency, and mentoring skills for successful collaboration (Kumar & Ritzhaupt, 2017; Richardson et al., 2019). Successful collaborations are more likely when relationships reflect a mutual and equal partnership between faculty and IDs as they engage in authentic problem-solving contexts, such as the course design and development process (Olesova & Campbell, 2019).

Instructional designers can also employ the concept of collaborative mentorship, which reflects a process where both faculty and IDs learn new skills, values, and culture directly from others whom they respect and admire. To facilitate this, novice IDs need to avoid being overly prescriptive, providing an answer to every potential aspect of the instructional problem. Instead, even if they feel they know the best approach to solve the instructional problem, instructional designers should build a dialogue and conversation to help faculty to develop their own conclusions and grow in their understanding of instructional design. Even if collaborative relationships do not work from the first experience, do not give up but learn from your lessons.

In forming these collaborative relationships, professional competencies, in addition to “soft” skills, are critical. We recommend seeking to develop the following essential competencies and strategies for a successful collaborative relationship for future collaborators, based on empirical findings from the study by Richardson and colleagues (2017): (a) build trust and rapport; (b) be an active listener; (c) be a coach and facilitator; (d) be open-minded and flexible; (e) “don’t be a pushover”; and (f) be sensitive to cultural differences.

Avoiding Conflict with Faculty

During the COVID-19 pandemic, IDs helped faculty transition to online and emergency remote teaching. After experiencing the benefits of flexible teaching, many faculty have actively started integration of synchronous online technologies, (i.e., Zoom) into their daily practice. As they struggle to do this, they may prefer quick tips or answers instead of developing a long-term relationship with the IDs at their institution. This may cause a conflict between IDs, who want to work towards long-term improvement of teaching and learning, and the faculty concerned with the immediate challenges. One of the sources of this conflict could be differences in understanding roles, i.e., who is the pedagogical or technology expert (Mueller et al., 2021). Another reason could be faculty resistance to the ID process or when novice IDs do not spend time building the crucial personal relationships, focusing only on completing the project milestones. Another source of the conflict could be when IDs use a lot of design terminology, making communication vague and difficult. For all these reasons, faculty may feel the process is ineffective, and they may start canceling the meetings, not responding to emails, or simply not show up for consultations.

To avoid this scenario, IDs can communicate a common goal with the faculty from the beginning, asking them (a) what do they expect from the collaboration? (b) what do they want to learn? and (c) how much time can they spend on the design process? Mutually arriving at a favorite communication strategy helps expedite and enhance the design process. It is good for IDs to be flexible and adaptive to the faculty schedule as much as possible. During the design consultation process, faculty usually look for creative but simple ideas. When IDs overwhelm them with too many ideas and tools, they become skeptical and avoid further assistance. It is always good to share only one strong, and sustainable, creative idea that is realistic and timely. By sharing helpful strategies that faculty can immediately use, these uneasy relationships can turn into rewarding collaborative ones. IDs also may be interested in reading more from scholarly publications on conflict management to apply those strategies in these real world scenarios (Mueller et al., 2021).

ID Collaboration

To keep the instructional design process current and satisfy institutional requirements, instructional designers also collaborate among themselves to help faculty find better and more creative options. For example, students who enter higher education after the COVID-pandemic have more advanced technological skills than the generation a decade ago. This requires faculty to use the most advanced tools for teaching and make instruction widely accessible. In these situations, IDs with advanced degrees usually work with the IDs with traditional master’s degrees to power up the ID processes and meet faculty expectations.

For example, the design process is usually divided into a more advanced, theoretically driven, theoretical phase and a practical, technology-driven, phase. The ID with the advanced degree often facilitates theoretical phases to design learning while the ID with the master’s degree transforms generated ideas into learning experiences (Elkhoury & Usman, 2021). IDs with a traditional master’s degree  are usually trained in practical applications of their skills and knowledge, IDs with advanced degrees communicate with the faculty to integrate principles of learning theories and current research trends. In this collaboration, faculty benefit from expedited evidence-based technologically driven solution which is a cost-relevant, engaging, and innovative.

Finding an Instructional Design Job in Higher Education

Finding a job as an ID in HE requires acquiring many different skills, such as knowledge of ID topics, use of technology, and other competencies. According to Ritzhaupt and Kumar (2015), IDs should develop soft skills in addition to ID competencies and have a solid understanding of technology tools used for teaching and learning. In addition to ID specific skills, general competencies are helpful. The National Association of Colleges and Employers conducts an annual survey about the attributes employers seek in candidates. In the 2021 survey, more than half of respondents mentioned the importance of various capacities, including problem-solving, analytical thinking, teamwork, communication, work ethic, technical proficiency, adaptability, attention to detail, leadership, and interpersonal abilities (NACE, 2022).

Before you start looking for an ID job, study several job postings and make a plan to acquire the required skills (check Appendix). Another thing you can do is search for ID profiles and check how they demonstrate their ID skills. Compare yourself to other professionals with the purpose of improving your own skills. Reflect on what makes you unique and find a way to stand out from other applicants. Later you can use this information for a cover letter or a personal website. If you belong to an institution that supports your job search, consider attending any events they offer to improve your application documents, such as improving your resume or CV, especially if you are an international student. It will be an excellent investment of your time to meet with someone who can help you prepare for an interview.

Looking for an Instructional Design Position

There are several websites where it is possible to find job postings that advertise ID positions specifically for HE, such as:

You should visit the institution's career website to verify there were no mistakes about the due date or application process. Pay attention to the documents required to apply to each position. It might not be a good idea to send a lengthy research CV for a job application that requires a professional resume, because you will come across as someone who cannot follow directions.

All your application documents, such as resume and cover letter, should be tailored to a specific job posting. If the hiring committee took the time to write about the skills they need for the job, they expect candidates to clearly spell out how they fulfill the requirements for the job they advertised. The hiring manager does not have time to guess if a candidate satisfies the job requirements, so be sure to explicitly describe how you meet those requirements using the same keywords they used in their job posting.

Improving Your Online Presence

Because potential employers might search for information about you, you should improve your online presence before you start looking for a job. One easy way is to create your profile in employment-based social media sites, such as LinkedIn. You can join instructional design groups to grow your network of ID professionals. Look for other social media sites where you can connect with ID professionals or to learn about new technologies for teaching and learning.

Because potential employers might search for information about you, you should improve your online presence before you start looking for a job. One easy way is to create your profile in employment-based social media sites, such as LinkedIn. You can join instructional design groups to grow your network of ID professionals. Look for other social media sites where you can connect with ID professionals or to learn about new technologies for teaching and learning.

Updating Your Resume or CV

Most ID job postings will require you to send a resume, which is a brief summary of your academic background, skills, and working experience. It should be readable, interesting, and tailored to a specific job posting. The goal of updating your resume is to obtain an invitation for a job interview (Rosenberg, 2007). A CV is a longer document that emphasizes your research skills, and it is usually required for faculty positions. Typically, ID positions ask for shorter resumes instead of CVs, but research skills can still be desirable for ID professionals working in academia, so you might list your research experience on your website instead.

Professional Organizations

There are several professional organizations dedicated to advancing the instructional design profession, but some are more oriented to support ID professionals working in industry. While those may be useful to you, because the skills needed to work in higher education differ from the skills required for industry, this section will focus only on professional organizations that support instructional designers working in higher education specifically.

The benefits to becoming a member of these organizations are that you can participate in their national or international conferences, attend online events or workshops, access their publications, receive help for a job search, build your resume or CV by presenting yourself or participating in task forces, gain access to job posting boards, and grow your network of professionals who might become your colleagues or collaborators. Most organizations have valuable resources to support you with the job search, acquiring ID skills or supporting writing and publishing.

Some institutions send their job postings to professional organizations before releasing them to the public; members of those organizations thus can apply before others for those jobs. Some hiring institutions even schedule job interviews during the conferences. Some organizations have mentorship programs for novice IDs or apprenticeship programs for graduate students. If you are interested to become an ID at a higher education institution, consider volunteering for the following organizations and attending their events:


The Association of Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) supports scholarship and best practices of technology use for teaching and learning. This organization has many members that belong to the field of instructional design and work in higher education, such as faculty members and instructional designers. Membership is open to graduate students. Some of their divisions focus on issues of culture, learning & technology, design & development, distance learning, emerging learning technologies, and technology integrated learning.


The American Educational Research Association (AERA) is one of the most prestigious organizations in the field of education whose mission is to “ advance knowledge about education, to encourage scholarly inquiry related to education, and to promote the use of research to improve education and serve the public good”. This national society has several SIGs relevant to ID professionals including those with a focus on instructional technology (SIG#52), media, culture & learning (SIG#65), and online teaching and learning (SIG#35).


EDUCAUSE is a professional organization dedicated to supporting informational technology professionals working in higher education settings; for example, aiding in the management, implementation, use and innovation of informational technology. Membership eligibility is at the institutional level.


The Online Learning Consortium (OLC) is an organization dedicated to improving online programs in a way that promotes high quality while providing for learning on a large scale so that education becomes affordable and accessible for anyone. It supports a community of higher education professionals interested in teaching and learning in online, hybrid, and digital environments.


Instructional designers take on many different roles.  To be successful as an instructional designer in higher education, it is important to become a lifelong learner in three areas: (a) ID knowledge and skills; (b) technology tools and education research for teaching and learning; and (c) soft skills and customer service skills. IDs should be constantly strengthening their foundational knowledge of instructional design theory, process, and practice, while staying current with new technologies that can be used for teaching and learning.

In addition, IDs should improve soft skills or customer service skills, such as adaptability and communication skills. Those are crucial to developing working relationships with faculty. For example, being patient and practicing listening skills is as important as having ID knowledge, because in academia faculty cannot be forced to use certain ID models or strategies, but they can be presented with information and encouraged to use research-based strategies. In the end, instructional designers and faculty desire the same thing: improved learning for students, and smoother instructional practices for faculty.

LIDT in the World: Examples of ID Positions

Example 1

To be selected for this senior instructional design position at a public university, the candidate needs an advanced degree, EdD or PhD, in education or closely related field, and not necessarily in the field of learning, design, and technology. Senior ID is responsible for working collaboratively with faculty, subject matter experts (SME), and cross-departmental stakeholders to conceptualize, design, and develop high-quality programs and courses, as well as supporting the office research and training initiatives. The senior ID takes a mentorship role, actively engaging in the team’s development of scalable, quality programming. Duties include working directly with faculty and SMEs in the analysis, design, development, and quality assurance/checks of effective instructional programs and creating both team and faculty development initiatives focusing on areas such as effective online course design, new tools and technologies, and research-driven teaching practices. 

Example 2

This instructional design job is at a public university regional campus which has high research activity; however, the primary focus of this institution is teaching. For this position it is desirable to hold a PhD or EdD in ID, educational technology, or a closely related field. ID is responsible for training faculty and instructors to implement ID models, strategies, and best practices in traditional, hybrid or online courses. Due to the ID: faculty ratio, the emphasis is to prepare faculty to become self-sufficient when designing their courses or creating instructional materials. At this institution, it would not be sustainable to create course materials or develop courses for faculty. The main requirement of this position is to support faculty development to improve college teaching either during one-to-one consultations or by organizing faculty workshops. Ideally, offering faculty practical ideas based on evidence they can implement in their courses without a huge demand of time and effort. Building good work relationships with faculty is a strong commitment of this job and this requires nurturing trust. In other words, ID should sharpen soft skills such as teamwork, communication, and customer service. Occasionally, ID works collaboratively with faculty in research projects relevant to the scholarship of teaching and learning. Working at small institutions often requires participation in an array of committees and supporting college-wide initiatives.

Example 3

This example is for a lead learning experience designer working at a research university. Learning experience design lead is responsible for supervising and mentoring the Learning Experience Design team, which is responsible for pedagogical research, instructional design, user experience design, course engagement, and evaluation. The primary duties include developing strategies to monitor, evaluate, and iteratively improve courses regarding learner outcomes and engagement in a variety of educational settings (e.g., online, blended, immersive learning); provide leadership in developing learning experiences that exceed expectations regarding accessibility, copyright compliance, and use of open resources; lead the design of new tools, templates, and resources that support faculty innovation in digital education; and conduct and disseminate research and analysis on new and emerging technologies, instructional design theories, and approaches.


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Larisa Olesova

University of Florida

Larisa Olesova is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Educational Technology in the School of Teaching and Learning, at the University of Florida. Prior, Larisa worked as a Senior Instructional Designer for George Mason University. Her research interests are Community of Inquiry, online teaching and learning, and social network analysis.
Belen Garcia
Belen Garcia de Hurtado is an instructional designer at the University of Michigan Dearborn. She earned her Ph.D. in Learning Design and Technology with a focus on engineering education from Purdue University. At the college level, she taught an introductory instructional technology course for pre-service teachers to design student-centered instruction for K-12, and also Spanish courses. She also taught four levels of German at the high school level. Her research interests are: online learning, game-based learning, and emergent technologies for learning STEM or language.
Ji Hyun Yu

University of North Texas

Ji Hyun Yu, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Learning Technologies in the College of Information at the University of North Texas. With a focus on online/hybrid learning behaviors and personalized/collaborative learning environment design, Dr. Yu conducts extensive research and practice. Her research interests lie in learner-centered, data-informed, community-oriented learning experience design.

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