What’s It Like to be an Instructional Designer? A Day In the Life

If you\’ve ever thought about becoming an instructional designer, you may wonder what a typical day would look like.  Part of the allure of becoming an instructional designer is that there isn\’t really a \”typical\” day.   You might be getting screenshots for a software skills course one day and editing a video for a sales class the next. There is a lot of variety!

Being an instructional designer can be creative, fun, energizing and fulfilling.  It can also involve long hours, difficult SMEs and limited resources.

To illustrate what you might experience in an instructional design role, I\’ll put you in the shoes of an ID in a sort of \”day in the life\” using various examples from my own career.

8:00 AM

You start your day checking emails and looking at your calendar for the day.

Most of the emails are general company announcements…nothing too exciting.

There are a couple that stand out, though.  One is from a person you worked with on a job aid last year. She is asking for some updates to be made.  The other is from someone you are working with on a current project.  It is feedback on a PowerPoint you are working on for an upcoming webinar.

Meeting-wise, the day isn\’t looking too bad.  You\’ve got a project team meeting later in the morning to discuss the webinar and one in the afternoon with a manager who has requested that some new training be developed.

8:30 – 9:30 AM

You decide to knock out the job aid changes first.  Truth be told, you really aren\’t excited to have to go back and work on an \”old\” project.  That\’s part of why you are working on it first.  You basically want to get it over with.

The changes aren\’t too extensive.  There are a couple of new screen shots to add and a few updates to some of the instructions.  The hardest part will be remembering which folder you saved it in since it\’s been almost a year.

You find the latest version file which was created in Microsoft Word.  You go in and make the various changes.  Once the updates are made, you save the Word document as a pdf and send it off to the SME (subject matter expert) who requested the changes.  If all looks good, you will republish it to the company intranet.

9:30 – 10:30 AM

It\’s time for the project meeting.

The webinar you\’ve been working on is for call center employees.  It includes a demo of some updated features within the call center software as well as some recommended scripting changes.

The project team consists of you (instructional designer/project manager), the trainer and the call center manager who requested the training.

Originally, the manager was basically looking for an info dump with some pretty slides.  You have gradually helped her to understand how much more effective the training will be with interactivity and practice built in.

You are putting a good bit of the content into a pair of job aids that can be accessed anytime.  That way, you can use the majority of the webinar for practice and application.

The meeting today will be a final review of the PowerPoint.  You took a quick glance at the feedback you received in your e-mail.  It had a couple of suggestions but nothing too major.  You will make sure to address it in the meeting.

10:30 AM

The meeting went well.  The team went through and discussed the PowerPoint and content for the webinar.  The PowerPoint is almost there.  You have a few updates to make.  There was also a discussion about one of the activities in the class and the best way to run it.

You want to give the participants an opportunity to practice with the new script.  If this were classroom training, you could easily have people get into groups and practice out loud within the groups.

Your meeting software has the ability to use break out rooms and you have decided to use them for the activity.  As a next step, you will schedule a practice session so that the team can run through the activity and make sure everything works as expected.

10:30 – 11:30 Am

You work on the updates for the PowerPoint.  You also set up the practice meeting to run through the activity.

11:30 am – 12:30 pm

Time for a break.  You decide to take lunch a little early.

12:30 – 1:00 pm

You do a little more work on the PowerPoint updates.  You also review your notes for the training request you will be meeting on in a little while.

The request is coming from the Director of Security.  He wants to have some kind of training developed that addresses an active shooter situation and how employees should handle themselves if it were to ever happen.

You have some ideas but you want to talk to him first before getting too far. You also have several questions you want to ask him.

1:00 – 2:00 pm

Time for your meeting with the Director of Security.

The purpose of the meeting is to get more details around the request.  From there, you and your team will determine if training is an appropriate solution.

Your manager, you, and the rest of the team have worked hard to get away from being \”order takers\”.

Not too long ago, whenever management from other departments needed training, it was pretty much expected that your department would automatically create something.  The problem was that oftentimes, training wasn\’t the issue.  People would attend training or take something online and there was dissatisfaction from both the learner (who didn\’t necessarily need the training) and the manager who requested it (because no noticeable changes had occurred).

Leadership finally saw the light and your department has become much more consultative.  Sometimes a training solution is recommended and developed.  Sometimes, after doing the initial analysis, you and your colleagues help a manager see that there is something else at play such as a broken process vs. an automatic need for training.

Some of the questions you ask the Director are:

  • Why do you think we need training on this?
  • What do we have now that addresses an active shooter situation?
  • Do we have a policy in place that covers it?
  • How are employees educated on the policy (if at all)?
  • Has he (the Director) or anyone on his team ever been involved in an active shooter situation?
  • What are the key takeaways employees need to know or do about an active shooter situation?
  • What are some observable behaviors that would tell us the training was successful?

It is a good conversation and also very interesting.  And, if you\’re being honest, pretty scary!

As it turns out, while there is a policy around active shooter situations, it is not widely known.  It sounds like if one were to ever occur, there would be a lot of confusion and people wouldn\’t know how to react.

You thank the Director for all of the information.  You tell him you will be following up in the next day or two with next steps.

Even though, in your mind, you do think this is a valid topic for some new training, you still don\’t like to promise anything yet. You will take the information back to your team along with your thoughts and recommendations.

You are thinking this could be a self-paced, interactive e-learning module.  Maybe put the learner into a scenario where they have to make choices and see what the consequences are of a wrong choice.

You can also see this as an in person class where one of the security employees shares their story of when they were in a real active shooter situation. That could be impactful.

You know you are getting ahead of yourself but you can\’t help it.  You love thinking of different creative ways to deliver training.  (Say, maybe that\’s why you got into instructional design!)

You will get to do more of this brainstorming once you and your team determine that training is the right solution.  You usually have a pretty good nose for what is and isn\’t.  You still find value, though, in having your team and manager weigh in.

2:00 – 3:00 pm

A few emails have come in so you take a look at those.

One in particular has you somewhat annoyed.

On one of your projects where you are creating a short demo video, you have been trying to get together with a SME (subject matter expert) to confirm accuracy on some of the information.

Initially, you had sent her some requests via email.  You just wanted her to review the script and let you know if anything needed to be updated or changed.  She didn\’t respond to those.

You know, from experience, that some people just aren\’t good email responders for whatever reason.  Some people need a phone call or a meeting.  That is what you have been attempting lately.  You want to do a quick, no more than 30 minute meeting to look over the script together.

Here\’s the rub.  You scheduled the meeting in Outlook based on her calendar showing availability.  The email that has you annoyed is a \”Decline\” from her with a note from her saying that she has another appointment at that time.  This is the second time she\’s done this.  And, by the way, her calendar still shows that she is available.

Here is what you want to send: \”Hey, Mandi, something that is really cool about Outlook is that when you have something already scheduled at a certain time, you can block that time or add that appointment into your calendar.  That way, it shows other people that you are busy and then THEY WON\’T SCHEDULE A MEETING WITH YOU AT THAT TIME…  Pretty neat how that works, huh???\”

You don\’t send that, though.  You are a professional (at least outwardly).

Instead, you politely ask her when would be a better time for your meeting.  You also let her know that it should be a pretty quick meeting.  You just want to verify a couple of things.  (You resist the urge to add \”which you could have easily done had you bothered to respond to my emails…\”)

She actually responds fairly quickly that she is available later in the afternoon on the day you had set up the meeting.  You grab some time and keep your fingers crossed that the third time\’s a charm!

3:00 – 5:00 pm

It\’s nice that the last couple of hours are meeting free.  That doesn\’t always happen so when it does, you try to make the most of it.

You review your notes from the earlier meeting with the Director of Security and set up some time to discuss with your team.

Now, you can go to your true \”happy\” place.  Creating.

There is an e-learning module you\’ve been working on updating.  You have a rough cut of some new audio narration which you throw into your audio editing software to begin editing.

This takes a while and when you are done, you decide it is a good stopping point for the day.

Tomorrow, you have some meetings.  Mostly, though, you are looking forward to hunkering down and doing more with this e-learning course.  There are some new interactions and graphics you will be creating which is something you really enjoy.

Wrap up

So, there you go!  A day in the life of an instructional designer!

As you can imagine, this is just a small sampling of how a day could look.

Your day(s) might look totally different depending on the company you work for and the role you are in.  You may be doing a variety of projects or you may have one big project that takes up most of your time.

Hopefully, you at least have a better understanding about what you may encounter as an instructional designer.

For more information about instructional design and becoming an instructional designer (or e-learning developer) , see these other articles:

Career Spotlight: How to Become an Instructional Designer

Career Spotlight: How to Become an E-Learning Developer

9 Pro Tips For How To Get Experience in Instructional Design


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