How to hire the right instructional designer for your online training needs

Cydnie Smith
Smiling woman with long dark hair in a black shirt.
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Oh no!

You finally convince your leadership team that online training is a worthwhile investment. You spend months researching eLearning platforms, developing a training strategy, reviewing course material, and navigating a tight budget through the implementation process. 

You can feel the excitement in your step as you stride into work bright and early, expecting to see the results of all your hard work except…

You’re greeted by weary eyes and bored expressions as your employees mindlessly click through their eLearning modules.

What. Went. Wrong?

You thought that 57% of employees want more eLearning opportunities to enhance their skills. And 74% of employees feel their potential is untapped. So why do your employees look like they’d rather be doing anything other than corporate training?

Infographic divided into a grid with three sections. The on the left is a single block titled, "Steps to create effective training" with a 6-item checklist below. Of the 6 items, only one is "real" text and unchecked, which says, "Learner experience". A few bored-looking emojis are floating on the right. The other two blocks are on the right, and are half the size of the first and stacked. Top block: Nearly 60% of employees want more eLearning opportunities to enhance their skills. Bottom block: 74% of employees feel their potential is untapped.

With 85% of employees actively disengaged at work, it can be a struggle to have them engage with anything, let alone training. But with so many eLearning success stories, why is your organization's online training program flatlining?

If you caught my last article, you already know the culprit is likely poorly executed instructional design.

But just in case you didn’t, let’s do a quick recap!

What is instructional design?

Instructional design is the recipe for eLearning program success. It is a process that involves analyzing learning needs, developing instructional materials, and assessing learning outcomes to produce effective, engaging, and enjoyable learning experiences for your team.  And who is the mastermind driving this process? Well, it’s none other than the instructional designer!

So, here begins our journey together – hiring an instructional designer to help take our custom eLearning courses and experiences from forgettable to remarkable – and allowing you to achieve your wildest eLearning dreams in the process!

But what exactly is an instructional designer? Why should you consider hiring one instead of tackling another DIY project? With so many great candidates, how do you decide which instructional designer to hire? 

If you’re anything like me, it can be easy to get overwhelmed by all the choices you have to make, especially decisions that can have massive impact on your business. 

Luckily, in this article, we'll explore these questions (and more), giving you the inside scoop on

So let’s dive right in!

What is an instructional designer?

If instructional design is the recipe for eLearning success, then an instructional designer is the chef putting your training masterpiece together. 

Similar to how a culinary artist uses ingredients to create mouth-watering dishes, instructional designers use learning theories, instructional design models, and multimedia production to craft custom eLearning solutions that meet the needs of your learners.

Think about it this way: 

Remember the hypothetical scenario at the beginning of this article? You put all that effort into creating a training program only to have your employees completely entirely from the material. 

Well, instructional designers ensure that this hypothetical situation doesn’t become your reality. 

In other words, they can turn a complicated (and often boring) arsenal of training material into impactful learning experiences for your workforce.

Why hire an instructional designer?

In addition to simply creating better training programs, there are several reasons organizations might hire an instructional designer. 

For starters, instructional designers bring unique skills to the table. With a deep understanding of learning theories, instructional design models, and best practices for creating engaging and effective eLearning content, they can design a course that meets all learners' needs – visual, auditory, or kinesthetic.

Instructional designers also have experience using technology and multimedia to create interactive, multimedia-rich learning experiences to keep learners focused and attentive.

Engaging learning experiences presented in an easy-to-understand manner equals increased knowledge retention

Increasing your employees’ ability to retain knowledge means they will have an easier time recalling and applying what they’ve learned to their roles. In nearly every circumstance, improving knowledge retention results in higher productivity levels, better performance, and ultimately increased ROI!

Another key reason to consider hiring an instructional designer is that they can help your organization save time and resources in the long run. Creating high-quality, custom eLearning content is a complex and time-consuming process, and it can be challenging to stay on top of all the latest trends and best practices. An instructional designer can handle all your design and development work, allowing you to focus on other aspects of your business. 

Sounds great in theory, right? But I get it – hiring an instructional designer may not be entirely up to you. You may also have to convince your C-suite and leadership team that an instructional designer is worth the investment.

So, how can an instructional designer help your organization?

Well, let’s see! Do any of the following organizational issues exist within your workplace? If you recognize any of these common training difficulties, it may be time to call an instructional designer for help.

A 3x2 grid with text and icons, titled "An instructional designer can help your organization by..." Top row, left-to-right: Strategically reducing learning material (open book with an "X" on one page); Discovering training efficiencies (person with a file, clock and timer floating overhead); Developing your eLearning program (folder with stationery supplies poking out). Bottom row, left-to-right: Increasing learner completion rates (mountain with a flag and an arrow pointing up); Improving employee engagement rates (three people with three stars overhead); Meeting learning performance goals (target with an arrow).
  • Too much learning material Do your employees spend more time working through training materials than you would like? An instructional designer can reduce the time your staff takes to get through content by identifying core learning objectives and creating streamlined, focused eLearning courses that cover the essentials.
  • Not enough time for training – Your staff is busy and doesn’t always have the time to commit to training. An instructional designer can resolve this issue by developing short, bite-sized training modules (microlearning) or just-in-time learning resources (performance supports) that can be accessed as needed.
  • Developing (or improving) your eLearning program – Building a training program from scratch is no simple feat. It takes expert planning and execution, so why not ask a seasoned professional to do the job? An instructional designer uses instructional design methodologies and principles to define learning outcomes, choose the most effective training delivery platform, create engaging training content, and create assessments to measure learning outcomes.
  • Low completion rates – Have you ever had to chase down an employee to complete mandatory training? (I’m sure everyone has). An instructional designer reduces the risk of incomplete modules by analyzing completion data and making recommendations to improve engagement and motivation, such as adding gamification or interactive elements.
  • Low employee interest in training – An instructional designer may incorporate real-life scenarios and case studies relevant to the learner's job to boost employee engagement.
  • Trouble meeting learning outcomes – The point of eLearning is to meet training outcomes. But what happens if you’re not meeting them? That’s where the instructional designer comes in. They align your training program with your organizational objectives, evaluate it to determine if the learning outcomes are being met, and make adjustments as needed.

Ultimately an instructional designer's goal is to organize (and simplify) your eLearning content, determine the best methods for delivering content, and create the accessible and inclusive training materials you need to meet your learning objectives. 

Of course, not all instructional designers are created equal, so how do you know if you've found the right one for your organization? One of the best ways to evaluate an instructional designer's skills and experience is to look at their portfolio.

How to evaluate an instructional design portfolio

An instructional design portfolio is much like any other portfolio. It’s a collection of an instructional designer's best work showcasing their skills and experience. But it’s not enough to look at a potential candidate’s work. You must ensure that their work will produce your desired learning outcomes. As a result, there are a few key things you should look for when evaluating an instructional design portfolio.

A briefcase with an envelope, resume, three folders, and several photos floating on top. To the right, is a cheklist titled, "How to evaluate an instructional design portfolio." The list has 4 items: quality of work, variety of projects, evidence of learning outcomes, and relevance to your organization.

Quality of work

When evaluating a portfolio, pay close attention to the quality of the content. Is it well-written, visually appealing, and easy to follow? Does it effectively use multimedia elements to enhance the learning experience? How does the designer mitigate accessibility issues for less tech-savvy employees and those with potential learning impairments?

Variety of projects

Consider the types of instructional materials the designer has experience creating. Look for a portfolio showcasing various projects, from online courses to training manuals, to get a sense of the designer's versatility and expertise.

Evidence of learning outcomes

Instructional designers should be able to demonstrate the impact of their work, for example, by showing how their materials have helped improve employee performance or satisfaction.

Relevance to your organization

Ensure the instructional designer's work aligns with your organization's goals and objectives. For example, are the proposed courses and tutorials focused on the topics you need to be covered? Do they include assessments and activities that are relevant to your business? Do they have experience working in your industry or with similar types of learners?

After assessing an instructional designer’s portfolio, the next step is to evaluate a candidate’s competencies and abilities.

The key abilities to look for with your instructional designer candidates

To help you make the right decision, we’ve compiled a list of five skills to consider when considering potential instructional designers. Let’s take a closer look at each of these skills and how to evaluate them.

Three resumes stacked on top of one another. The top-most resume has 5 stars and a magnifying glass hovers over it. To the right is a checklist titled, "Key abilities to look for with instructional designer candidates." The list has 5 items: communication skills, problem-solving prowess, decision-making abilities, creative chops, and research proficiency.

Communication skills

A great instructional designer must articulate their ideas clearly, listen actively, explain complex concepts in simple terms, and constructively provide feedback. 

Evaluation Tip

Assess a candidate’s communication skills by asking them to present a short instructional design proposal to you. Is it easy to follow? What interactivity elements do they recommend using to convey learning effectively? 

Problem-solving prowess

Instructional designers as they often face challenges while designing eLearning courses. So, it is imperative that they can identify and solve problems. They must be able to analyze a situation, identify the root cause of a problem, and develop a solution that meets the needs of the learners. 

Evaluation Tip

Ask the instructional design candidate to give specific examples of problems they have faced in the past and how they went about solving them.

Decision-making abilities

The ability to make informed decisions based on data and research, assess trade-offs, and weigh the consequences of different choices is essential for instructional designers.

Evaluation Tip

Present a scenario to the instructional designer that requires them to make an on-the-spot decision and ask them to explain the decision and the thought process behind it.

Creative chops

Effective instructional design involves easy-to-understand material delivered in an attention-grabbing manner.  So, an instructional designer must be able to bring new and innovative ideas to the table to ensure that your eLearning program captures (and keeps) your employees’ attention.

Evaluation Tip

Ask the candidate to provide examples of their most creative work and describe the process they went through to develop their learning solutions.

Research proficiency

Instructional designers should have strong research skills and be able to gather and analyze data to inform their design decisions. They should also be up-to-date with the latest trends and best practices in eLearning and instructional design.

Evaluation Tip

Consider the candidate’s completed eLearning projects. How do they use the data they gathered to inform their design decisions? Which eLearning trends and best practices do they employ?

Other useful skills, experiences, and expertise

In addition to these core skills, here are some other traits that can make a great instructional designer even better.

  • Time management: You know what they say: “Time is money.” So instructional designers must know how to prioritize and manage tasks to meet tight deadlines.
  • Client liaison: Good interpersonal skills and the ability to communicate effectively with clients is essential for instructional designers to understand their needs and provide customized solutions.
  • Project management: Instructional design is a complex process involving many steps and multiple team members. A great instructional designer should have excellent project management skills, including setting priorities, managing timelines, and effectively delegating tasks. 
  • Collaboration and teamwork: Potential candidates should also be able to work effectively with cross-functional teams, including subject matter experts, multimedia specialists, and developers.
  • Understanding and use of technology: Instructional designers should have a good understanding of technology, including learning and development technologies, and the ability to use various software and tools such as authoring tools, graphics software, and multimedia tools.

Evaluating an instructional designer’s skills can help you find the right person for the job. So, don't be afraid to ask questions while evaluating potential candidates!

The steps to hiring your ideal instructional designer

At this point, we’ve reviewed what an instructional designer is and how they can help your organization. We’ve also established a baseline for the criteria you can use to evaluate potential candidates and their portfolios.

Now that you have everything you need to know about evaluating an instructional designer – what’s next? Well, you’re likely ready to start reviewing candidates for the position. 

Of course, with so many potential designers to choose from, I understand if starting the hiring process feels a little overwhelming. So, why don’t we take a little sneak peek at the hiring process for an instructional designer? We’ll walk through the steps involved, from pre-screening to salary negotiations.

  • Pre-screening interview with ID candidates
    The first step in hiring an instructional designer is pre-screening candidates. The pre-screening process involves reviewing resumes, cover letters, and eLearning portfolio to shortlist applicants who meet the qualifications for the job. During this stage, a member of your HR team might schedule a short call with the applicant to confirm that they meet the minimum requirements for the role. It is also an opportunity to confirm the candidate's availability and willingness to work remotely, in-office, or in a hybrid setting if needed.
  • Initial interview with the instructional designer
    After pre-screening, it's time to conduct the initial interview with HR and primary managers. This interview aims to illuminate the instructional designer candidate's skills, experience, and fit for the role. During this interview, you should ask questions about the candidate's background, experience with eLearning, and understanding of instructional design principles.
  • Secondary interview
    Following the initial interview, a secondary interview is conducted with a panel of interviewers (manager(s) and senior team members who would be directly or indirectly involved with the hire). This interview is more in-depth and may include an instructional design skills assessment to evaluate the candidate's ability to write instructions or create graphics. You may also want to ask candidates to demonstrate their knowledge of eLearning tools and software.
  • Instructional design test evaluations
    As part of the secondary interview or shortly after, you may want to conduct an instructional design test evaluation. This test assesses the candidate's ability to create engaging and effective eLearning content. For example, you can request that the candidate create a storyboard to describe the process of baking a cupcake. Consider assessing their sample based on clarity, engagement, and logical progression through their presentation, as these are all things a good training program requires.
  • Reference check
    Once you've identified the candidate you believe is a good fit for the role, the next step is conducting a reference check. A reference check is a crucial part of the hiring process because it allows you to verify the candidate's employment history, job performance, and qualifications. Ask the candidate for references from previous employers or clients who can speak to their work as an instructional designer.
  • Salary negotiations
    Congratulations! You've found the perfect instructional designer to help you with eLearning program. Now it's time to negotiate salary. When making an offer, it's essential to keep in mind the return on investment (ROI) the candidate will provide to your organization. Remember, a skilled instructional designer can create engaging and effective eLearning content to improve your organization's bottom line.

Present your selected instructional designer candidate with a contract 

Once you and your leadership team agree on a salary, it's time to reach out to the winning instructional designer candidate with a contract. The contract should include details about the job responsibilities, pay, benefits, and any other relevant details. Be sure to include non-compete and non-disclosure agreements and any other necessary disclosures.

Overall, the hiring process for an instructional designer will vary depending on the organization's needs and hiring policies. However, these are the steps we'd recommend that most organizations follow to identify and hire the best candidate for the job.

Make your instructional designer hire with confidence!

With an investment as important as your team’s learning and development, the last thing you want is to deploy a training program that doesn’t yield results. 

Good thing (with the help of an instructional designer) your employees never have to sit through another tedious or confusing eLearning session again!

Whether you're building your eLearning program from scratch or looking to revamp your existing training content, instructional designers can bring a wealth of expertise and experience to your eLearning initiatives, helping you achieve your goals and desired training outcomes. 

All you have to do is leap into the process! 

The best part? You don't have to do it alone. Our team is available to help you every step of the way. So reach out to our eLearning advisors with any questions, or head back to our Learning Hub to continue exploring the wonderful world of custom eLearning development and instructional design!

Smiling woman with long dark hair in a black shirt.
Cydnie Smith

Cydnie is an experienced writer, editor, and blogger who believes that accessibility plus a dash of creative storytelling is essential to cultivating a memorable learning experience.

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