5 Tips for Instructional Designers Without Formal Training

5 Tips for Instructional Designers Without Formal Training

It is becoming more and more common for businesses to dedicate specialized resources to organizational learning.

As such, more workers are getting degrees in fields such as educational technology, educational psychology, instructional design and more to fill this need. A degree, diploma or certificate in an education related field, while very useful, it’s not necessary to work in instructional design. In fact, some of the best educators I have had a chance to work with did not have formal training but were experts in their own field that adapted to an educational role through experience and self-study.

Here are some tips if you are working in an instructional design role without formal training. These are attitudes and approaches that often come as a result of formal training that might not be explicitly stated.

1. Catch up on some best practices

Instructional design is an area with lots of history and lessons learned (and documented) over time. Check out some best practices before you jump into your first project! Instructional designers have found concepts like ADDIE (a framework for creating educational content), Learning Objectives (the practice of specifying specific objectives when creating educational content), Bloom’s taxonomy (a categorization of types of knowledge) and more to be useful in the creation of training programs.

Don’t know what these terms mean? Check your nearest search engine for a rundown of these concepts or sign up to Fabric. However you choose to get this knowledge, it is a great place to start getting into instructional design.

2. Treat every project like an experiment

One of the most important parts of formal training in instructional design or educational technology is a focus on research methods and experimentation. Don’t assume anything to be true without evidence. Determine the results you are aiming for, collect data, measure the outcomes, and iterate – keep improving your content. You might just learn something new about your audience, your content, your strategies and learning in general!

If you think a particular video or activity is going to really help your learners, build it! But don’t forget to analyze the results in the form of assessment results, surveys and business metrics to check that your training has the intended impact. What you learn about your organization will inform how to improve your current content and make your future content even better.

3. Defend your statements and decisions

Instructional designers must have an attitude of always asking “why?” about their own content. Every decision you make about your training program should be justified; and if not, maybe you should investigate if the current solution really is the best way to do things.

There is no magic bullet that will solve all of your training problems on the first try. Even solutions that have worked elsewhere might not be the best fit in your specific situation. When you start working as an instructional designer, your job is not just to do what you’re told, you need to come up with the direction of your training program yourself and be able to defend your work!

4. Check the literature before making design decisions

Just because you’re not in school doesn’t mean you can start avoiding readings altogether. Formal training will always cover a lot of content to give you a starting point for informing your decisions. Knowing how many things the average person can remember in short-term memory or how quickly they might forget a new fact can help you design better training programs.

A formal course might cover hundreds of these useful tidbits but that’s just a starting point. This information is available without formal training too, you just need to look for it. When designing a specific portion of a training program whether it’s the use of multimedia, gamification, or assessment, take some time to read up on the research in that area to make the most informed decision possible.

5. Design holistically

A good training program should work as a whole; it’s not just one really impressive piece. When your learning content, multimedia, activities, assessments, surveys, and data collection all work together, you get great training with the numbers to prove it. Experts who come from fields other than education tend to focus on the areas that they are comfortable (demonstrations, presentations, one-on-one meetings, etc) but to launch a successful training program, every aspect must be functioning properly.

Sometimes certain parts must be simplified or cut in order to make sure other parts are working. Many managers who are used to in-person training may find that time spent doing in-person training can be better put towards producing reusable videos on the subject. Designing holistically means considering your training program as a whole and not sticking to just the things you are most comfortable with.


Formal training in instructional design is not contained in a single book or practice; it is a foundation for how you think about your job. But this foundation is not exclusively provided by colleges and universities – it is an ongoing attitude and practice that can be applied by anyone working in instructional design. But don’t just take my word for it, explore it for yourself!

If you are an instructional designer (with or without a formal educational background) interested in learning more about instructional design tools and practices, get in touch with us!

5 Tips for Instructional Designers Without Formal Training Read More »