Want a Career in Writing? Try Instructional Design

If you can write a compelling blog post, you can create training content.

Photo by Bram Naus on Unsplash
Photo by Bram Naus on Unsplash

Writing is a valuable skill for any human in the digital age.

But can you really make any money doing it?

While you may long to blog from sandy beaches, raking in cash from affiliate links for KitchenAids (affiliate link), this plan often struggles to achieve long-term success.

While you can certainly generate a little side hustle income with your writing on sites like Medium or Mirror.xyz, reaching a sustained livable income requires years of grueling work.

That’s why you may want to explore a different career path with your writing skills. One that is more sustainable and still gives you the flexible, creative, wordsmithery every writer desires.

What career is that? Becoming an instructional designer.

👉 This article explores the craft of instructional design and how strong writers can build a lucrative career in this space.

What is an Instructional Designer?

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash
Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Instructional designers create content that helps people learn. They may develop a YouTube video, an online course, a How-To article. Any type of content that has a goal to educate the audience and solve a problem.

Designers often know how people learn best. They know how companies operate. And, they know how to organize complex information to make it easy to understand.

You’ve probably seen some instructional design content before. Below are three examples.

👇 Here’s an example of a free beginner course to help users learn Jira Software.

👇 Here’s an example of a training video for retail employees at an apparel company.

👇 Here’s an example of a “How-To Guide” to help writers learn a new writing platform.

In the three examples above, writing was key to bringing the learning content to life.

The beginner course took complex information and simplified it in text form. The video required clear, concise scriptwriting. The How-To article organized information in a long-form blogging style.

Without effective writing, learning experiences can’t succeed.

Why Writing is a Must-Have Skill for Instructional Designers

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash
Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

The written word is the primary medium through which you communicate information to learners.

Good writing provides clear, concise instructions that are easy for learners to follow.

When instructional writing is done well, it has the power to reduce cognitive load, improve memory retention, and increase content engagement. It’s a catalyst for learning, not a blocker.

Bad writing is a barrier to the learning process.

  • Poorly worded instructions confuse learners
  • Disorganized information frustrates learners
  • Inconsistent grammar and punctuation destroys your credibility for learners

If you can’t communicate ideas through writing, you‘ll struggle as an instructional designer.

The good news for you?

If you’ve been writing for a while, you’ve already got some of the necessary skills. 🙌

Even if you’ve only published a few Medium articles or written a few guest posts, those writing skills will be important to kickstart your journey to becoming an instructional designer.

How to Become an Instructional Designer

Photo by Soundtrap on Unsplash
Photo by Soundtrap on Unsplash

Don’t have any experience in instructional design? That’s okay!

You don’t need a formal background in instructional design.

My background is in marketing. I’ve been writing content and creating instructional videos for years, without the formal title of “instructional designer.”

Over time, my career shifted to focus on developing learning-specific content, only. And I didn’t need an MA in Learning Design to get here.

You too can use the skills you have now, to start your career in instructional design.

Here’s what to do next:

  • Keep writing instructional content: The more you write, the sharper your skills will become. Hop on your favorite platform and start creating content. Write How-To guides, video scripts, Twitter threads. Anything that has a goal of educating your audience.
  • Understand some learning models and theories: Get familiar with the ADDIE model, Bloom’s Taxonomy, Gagne’s Nine Events, Mayer’s Multimedia Principles, and Merrill’s Principles. These will help make your learning content clear and understandable.
  • Practice other skills: Along with writing, you’ll want to develop skills in project management, SME communication, curriculum development, creativity, visual design, video editing, and eLearning development. Any skill that will help you take complex information and make it easy for others to understand.
  • Create a portfolio: This is an important one! I’ve helped hire many instructional designers. If you don’t have a strong portfolio, it’s a firm no! Even if you don’t have formal experience in instructional design work, build a portfolio anyway. Create mock projects for yourself and use your skills to create a solution you can showcase to others.
  • Learn from the experts: There are tons of great resources out there to help you. When I was first getting started, these people were lifesavers to steer me in the right direction. Follow them on LinkedIn, read/watch their content, and engage with their posts.

Here’s that list of experts you should follow:

  • Devlin Peck is the ultimate go-to for new instructional designers! Devlin has incredible articles and videos, meant to help people like you that are brand new to the field. He also has courses like this bootcamp to help you build a powerful portfolio.
  • Melissa Milloway is perhaps one of the most notable in the field of learning design, leading teams at companies like Amazon and Miro. Sign up for her newsletter to keep up with tips and lessons in learning design.
  • Mike Taylor is a seasoned pro in learning design, sharing content from the intersection of learning, design, and technology. He’s got an amazing newsletter he sends out every Friday. Sign up for it here.
  • Christy Tucker is a learning consultant that specializes in e-learning and scenario-based learning. She has some great resources on storytelling and technology. Check out here step-by-step branching scenario course here.
  • Ant Pugh is a learning design consultant that focuses on digital and blended learning experiences. He also helps aspiring learning designers (like you) through his daily emails.
  • Anna Sabramowicz is a storytelling expert. She helps instructional designers and e-learning developers craft and launch interactive stories and scenarios. Check out her free case study to learn about her process.
  • Tim Slade has written books and created videos for new eLearning designers. He’s created some of the most reputable resources to help people grow their eLearning skills and careers.

If you want a career in writing, instructional design can give you the creativity and financial success you desire — it’s a great way to use your skills to others learn.

Now’s the time to get started.

Go get ‘em. ✌️


I’m Andrew DeBell and I create digital learning content. With 9+ years of experience, I’m skilled at writing, video editing, visual design, and eLearning development. Here on Medium, I mostly write about learning, content, marketing, and tech.

👉 Follow me on Linkedin and Medium to stay up on the latest.

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