Have you ever wondered whether or not you need a degree in eLearning or instructional design to be an eLearning designer or instructional designer? Well, it’s actually a way more common question than you might think! In fact, if you spend a few minutes on LinkedIn or Twitter, you’re bound to run into some debates about this very question.
But, what’s the right answer? Do you really need a degree in eLearning to be taken seriously (i.e., get hired or promoted) as an eLearning designer or instructional designer? Well, like most things, I have some strong feelings on this topic, and you might want to read this post before spending a boatload of money going back to school to get a degree in eLearning or instructional design.
How Do People Get into eLearning?
Before we get into whether or not you need a degree in eLearning, I think it’s important to give some context as to why this is such a hotly debated topic in the first place.
You see, unlike some other industries, the eLearning industry is full of incredible amounts of diversity. And as you may or may not know, I fell into eLearning by total accident. In fact, before I even knew that eLearning design and development was a “thing,” I used to catch shoplifters for a living. And it was only because I was really good at catching shoplifters that I was offered the opportunity to be promoted into a training role, where I would teach others how to catch shoplifters.
Many of the folks working in our industry had successful careers before they were introduced into the world of eLearning and instructional design.
The truth is, I have zero formal education or background in eLearning, instructional design, or anything like that. Instead, I have a degree in criminal justice, and that’s because I thought loss prevention was my career path. I was wrong.
My point here is that many of the folks working in our industry had successful careers before they were introduced into the world of eLearning and instructional design.
How Can a Degree in eLearning Help?
Because there are so many folks who have fallen into our industry by accident, it’s common for them to question whether or not a degree will help their new careers. And while my experience leans towards these types of individuals, it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have benefited from having a formal degree in eLearning.
Seeking a formal education in instructional design or adult learning can give you a “leg-up” in terms of understanding the various learning theories that took me years to understand. And, of course, there’s a great sense of accomplishment and credibility that comes with being able to list that degree on your resume.
Do Employers Really Care?
While it’s great to have a formal understanding of instructional design and adult learning theory, the bigger question is whether or not it’ll really make a difference in terms of career advancement. Do employers really care that you have a degree in eLearning or instructional design?
Well, between you and me, I’m not convinced they do. Remember, I have zero formal education in eLearning or anything like that. In fact, I’ve never once been asked by a prospective employer or client about my lack of formal education in learning. Instead, I’ve always managed to let my skills, my abilities, and my portfolio compensate for my lack of a degree.
A degree will not provide you the practical, real-world skills and experience that most employers are looking for.
The problem with most degree programs is that they will not provide you the practical, real-world skills and experience that I believe most employers are looking for. And this is one of the fundamental things that I think is changing within our industry. More and more employers are moving away from hiring with a focus on credentials (i.e., years of experience, formal education, etc.).
Instead, employers and clients are looking to hire for specific skills and abilities—they want to hire for what you can offer right now! Sometimes, that means using a particular eLearning authoring tool or managing multiple learning programs with different stakeholders and subject matter experts, and sometimes means all of the above. These are things that you can only gain through experience, and more often than not, you can’t acquire these skills by spending a bunch of money on a formal degree.
The Bottom Line
So, do you need a degree in eLearning or instructional design? Nope, you sure don’t! But, can a degree enhance your career and help you become a more effective eLearning designer or instructional designer? Of course, it can!
My recommendation is that if you decide to go and seek a degree or formal education in eLearning or instructional design (which is fantastic), just make sure you understand why you’re doing it in the first place. The reasons for making that big of an investment in yourself have to be more than believing it’s just what you’re supposed to do.
So, what do you think? Do you need a degree in eLearning to be taken seriously as an eLearning designer? Share your thoughts by commenting below!
Nice content, will be camping here as i look to progress in my career as an elearning specialist
This came up about 5 years ago with my employer when we were looking at eLearning job descriptions for a position (and updating my job description/title.) As we were going through drafts and revisions, HR reflexively added “degree in eLearning or instructional design.” My response was, “Only if you’re looking to get into age discrimination–for people over the age of 40 there wasn’t any such thing as a degree in that field when we were typical college/grad age because we *built* the eLearning field.” And truthfully? In our particular organization, most of the people who’ve worked out best had their education in other majors/fields where they developed skills writing, problem solving, evaluating, thinking about user/other peoples’ experience, critical thinking etc., and then learned the technical skills, models, etc associated with eLearning later. Sometimes the eLearning grads are great…but sometimes their more focused on what they “know” from the standard eLearning playbook than really doing a the kind of complicated analysis and project/curriculum design our work requires.
That’s a really great point that I don’t think a lot of people have thought about before…including myself! You’re totally right…there weren’t any degrees in eLearning or instructional design…and so, I can totally see how that could lead to age discrimination. Thanks for pointing that out!