Best Online Master’s Degree Programs in Instructional Design

Earning an instructional design master’s degree online can help you uncover the best ways people learn and find technologies and techniques that improve educational outcomes. Explore the best online accredited programs and learn more about what to expect after you enroll.

An online master’s degree in instructional design teaches you how to effectively evaluate how people best learn and gives you the skills for implementing teaching methods and technologies that can maximize everyone’s learning potential. It can lead to careers ranging from developing online and distance education programs to using technology to teach workplace skills in environments like healthcare, business, government, and higher education.

Many accredited universities offer master’s degrees in instructional design and technology online, and it’s important to have all the information you need to make a smart and confident decision. This guide familiarizes you with some of the top online programs in instructional design. It also profiles some of the courses you might take, discusses costs and accreditation, and highlights possible careers.

College Spotlights: Top Instructional Design Master’s Programs Online in 2021

The best instructional design master’s online programs are affordable, flexible, and accredited. They teach you technology skills and give you the knowledge about people and how they learn necessary for creating effective training programs and quality curriculum. They also help you build a solid portfolio to show to prospective employers.

The following three instructional design master’s online programs are among the best available. They preview our full ranking coming later in 2021. Be sure to check back!

The University of Tampa

The University of Tampa has a 36-credit online Master of Science in Instructional Design and Technology that’s highly flexible and allows tailoring to your needs and interests. The program requires 24 credits of core classes covering topics like theories of learning and cognition, inquiry and measurement, and trends and issues in instructional design. You choose the remaining 12 credits from topics like distance learning, instructional games and simulations, program evaluation, and change management.

The degree culminates in a field internship designed to give experience in developing instructional design and technology competencies. In some instances, students can substitute an advanced instructional design project for a field-based stakeholder coupled with a comprehensive exam in place of the internship.

Admission requires official transcripts, a bachelor’s degree, and a minimum 3.0 GPA or a completed master’s degree. You also need two letters of recommendation, a resume or CV, and a personal statement.

Purdue University – Global

Purdue University’s global campus offers a Master in Instructional Design and Technology that requires only requires 10 courses. Five courses are foundational and five make up the adult concentration, ideal for students looking to work in corporate, military, or nonprofit environments. Purdue also offers graduate students access to the Graduate Resource Center where they can find information on professional memberships and clubs, career services, social networking, and more.

Tuition is $420 per credit, and there are several financial aid options available, including tuition discounts for international students, current military service members, veterans, and employees of Purdue’s partner organizations. Transfer credits and credit for relevant experience can shorten the time it takes to earn the degree, also saving you money.

Walden University

Walden University’s online MS in Instructional Design and Technology is a career-focused program with two concentrations: online learning and training and performance management. Students train on industry-standard software like Adobe Creative Cloud and Captivate and develop skills to assess, create, and manage learning materials. After the first six courses, you receive a post-baccalaureate certificate of proficiency to add to your credentials.

This program includes a capstone project and virtual student showcase that requires students to identify and help solve a real-world problem. It also allows students to build their resumes and portfolios to share with prospective employers.

The program is 30-36 credits based on whether students choose the general program or add a concentration. Cost is $640 per credit, and admission requirements include a completed online application, submission of online transcripts, and a bachelor’s degree.

Advantages of Earning a Master’s in Instructional Design and Technology Online

Earning an instructional design master’s degree online comes with many advantages, including convenience and flexibility. With many programs to choose from, you gain unique advantages that come with earning this degree online instead of face-to-face. Those benefits include the following:

  1. Industry Skills

    To influence learning through technology, professionals need to stay on top of industry-standard software applications like Adobe Creative Cloud and Captivate. An online master’s degree in instructional design gives experience and familiarity with these and other software applications to make you more marketable.

  2. Flexibility

    Choosing an online program gives you flexibility, usually through asynchronous learning and accessibility. This allows working professionals and those with busy personal lives to obtain a quality degree at their own pace.

  3. Experience

    A master’s degree in instructional design gives first-hand knowledge of learning via the latest technology, putting you on the other side of the work you hope to do with this degree. You get to experience what works and what needs improvement, all while applying what you learn in your classes.

What You’ll Learn in an Instructional Design Master’s Online Program

Potential topics covered in an instructional design master’s online program include theories of learning and cognition, research methods and application, and design and development tools for eLearning. You gain an understanding of different learning environments and how to design them and learn techniques used to improve human performance in the workplace.

Masters in instructional design and technology programs also teach you how to use research to identify problem areas and how to navigate industry-standard software used to design learning curricula. Many programs have a capstone project that gives you a chance to identify and improve a real-world problem and experience to include in a portfolio you can share with prospective employers.

Popular Courses

  • Theories of Learning and Cognition

    This course teaches various theories of learning, cognition, and instruction in traditional and distance learning settings. These theories are tools for educators, administrators, instructors, counselors, parents, and others to make work and learning more productive and useful. Students are taught the distinctions and concepts necessary to apply these theories as well as how to use them to provide insights for defining and solving problems. Learning styles, motivation, and engagement are also explored.

  • Research Methods

    This course covers the importance of research in education to lay the foundation for conducting research while considering the ethics involved. Students learn basic research methodologies and statistical analyses, the characteristics and terminology of research, and how to formulate research problems and questions. Proper APA formatting of citations and references, how to conduct a literature review, how to critique and evaluate research, and various plagiarism issues are also covered.

  • Design and Development Tools

    This course explores a variety of web-based design and development tools and methods used in eLearning. It considers the technical development requirements for online learning delivered through multiple learning channels and the application of social media tools within education. Students also design original content using web-based authoring tools and software applications.

  • Design of Learning Environments

    This class focuses on designing learning applications and explores the advantages and disadvantages of multiple learning environments and content delivery technologies. Topics include education and communication theory, course and content delivery methods, asynchronous and synchronous technologies, multimedia design, usability testing, and integration of multimedia objects within instructional programs and systems.

  • Performance Improvement

    Students in this class survey the research, models, and issues associated with improving human performance in workplace settings. They explore methods and techniques for recognizing and analyzing performance gaps, conducting needs assessments, determining appropriate instructional and performance support interventions, and measuring the results of implemented solutions. Students use results from analyses to inform the design of job aids, instruction, and other performance support systems.

Specialization Options

Specialization offers those interested in a specific facet of the instructional design industry the chance to gain expertise. Some programs offer specific specializations while others offer plenty of elective course choices. Some of the concentrations or clusters of classes you might run into are highlighted below.

  • Adult Education

    This concentration is for those interested in opportunities in corporate, military, or nonprofit environments. It focuses less on the creation of school-like curricula and more on ways to identify performance problems within companies and organizations. Students learn to use research and various software applications to create solutions to these problems.

  • Online Learning

    An online learning concentration focuses on developing and delivering online content for students of all ages and teaches instructional design students to assess learning in online environments. Topics include distance learning, collaborative learning, program evaluation, curriculum creation, and learning motivations.

  • Training and Performance Improvement

    This concentration teaches how to identify performance gaps, conduct needs assessments, and evaluate learning solutions for organizations. The use of media for instruction, the analysis of performance systems, and the management of change are all covered.

  • Project Management and Implementation

    This concentration teaches how to create, manage, and monitor educational and training projects from conception and proposal through implementation. Students learn leadership concepts and industry tools, procedures, and methodologies. They also learn about project constraints like time, cost, resource allocation, and scope.

Accreditation for Master’s in Instructional Design and Technology Online Programs

The master’s in instructional design and technology program you pursue must be offered through an accredited institution. This accreditation validates that the institution operates with integrity, offers programs that focus on student learning, hires competent faculty that are academically qualified, and provides the resources and support necessary for student success. Online Master in Instructional Design programs do not have a specific accrediting body, but the schools offering them should be accredited regionally, such as through the Higher Learning Commission.

What You Can Do with a Master’s in Instructional Design

A master’s degree in instructional design online prepares you for roles in the military, government, education, and business. Since so much learning is done online and through various technologies now, skills in instructional design are in demand. Training and development specialist roles are projected to grow 6% to 9%, and median salaries come in around $65K.

Though you can get a job in instructional design with just a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree gives in-depth knowledge specific to company and individual goals. It offers the credentials and expertise necessary for higher pay and leadership positions. Some of the careers possible through a master’s in instructional design and technology are described below.

Instructional Coordinators

Instructional coordinators, also known as curriculum specialists, oversee a school’s curriculum and teaching standards. They develop educational material, work with teachers and principals to implement it, then assess its effectiveness. Instructional coordinators observe teachers in the classroom, review student test data, and discuss curriculum with school staff. Based on this research, any changes needed to the curriculum are suggested to the school board.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$38,260 $66,290 $103,790

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Training and Development Specialists

Training and development specialists create, administer, and deliver customized training programs for businesses and organizations. These programs take place in classrooms or training facilities and are increasingly delivered through computers, tablets, and other hand-held devices. Training and development specialists are knowledgeable in relevant industry software and training session delivery formats. They know how to monitor instructors, guide employees through media-based programs, and facilitate informal and collaborative learning programs.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$32,680 $61,210 104,200

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Chief Learning Officer

Chief learning officers (CLO) carry out a company’s vision. They are adept at teaching, are catalysts for change, can read people well, and can identify talent. The CLO works with HR and IT departments to produce training and assessments that help a company’s workforce reach its potential.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$136,254 $201,400 $285,269

Source: Salary.com, 2021

Professor in Instructional Design

If you have experience in instructional design and love to teach, a master’s in instructional design can open doors for you to teach in higher education and use your passion and skill to help future designers. Professors usually work with colleagues to create relevant curriculum that prepares students for careers in instruction design.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$40,480 $79,540 $174,960

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Educational Consultant

Educational consultants are often self-employed. Businesses hire them to evaluate current policies and testing procedures. They advise both educators and administrators about what is working well and what needs improvement. After the consultation, they often work with the business organization to make needed changes.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$80,422 $102,201 $123,789

Source: Salary.com, 2021

Costs and Financial Aid for Online Master’s Degrees in Instructional Design

Having a financial plan for pursuing your online master’s degree in instructional design and technology is essential for graduating with minimal, if any, debt. Financial aid includes private scholarships and employer tuition assistance. Work-study is sometimes available as well. Other options include government grants, school scholarships, and fellowships. Contact your school’s financial aid office for more information.

What Your Online Master’s in Instructional Design Could Cost

School Name No. of Credits Cost/Credit Total Tuition Cost

University of Tampa

36

$655

$23,580

Purdue University – Global

50

$420

$21,000

Walden University

30-36

$640

$19,200-$23,040

Frequently Asked Questions About Earning Your Instructional Design Master’s Online

What are the admissions requirements for an online master’s in instructional design?

Most graduate programs require a GRE/GMAT score for admission, but some waive it in place of relevant work experience. Other requirements for an online master’s degree in instructional design and technology include:

  • Bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution
  • Official transcripts
  • Personal statement
  • Minimum GPA of 3.0

How long will it take to finish my master’s in instructional design online?

Generally, a graduate degree takes two years. Some schools allow you to take more than one course at a time, and others are strict on their one class per semester policy. There are also full-time and part-time study options, which affect the time required to complete your degree. Check with the programs you like about their timeline before choosing one.

Can I earn a master’s in instructional design 100% online or do I need to visit campus?

This degree is available 100% online. Since the whole degree is about learning, especially through technology, the degree itself gives relevant experience. Lectures, assignments, and projects are completed through your school’s learning platform.

Does an online master’s in instructional design prepare you for initial teaching certification?

Though this degree covers many aspects of teaching and curriculum design, it does not qualify you for teacher licensure. If you are interested in a teaching certification, an online Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) will be the better choice for you.