How to transition from K12 to instructional design

To make the transition into instructional design from teaching definitely takes a shift in mindset and skillset. Ensure you do your research, look at job ads, take a pop at designing your portfolio of work, and develop your skills by curating your own projects. 

All of these things will help you in your journey of making the switch into the world of L&D from K12. 

We all know how tough a teacher’s life can be, as well as being perennially underappreciated, the workload can be intense. With developing lesson plans, creating tests, marking papers, and many other things, the question is, are there any other opportunities to utilize your education experience and be in a career with endless methods of growth.

The answer to this is a resounding YES, and that career path is instructional design.

Instructional design usually sits within Learning & Development (L&D), Corporate Learning, and sometimes HR, and has a vast array of opportunities for you to traverse.

But as a teacher, your next question may be, how to transition from K12 to instructional design?

We will answer this question and set you up for success in your new and exciting career in this post. 

Why make the transition from K12 to Instructional Design?

Instructional DesignersWell, one of the greatest professions in the world is teaching right; being able to shape the minds of our future is something to be immensely proud of. But for some of you, there will be a lot you have to deal with, lesson planning, detention duty, paper marking, dealing with kids’ emotional problems, hormones raging, and everything else that comes with it, you can become jaded pretty fast.

A CNBC article stated that 1 in 4 teachers are considering quitting the profession since COVID-19 started, that’s pretty extreme. This may be you right now, and if it is, that’s ok, guilt of leaving your students is real, but remember this is about you reaching your goals.

The great thing, though, is there’s a career you can move into where you can utilize that teaching degree of yours, all of your teaching experience, understanding classroom dynamics, running a classroom, and spotting how children learn at different paces and adapting your methods to suit.

These are all totally translatable skills, but you’ll need to tweak how you do things to get the success you want in instructional design.

The main thing is instructional design / L&D is a lot of fun, where you can have new experiences every day. Being a big part of the learning infrastructure of your organization and having the ability to help shape your company strategy are compelling motivators and ones you should be excited about.

What salary can you expect?

The role of an instructional designer is varied, exciting, and well needed in the U.S and other countries around the world.

I took a look at indeed, and they show that the average salary for an ID role (written in December 2020) in the United States is $63,783, so there is definite potential there as a career choice, and you can arguably out-earn being a teacher, depending on the sector and industry you move into.

Devlin Pack Instructional Design Salary Guide

Also, there is an instructional Design salary report by Devlin Peck that puts the average ID salary in the U.S. at $83,144.

When you’re thinking of making the move away from teaching or asking that famous, old question, “how to transition from K12 to instructional design”, remember that salary is a big deal. Getting the one you deserve is important, although you are entering a new profession, so that may take some time, but stay the course.

So when it comes to salary, it’s fair to say that instructional designers are very well compensated for the work they do

It’s going to be tough

Nothing worth having is easy, right? We’ve all heard this phrase, but it definitely is relevant with learning how to transition from K12 to instructional design.

There are lots of similarities between the two professions and many differences. Everything from learning models, terminology, knowing how to work with SME’s and stakeholders, project management, storyboarding, and many more.

But don’t worry, it sounds like a lot to learn, but in this upcoming post, we will talk about all of these topics, and we will nail the question of how to transition from K12 to instructional design.

Let’s go.

Should you do an instructional design degree?

This is an interesting one. The answer may change depending on the inn industry/sector, whether you are in higher ed or the corporate world, employment with a company, or freelancing.

But in my experience, you DO NOT need a degree to become an instructional designer. Gaining employment is more about experience, your portfolio, and if you’re going for a more traditional trainer position, probably your presentation skills.

On the flip side, though, some phenomenal degree programs in instructional design and adult education should not be overlooked. Some are master’s level, and some are bachelors, but all would help you learn the fundamentals of ID.

Check them out below:

  • Penn State (Master of Education, Learning, Design, and Technology
  • University of Georgia (Learning, Design, and Technology)
  • Michigan State University (Master of Arts in Educational Technology)

 Check these out and find a list of the best instructional design programs available for you to enroll in.

Best Schools for a Master’s Degree in Instructional Design (

Reach out to people you respect in Instructional design

When you are looking into how to transition from K12 to Instructional design, a great way to learn more, is to get on a business social network such as LinkedIn and find people who work within the ID field and try sending them a message.

This way, you can ask them how they have found their journey throughout their ID career so far, how they started or switched from other careers, and also what challenges they faced along the way.

The great thing is the ID / L&D community is incredibly helpful, and I have faith in their ability to help you get going.

Get your head around the learning theories and adult learning principles

When it comes to the learning industry in whatever sector you wish to be a part of, knowing all about the different theories will totally help you impress hiring managers when you get into the swing of interviews, and break down some bbarriers at least around how to transition from K12 to instructional design. 

Some of the theories you’ll want to get to know are the following:


100% you need to know about ADDIE. It is the no. 1 most used instructional design process for planning, developing, and implementing training programs. You can find out more about it below

Related: Is the ADDIE model outdated or still relevant?


SAM, also known as the Successive Approximation Model, is a more AGILE variant of the ADDIE model that allows you to work in a non-linear way to reinvent your instructional design workflow.

Blooms Taxonomy

A hierarchically structured model which aims to help you create meaningful, value-adding learning objectives for your learning programs. It is probably more useful to use the revised version of Bloom’s in the 21st century due to changing trends in corporate education. 

Gagne’s nine events of instruction

These nine instructions increase learner engagement and provide structure to enhance the learner experience. The nine events are as follows: gain attention, inform learners of objectives, stimulate recall of prior learning, present stimulus, provide learner guidance, elicit performance, provide feedback, assess performance, and enhance retention and transfer.

Kirkpatrick’s four levels of evaluation

The Kirkpatrick model of evaluation is a world-renowned process of effectively evaluating the success of training programs. This is an important one to know as evaluating if a program is successful is key to the return on investment or (expectations).

Action Mapping

We can thank Cathy Moore for this one, and we thank her a lot. Action mapping is a streamlined process to design training in the corporate world. Its goal is to assist designers to:

  • Commit to measurably improving the performance of the business
  • Identify the best solution to the performance problem
  • When training is necessary, create realistic practice activities, not information presentations.

Malcolm Knowles 6 Principles of Andragogy

As a teacher, you are a specialist in Pedagogy, but now you are entering the world of Andragogy. 

Related: Pedagogy vs Andragogy: Which Is the Best Learning Choice

 Learning the six principles of adult education (Andragogy) is vital to know, as adults have very different learning tendencies, and getting to know these are important to include them in your learning content. 

Lean into technology

The world of instructional design has become super technology-dependent, so developing technical skills is absolutely crucial to succeeding in the world of ID. From understanding video conferencing, being the go-to person to help people with their problems, to authoring eLearning courses with an in-depth authoring tool, having strong knowledge of these pieces of technologies will massively help you develop your skills and make the question of how to transition from K12 to instructional design an easy one to easy to one to answer.

There is a lot of tools to learn as an instructional designer, and the best advice is to lean into it 100%.

There are so many ways to learn also, from learning online with something like Linkedin Learning to taking more interactive, activity-based courses, to train the trainer coaching programs amongst many other methods.

I would probably advise starting with learning online educational tools (Linkedin learning, Udemy), etc., and also learning an eLearning authoring tool such as Articulate Storyline, Rise, or Adobe Captivate.

This would give you a great starting point, and from there, you can learn more as you go and as projects come up.

Building your skills

Adults earning new skills
Photo by Kampus Production from Pexels

This is kind of similar to the above point, but this is really saying to put yourself out there, join online ID communities speak with other instructional designers and other teachers who have made the switch to see what it took for them to succeed.

Also, take on test projects, do work not because you have to but because you want to. Build your skills, but also don’t forget your public speaking and presentation talents.

As a teacher, leading a class (session) should mean your skills in these areas should be pretty high, but don’t neglect them, as some less tech-heavy roles will ask you to present on topics so they can see these skills in action.

Create a Portfolio

One of the best things you can do is to start to develop a portfolio. This Portfolio should be a representation of the best of your work, and the work that goes into it should be carefully selected.

When developing your Portfolio, you want to make sure that only your best goes in. That means anything that you think a hiring manager will be interested in, and also work that displays your abilities off.

You can create your Portfolio in numerous ways, from a PDF, an articulate Rise | Storyline course, a video, or something as simple as a PowerPoint presentation if it’s more eLearning-based. If you want to go into a more facilitation-heavy role, then maybe recordings of your training sessions would be a good avenue to veer down.

Watch this video from Tim Slade, who talks about ways to create a great Portfolio.

Understanding ID job descriptions

One of the biggest things that new entrants to the field of instructional design face is the challenge of navigating the different job roles, varying terminology, and numerous variations in work involved in this sector.

In this section, I wanted to pick an ID job ad from Indeed to jump in and discuss what the company is asking for to help you differentiate what you need for any potential interview when you’re figuring out how to transition from K12 to instructional design.

Let’s dive in and take a look.

So, I liked this job role because it’s with a large well-known charity, and through my own experience, working for charities would be an easier transition for someone with less experience.

Instructional Design Job Advert Example

Instructional Design Job Ad_1
  • First off, display your ability to create and maintain plans, and how you can work and collaborate with other stakeholders, this might be other teachers, maybe governors of the school board, etc.
  • Show your ability to develop and edit a curriculum. How can you change the curriculum to meet the needs of the class or lesson structure? This will help with displaying your skills in content development.
  • Being able to conduct a needs assessment is mentioned, which you may not have much experience in as a teacher but is definitely a skill you should cultivate and develop. A needs assessment is the ability to identify a problem, understand what the desired performance needs to be and what needs to happen to get there.
Instructional Design Job Ad_2
  • They ask for three years of experience in training, but this is something very translatable from your educational background, the advocacy side you probably would have expertise in. Still, you can veer away from that and promote your education, training, and coaching experience.
  • A bachelor’s degree is preferred, this means you do not need one for the job, but you probably have an education degree, so that is perfect.
  • The rest is a mix of experience specific to this type of role.

So, the key takeaways are:

Promote the experience you have that is translatable.

For things you don’t have experience in, be very keen to learn, and promote your work ethic.

Lastly, use your teaching skills as a positive, it is immensely translatable, and many companies will be happy to see that and will see your value.

Don’t get hung up on titles

We mentioned this a little above, but one thing you will definitely come across in instructional design is the use of different job role titles that often speak about the same thing.

Examples of this are the following:

Broader learning roles

Corporate Trainer

Learning and Development Specialist

Company Trainer

eLearning focused roles

eLearning Designer

eLearning Developer

Learning Experience Designer

eLearning Consultant

Remember, when looking at job adverts online, focus on what they want you to do, not the job titles, as different companies will use varying terms. Honestly, after seven years in the instructional design arena, I sometimes get confused by what these roles are named, so you’re not alone.

Watch your terminology

Another thing to pay attention to is the terminology you use, in your resume, at your interview, and in your role, once you have successfully got your first ID job.

Some key topics to think about include:

Lesson plans – Curriculum Design

Classroom lesson – In-Person training session

Pedagogy – Andragogy

Here are some resources to help you get the proper terminology down to help you succeed in the ID industry.

Corporate vs Higher Ed vs Freelancing

Designers working in the office
Photo by Canva Studio from Pexels

Knowing what area of the economy you want to work in is definitely something to consider, mainly as the approach to getting a job in each is a little different. It would help if you had strategic action plans, Portfolio design, interview techniques to help you on your way, etc.

Related: 4 considerations you should make before becoming a freelance eLearning developer

1st up, Corporate vs. Higher Ed

The first decision to make is, will you make a clean break from the education space and enter the corporate world, where you need to change the way you work, understand new management structures, and learn how to work with stakeholders and SME’s, or will you move into Higher Ed, where you can get your feet wet in the world of ID, but you can stay in the world of education which you may feel is an easier transition.

Related: Corporate Vs. Educational eLearning: What’s The Big Difference?

My thought would be, if you want to try more corporate work, make the jump as soon as you can, build your portfolio, and take some time to learn what businesses predominantly look for. This could be the ability to collaborate with various teams, consultative approaches, etc.

If you feel that you like the idea of remaining in education but do not want to be in a teaching position, but like the idea of being more of a content developer to assist students or staff in their work, Higher Ed is a great decision.

Is freelancing a good idea?

This is such an interesting question.

I am not a freelancer myself, as I was more comfortable in what I thought was a more stable form of work, working for an established company where I felt I had more job security.

Freelancing is a brave but exciting decision to make, from building your brand, putting yourself out there, getting clients, creating a reputation, and the everyday tasks of running your own business, such as paying your taxes.

Freelancing also provides the opportunity to work on a wider variety of projects, which allows you to develop your skills much faster (IMO).

Whether you go with freelancing is a choice you need to make. Working for a few years in a business-based ID role to build your skills and knowledge can be very advantageous. Then you can branch off into building your own learning development / consulting business.

It should be known that in the long term (if you’re successful), working freelance can have the knock-on effect of allowing you to earn more, but with more risks, financial, legal, and economical.

If you want to know more about freelancing in the L&D and ID world, take a look at the YouTube channels of Devlin Peck and Tim Slade (eLearning Designers Academy).

Build your brand

Branding - Elements of building a successful brand
Photo by Eva Elijas from Pexels

We’ll make this one quick. You want to put your name out there, build your Portfolio, make sure you have a polished Linkedin Profile, and look into building a personal or company website if you’re freelancing. This is an essential step as if no one can find information on you and see what you bring; it will make your K12 to ID transition that much harder and take you longer to achieve your goals.

Level up your Visual & Graphic Design skills

You don’t hear about this one as much, which bugs me, as it is a significant step to create stunning pieces of learning content that makes a difference. I studied two years of graphic design at college, which taught me a lot about how art (ID is an art form) is made and what is needed.

You don’t have to go to college for this but learning about such things as Mise-en-scène, which is understanding why elements are on the screen and removing elements that do not add to the learning experience, is key.

—knowing about typography and what different styles mean to people. Also, you should invest time into learning graphic design programs; from the simplest, my advice would be to learn Canva, to the more advanced end of the spectrum would be to learn products such as PhotoshopIllustrator, and maybe Lightroom if you get to photo manipulation and lighting work. 

This should be one of the top skills you learn to develop, especially in the learning world, which is so online-focused nowadays.

On top of this, although not something you need right away, don’t forget how vital video is within the corporate world. If you have skills around video production, editing, filming, lighting, etc., you will 100% get roles that people without these talents will be looked over for.

Remember, video Is not crucial, but nice to have!

Engage in the review cycle

Participating in the review cycle
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Something that took me a while to get used to it as a learning designer, when you are working on a project and developing training content, you need to get used to not working wholly alone and making sure you engage co-workers for reviewing your work.

This is important as working solo means you don’t get an objective opinion on your work, and having others critique your content provides greater scope to meet your learning and strategic objectives.

What should be your initial steps in your career switch?

If we assume you are currently in a job within K12, you should do a few things to help make your dream of working in instructional design a reality.

Here is a brief list of things to do in no particular order:

  • Work on building your Portfolio (only your best work)
  • Learn the terminology differences between Instructional Design and K12
  • Look at job adverts to see what companies expect
  • Work on your graphic and visual design skills
  • Focus on building talents in project and stakeholder management, as well as adult learning theory.
  • Lean into technology, as you are going to need to be proficient in lots of software
  • Be confident in your abilities – being a teacher can massively help you in ID

Reach out to instructional designers, ask for their advice, and see if opportunities exist in their companies.

Is instructional design right for you

So here is that famous question again, “how to transition from K12 to Instructional Design”, and is it for you?

Working within instructional design is a great profession to be a part of. It’s wide-reaching, exciting, varied, and allows you to develop a vast array of existing but also new skills.

Enjoy content creation and training people on a variety of creative and business topics, where you can utilize all those years of education experience you have amassed. Instructional design may be worth your time and dedication.

Final Thoughts

So, what to think about all of this, how to transition from K12 to instructional design?

It’s all about getting your fundamentals down, which we have already discussed. Make sure you get your Portfolio started, as more and more businesses will not just want to see one, but actually expect it.

Instructional design has the ability to transform your career, professionally and financially, but you have to be the agent of change to make it happen.

The good thing is, as a teacher, you already have the tools to succeed, it’s just about tailoring them to this new world you want to enter.

When attempting this transition, the other thing to consider is to be very sure about the decision. You should know what it is that’s making you want to move from the teaching field or running if that is applicable, and also what is pulling you towards instructional design.

Understanding the former is way more important than what’s pulling you towards a new career, because once you know what it is you need, you can ensure you get it in your next ID role.

If you have any questions on how to transition from K12 to instructional design, leave a comment below, and I will get back to you with my best advice.

Good luck on your journey and let me know if you do secure an ID role, it would be great to hear from you.

Catch you soon.

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