One of the biggest choices you will make if you decide to become an instructional designer is whether you want to work in corporate or higher education, but which is the right path for you? Fear not darlings, I’m here to help.

In the corporate environment, instructional designers usually work closely with HR to develop online courses to teach workers about a company’s standards or safety practices. On the flip-side, an instructional designer in higher education will work closely with professors to build and maintain their blended or online classes.While there are certainly some similarities between the two paths, there are also some key differences in the day-to-day lives of each.

Individual vs. Teamwork

One major difference between the corporate and academic worlds is their take on collaboration. Educators love collaboration. They love to work in teams with faculty members and other instructional designers to develop the best instructional strategies.

The corporate world, however, is more individually focused and self-paced. Many corporate instructional designers have their own businesses and work on an independent contractual basis.

Fast or Slow?

The corporate world runs fast. A company is oftentimes pressured to enforce policy updates right away, which means that instructional designers have to churn out projects relatively quickly. If you like working on a variety of different projects, or just have a short-attention span, this might be the path for you.

In contrast, instructional designers in higher education focus more on the big picture and work on larger projects that can be developed over the course of a semester.

…But Let’s Talk About Money

Generally, the corporate world pays better for creating their online training programs. However, the turnover rate can be high. If a company is facing budget cuts, the training and development department can often be the first to go. Many companies are now outsourcing their elearning courses to firms that specialize in corporate training development. You can check out some of those firms here.

In education, an instructional designer might last longer in a position, but the job often starts at a lower salary. So, it’s really up to you whether you’d enjoy living the life of a high-roller, or maybe some more stability in your life.


Let me know what you think! For all of you pro-instructional designers, were there any differences I missed? For beginners, what direction are you leaning towards and why? Let me know in the comments down below!

Thanks for reading!



Still not sure where to start? Check out 6 Things You Can Do Now to start your career as an eLearning Developer!


For more information, you should check out articles written by the eLearning Brothers, Instructional Designer Cammy Bean, and the company GetBridge.

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