Making the switch from teaching to instructional design

February 14, 2023 · 4 min read · By ASU Online
Instructional design in education is a fast-growing technological field that enables educators to transition from teacher to instructional designer. We caught up with two Arizona State University students to discuss their experiences in the online instructional design master’s program.

What do instructional designers do?

An instructional designer gathers data on students’ learning patterns and educators’ teaching patterns to create innovative material. Instructional designers work directly with sponsors, stakeholders and subject matter experts to design online learning material for a technologically-focused student body.

As an instructional designer, you can work in the public or private sectors, and find job opportunities in various positions including:

  • Curriculum developer. 
  • Instructional designer.
  • Online learning specialist. 
  • Technology integration specialist.


Why switch from teacher to instructional designer?

This position is ideal for teachers looking to step out of the classroom and engage with content differently. Instructional designers typically work in a more traditional office setting, or work remotely, rather than in a classroom.

While the roles differ, much of the background knowledge needed to succeed in both careers remain the same. Because of this, many teachers in need of a change are transitioning to instructional design in education.


Why two ASU Online graduates made the switch

After noticing the impact instructional design can make, Heidi Laughlin and Mark Reese decided to step away from teaching and pursue their Master of Education in learning design and technologies at ASU Online.

We caught up with the 2022 graduates to discuss their experiences in ASU Online’s instructional design program.


Heidi Laughlin


A photo of ASU Online student Heidi Laughlin.

Photo credit: Katrina J. Cuoco

Laughlin transitioned from a career in teaching to instructional design at her local community college. She wanted to provide students with the flexibility and convenience needed in modern classrooms. As an instructional designer, Laughlin has the opportunity to choose and build coursework that influences how students learn.

Q: Why did you choose ASU Online to pursue a degree in learning design and technologies?

A: I did a lot of research before I applied at ASU Online. My in-state university had a similar master's program. However, my research pointed to ASU as one of the most innovative and emergent universities for this degree. I felt that this type of master's program warranted a college known for its innovation and emergent technologies.

Q: How does instructional design differ from teaching in the classroom?

A: As classroom teachers, you’re constantly interacting with the learners. You’re also grading the learners and offering different kinds of assistance for different learning needs. If you have this background, you can take your knowledge and experiences of teaching in the classroom and transfer it to your instructional design role.

Q: What do you like about instructional design?

A: I like the creativity of instructional design. I also like that I’m always learning new things when putting a course together. Unlike teaching, working in instructional design is always different and exciting.

Q: Why should students interested in instructional design choose ASU Online?

A: ASU Online courses are flexible and convenient. Most instructional design classes host virtual meetings weekly and use Flipgrid assignments to keep you engaged and in collaboration with your classmates.


Mark Reese

ASU Online instructional designer student Mark Reese.
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Reese wanted a career that reflected the changing reality of instruction. An expert in Central Asia, Reese knew that with a degree in instructional design in education, he could utilize this knowledge to build curriculum that applies to the ever-changing educational framework rooted in technology. He chose ASU Online because of how ASU integrates technology into their online courses.

Q: What about the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College drew you into the program?

A: ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College has a long tradition of producing excellent educators. Additionally, I noticed how they’ve kept up with the times in offering cutting-edge coursework coupled with solid foundations in theory.

Q: How do you leverage your classroom teaching experience in your instructional design role?

A: I have 27 years of experience in teaching topics related to Central Asia. Learning design helps capture that content knowledge and package it in a digital format useful to students. But, knowing your subject is key.

Q: What makes teachers good candidates for instructional design roles?

A: At the end of the day, you’re still a teacher when you’re utilizing instructional design concepts. In fact, teachers are most suitable in that you must demonstrate all the underpinnings of learning and teaching theory in order to succeed at learning design. How do you apply technology to the instructional design environment? What was effective and not effective and why? How do we maintain student-centered learning? All of those questions are best answered by teachers with classroom experience.

Q: How did you connect with your classmates in the learning design and technologies program?

A: Mainly through online discussions and group projects. I was initially skeptical of online discussions but instructors at ASU Online made certain that they had academic rigor. Additionally, we completed group projects virtually, reflecting the reality of the workspace today, and gaining skills needed to succeed in the workplace.


Prepare for your transition from teacher to instructional designer with an online master’s degree

Instructional design is necessary for the future of education. It implements the use of technology with expertise on student engagement to create curriculum that benefits the students of today. Transitioning from a teacher to instructional designer provides you the space to grow in the academic sphere, where you’ll work with educators to build comprehensive learning materials that improve students’ educational experiences.

Learn more about ASU Online’s Master of Education in learning design and technologies and other education degrees and decide if making the switch to instructional design in education is right for you.

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