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Best Schools for a Master's Degree in Instructional Design

by Susie Zappia, studioD

Instructional design is the systematic development of instructional materials. Instructional designers analyze the needs of specific learners, often incorporating technology and multimedia in the development of appropriate instruction. These professionals work from specific instructional design "models" and theories and incorporate best practices developed within the field of instructional design. They work in a variety of commercial, government and academic settings, focusing on areas as diverse as university education, corporate training and training for non-profits and hospitals. An instructional designer might routinely meet with an expert on content, such as a psychology professor, or use special software to design a quiz or interactive online lecture.

The eLearning Guild Survey

The eLearning Guild produces conferences, online events, the publication "Learning Solutions Magazine" and similar types of support for professionals responsible for developing online and elearning. A survey of professional participants on the Guild's discussion boards and on relevant LinkedIn discussion groups produced a list of recommendations for graduate schools offering instructional design programs. Twenty-eight American university programs make the list, including Arizona State University, Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania, Boise State University, Capella University, Concordia University in Montreal, Florida State University, George Washington University, Indiana State University, Indiana University at Bloomington, James Madison University and the University of Georgia, among others.

Some Specific Programs

"For-profit online universities such as Capella, Walden, and Kaplan are really running away with the market," complained Phillip Harris, Executive Director of the Association for Educational Communication and Technology. Traditional universities have been scrambling to keep up. Boise State University offers a Master of Science in Organizational Performance and Workplace Learning, with an emphasis on designing workplace training and improving workplace performance. Indiana University at Bloomington offers an online Master of Science in Education program in Instructional Systems Technology, with the goal of developing the skills to "build and test processes, products, and services for use in various settings."

Graduate Certificate Programs in Instructional Design

Boise State also offers graduate Certificates in Workplace Performance Improvement, Workplace e-Learning and Performance Support and Workplace Instructional Design, and they are not alone. Graduate certificate programs, which require only a few semesters and the completion of sixteen or eighteen credits are proliferating rapidly; many of them are offered completely online. Florida State University offers a Certificate in Online Instructional Development, based on fifteen credit hours. San Diego State advertises an eighteen-credit Advanced Instructional Design Certificate, and Arizona State University's fifteen-credit graduate Certificate in Instructional Design and Performance Improvement focuses on development of computer-based instruction and trends in performance improvement.

The Nature of Coursework

Graduate coursework in instructional design typically includes courses on research methods, learning theory, needs assessment, principles of instructional design and application of learning theories. The Master of Science in Education program with the emphasis on instructional technology is a popular and related curriculum to instructional design, but it will provide more focus on the design of instructional technology for learning. Courses might include instructional game development or advanced authoring for mobile devices, such as Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania's Master of Science in Instructional Technology. Instructional technology is an exciting new emphasis that can involve the design of virtual worlds, games and simulations or mobile learning.

About the Author

Susie Zappia teaches humanities and research and writing courses online for several colleges. Her research interests include counterculture literature of the 1960 and instructional design for online courses and she enjoys writing about literature, art and instructional design. She holds a Master of Arts in humanities from California State University, Dominguez Hills and a Master of Science in instructional design from Capella University.

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