In the last several articles, I’ve listed out examples of undergraduate eLearning degrees, graduate certificate programs, and master’s degrees focused on eLearning. There are those, however, who question whether or not you even need a degree in instructional design of any kind to be a great eLearning course builder. The answer to that is, of course, NO. There are plenty of top-notch eLearning professionals out there without instructional design degrees. But here’s the catch: You DO need the degree if you want to break into the job market.

eLearning Career Guide #7: Education or Experience?

In two previous articles of this series, I spent a considerable amount of space talking about the importance of building and presenting a top-notch eLearning portfolio of your work. In fact, I said it was the single most important piece of launching or enhancing your career as an eLearning professional. I lied. Well, not really. Having the right educational background and a stellar portfolio are both really important, but they’re really important at two different parts of the eLearning job search.

The plain fact of the matter is that you need the degree in eLearning to even get a foot in the door. eLearning is hot, and lots of people are flocking to it trying to get jobs. As a result, companies are upping the minimum standards to even be seriously considered. If you take a look at 20 different eLearning job listings, you’ll probably find that all of them are going to require at least a bachelor’s degree, most will say they prefer a Master’s degree, and a significant number of them are going to require a Master’s degree. Whether or not that’s fair isn’t the point – it’s just the reality of the matter. Without the degree, you won’t even make it past the first cut.

So go ahead and get the degree. An undergraduate degree in eLearning along with a graduate certificate will probably suffice, but it would be best to go ahead and get the full Master’s degree.

Having the degree will get your foot in the door, but then you need to distinguish yourself from all the other candidates who also moving forward through that first cut, and this is where the all-important portfolio takes the spotlight. When it comes to education or experience, the reality is that you must have both to get the best eLearning jobs out there.

But the degree does do more than just serve as your ticket through the first round of a hiring committee. Any decent program is going to really broaden your intellectual horizons. It will challenge you to question your assumptions and deepen your thinking. If it’s diverse, then you’ll be exposed to different opinions, ways of thinking, and styles of tackling projects. And hopefully, it will also offer you plenty of opportunities to engage in hands-on eLearning projects to build up your portfolio.

The other thing to keep in mind is that any eLearning or instructional design degree has to spend a lot of time on how people learn, how they think, and how they take in information. In other words, you learn a lot in these programs about the cognitive functions of being a human – and that’s learning that will apply to any field you may eventually find yourself in.

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