Leaders in Professional, Continuing and Online Education

eDesign Collaborative Blog

The eDesign Collaborative (eDC) Blog is a dedicated resource to announcements, updates, upcoming events, surveys, and other items for the eDC community. 

Thought Piece: Resources for New (and Accidental) Instructional Designers


I am an accidental instructional designer. After finishing an MFA in Writing, I took a student employee position at another university as I worked on a second master’s degree, unsure of what to do next. I was an ELearning Content Developer, converting documents into full-fledged course sites. In the next few months, an amazing team of mentors helped grow me into an instructional design position. At the time, I didn’t realize there was a profession that could merge so many of my interests: teaching and curriculum design, technology, graphic design, writing. It felt–and still feels–like a natural fit.

But catching up with the field was a challenge. There were so many key terms to master, learning theories to absorb, design approaches to implement. I relied heavily on web resources, professional organizations, conferences, and professional development. If you are a new (or accidental!) instructional designer, check out these resources that were helpful to me early on. You’re also welcome to share your own in the comments!

Professional Organizations

University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA): Since I’m writing this blog post for UPCEA’s eDesign Collaborative, it will be no surprise to hear that this organization was been a fantastic resource for me as a new instructional designer. There are so many ways to get involved (at the level of commitment you have time for)!

Early on, I submitted a proposal to write an article for the UPCEA Unbound publication, titled “Meeting the Accessibility Needs of Adult Learners in Online Courses” (2016). Based on the article, I received a scholarship to present at the 2017 Central Region Conference, won the Best in Show Presentation for the region, and was invited to present at the 2018 UPCEA Annual Conference. And all in my first year or so as an ID!

Since then, I’ve maintained my relationship with UPCEA in more behind-the-scenes ways, reading the Online: Trending Now blog, lurking on CORe discussions (get updates sent to your e-mail!), hanging out on Online Administration Network calls, participating on the Central Region conference proposal selection committee, and now writing for the eDesign Collaborative.

Quality Matters (QM): With this framework in hand, I felt like I could do anything. Quality Matters is a research-based set of standards for quality in online learning helped me set priorities in course development and approach faculty about difficult development topics early on. In addition to the annotated rubric, membership in Quality Matters came with access to the Research Library and a phenomenal database of Articles and Resources.

And that’s just a drop in the pond. QM hosts regional and national conferences, sponsors research, and provides affordable professional development. I’ve found it to be a kind and energizing group, welcoming to instructional design newcomers.


Internal Conferences: My former university offered an internal teaching and learning conference each year. If your institution has one, get involved! You might attend the first year and then offer to join the conference committee or put in a proposal the next year.

Regional Conferences: I was fortunate to be able to attend the Distance Teaching and Learning Conference hosted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison early on. Meeting peer instructional designers and seeing so many innovations in online learning was not just educational, but also motivating. If you’re currently a student, there is often a registration discount. If there is a conference that is close and affordable, try to get there and spend a few days immersed in the field.

Professional Development

Internal Professional Development: See what kinds of professional development your institution offers. This could take the form of technical or software training, workshops or roundtables through the center for teaching and learning, or even human resources training opportunities on topics like diversity and inclusion and leadership. I’ve found that a little of each of those adds up to holistic support for all kinds of instructional design tasks.

Affordable Credentials: Although I have a terminal degree, I still felt that it was important to devote time to coursework that would award me a credential, as proof to my employer and the faculty members I partnered with (and myself!) that I was qualified for the role. First, I completed the Graduate Certificate in Instructional Design online through the University of Wisconsin-Stout in one academic year, taking just one course at a time. Then, I sought the non-credit Online Teaching Certificate online through Rutgers University. If the institution you’re working for has a tuition reimbursement program, put it to good use!

Digital Resources

Blogs: Although textbooks provide a structured approach, I appreciated reading more personal accounts from instructional designers. Faculty Focus is updated constantly, and contains personal and timely posts from a diverse group of writers.

You might also be interested in my department’s current faculty-facing blog, Northwestern University School of Professional Studies Distance Learning. Learning Designers and Instructional Technologists update the blog weekly with posts about best practices in online learning, tech tips, debriefs from local and national conferences, and monthly webinar recordings. I particularly like focusing on individual course components, like resource annotations and pre-course surveys. Check out my posts.

News: To keep up with the latest excitement–innovation and controversies alike–I still like to read Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education. They have helped me develop a dimensional view of the complexities of higher education institutions more generally, and they frequently address online and adult learning more specifically.


There’s no right way to learn everything there is to learn about instructional design. (I know there are lots of great ID podcasts out there, but I prefer to read rather than listen!) Flex those metacognitive skills and spend some time exploring resources on your own. You never know what you’ll stumble across that turns out to be relevant in your next course development.

Note: None of the resources mentioned here have provided paid endorsement in any way.

About the Author

Krissy Wilson is a Learning Designer in the School of Professional Studies at Northwestern University, where she collaborates with faculty as an advocate for curricular excellence, innovation in design and technology, universal design for learning, and superior student engagement and experience.

  The eDesign Collaborative serves higher education instructional design teams (instructional designers, multimedia developers and team administrators) in higher education seeking networking and professional development.

Learn more about the UPCEA eDesign Collaborative here.

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