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The Must Have KSA (Knowledge, Skills, & Attitudes) of an Instructional Designer

KSA – knowledge, skills, & attitudes? Aren’t they related to learning? Doesn’t corporate learning aim to improve employee performance through enhancing their knowledge, skills, and attitudes?

Yes, yes, and yes!

So why are we talking about KSA in connection to the Instructional Designer?

As the name itself suggests, Instructional Designers design instructional (learning) experiences. And for learning to be successful, it needs to be effective, engaging, immersive. No mean task that!

While classroom instructors deliver face-to-face instruction to a live audience, most of the instructional designer’s work happens behind the scenes. And to do their job of creating instruction well, they need to have a combination of a variety of traits. They need to possess the very specific and required Knowledge, Skills, and Attitudes (KSA).

Ergo, the title of my blog!

About Instructional Designing and Instructional Designers

The beauty of instructional designing is that it caters to different industry domains such as banking, health, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing, and more. Unlike classroom instructors who are experts in their own fields, instructional designers can and do work across industries. And though a working knowledge of the domain can be an added advantage, it is not really needed.

Explore instructional design through the lens of rapid eLearning.

An instructional designer’s job is much like that of a movie director. He or she is the one who knows what the final product is going to look like. And is in overall charge of all aspects of the creation and development of the course. So basically, they should be “Jack of all trades and master of instructional design”.

Instructional designers need to have a lot of passion for their work. Because it is very easy (and sometimes, impossible not to) to get frustrated with uncooperative subject matter experts (SMEs), impossibly tight deadlines, and clients who don’t know what it is they want. Without the passion, it’s seems easier to simply give up sometimes. I know I almost did!

Explore 10 cool tips to save your SME’s time!

So here goes, the KSA of a successful Instructional Designer.

KSA of a Successful Instructional Designer

An Instructional Designer’s Must Have KNOWLEDGE

Every instructional designer needs to have a thorough understanding of the basics of instructional theory and how to apply them to their projects.

Instructional Theory

  • Elements and Principles of Effective Learning
  • Principles of Adult Learning
  • Principles of Instructional Design
  • The Learning Cycle
  • Formats of Learning

Learning Models

  • Bloom’s Taxonomy
  • ADDIE Model (Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate)
  • SAM (Successive Approximation Model)
  • Kirkpatrick’s Levels of Training Evaluation

Standard Web Programs

  • Microsoft Word
  • Microsoft PowerPoint
  • Adobe PDF

Authoring Tools (at a minimum)

  • Articulate Storyline 360 and Rise
  • Adobe Captivate
  • Lectora Online
  • iSpring Suite


It also helps to have a basic understanding of:

  • Basics of web and graphic design
  • Section 508 compliance
  • The impact of disabilities on multimedia selection
  • The impact of the forgetting curve on learners
  • LMSs such as Moodle

An Instructional Designer’s Must Have SKILLS

Communication Skills

An instructional designer needs to communicate effectively with stakeholders and clients to understand their requirements and expectations. They need to be able to listen well, ask the right questions, and articulate their ideas and viewpoints clearly. And without rubbing the clients or stakeholders the wrong way!

Language Skills

It’s the Instructional Designer’s job to write on-screen text, instructional text, audio scripts, and video scripts. He needs to be able to break up complex concepts and topics into easy-to-understand language, and present it clearly, concisely (say a lot in a few words), and accurately (without losing the intended meaning) for the learner. It’s obviously a big plus to have good grammar, punctuation, and writing skills.

Visualization Skills

The Instructional Designer also needs to visualize how thoughts and ideas translate into the course and user experiences. He should try to replace complicated concepts with appropriate visuals to reduce cognitive load on the learners.

Storyboarding, visualizing appropriate graphics, creating interactions, and presenting information in an engaging way is not easy, but that’s exactly what an instructional designer is expected to do, for every project!

Project Management Skills

It is also the Instructional Designer’s job to ensure the project is delivered within timelines and is in accordance with the stakeholders’ requirements. They need good communication skills, be able to follow defined PM processes, ensure the design blueprint translates into an equally good course, be advocates of learning theories, and more. In short, they bring clockwork precision to eLearning project management.

Research Skills

Instructional Designers need to have adequate research skills to explore the latest trends and find ways to incorporate them in the learning. They also sometimes need to research the specific subject matter of the training to understand it better so that they can devise and choose the correct strategy to present the content. 

An Instructional Designer’s Must Have ABILITIES/ATTITUDES

Empathy and Learner Focus

The ability to put themselves into their learners’ shoes is something that every Instructional designer needs to have to design effective instructional experiences for different audiences.

Imagination & Creativity

Instructional Designers need to be creative with the ability to think outside the box. They need to be able to look at the content and think of new and exciting ways to present that information to learners. To keep learners engaged with the content is what every instructional designer aims for.

The most boring content can be made exciting and interesting by incorporating stories, games, or interactive activities. The sky is literally the limit for an ID’s creativity!

Passion for Knowledge

Instructional Designers, by the very nature of their job, are expected to be open to learning and mastering new skills, embracing new solutions and trends, and adapting creative instructional strategies.

Flexibility & Adaptability

It’s the ID’s job to create instruction for learners, but they have to be ready to change their approach (even if they simply love it) at the behest of the client or stakeholder. Ultimately, it is the client who has the last word. So, they need to be flexible and work according to the expectations of the client, but always being the learner’s advocate!

Patience and Positive Outlook

Creating an effective and engaging learning experience within timelines, and more importantly, within budget is a delicate balancing act. And so, IDs need to have the patience of Job sometimes, and have a cheerful positive outlook, always keeping their ultimate aim and motivation in mind – the learners and their learning experience.

Parting Thoughts

So, that were core KSAs instructional designers need for designing effective, engaging, immersive eLearning that don’t suffer from the common malady of high dropout rates.

Instructional designers have a very creative and scientific job of designing courses that appeal to learners and conform to project constraints and the possibilities offered by authoring tools.

Finally, Instructional Design is now encompassing other streams such as psychology, visual design and user experience, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, to name just a few. It’s a dynamic, challenging, cool skillset to have right now! So, don’t stop learning!

And whether you are starting your journey in the field of Instructional Design or looking to refresh the basics, here’s a mini guide that’s sure to become your friend and guru.

nstructional Design 101: A Handy Reference Guide to eLearning Designers