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eLearning Developer vs Instructional Designer

In a small company, the duties of an instructional designer and an eLearning developer could be combined in one person. However, larger corporations prefer separating the two. Instructional designers handle the learning experience (curriculum, teaching methods, practical exercises) and the theoretical foundation. eLearning developer implements the design and ensures it works exactly as intended.


How Belitsoft Can Help

We can leverage our 10+ years of experience in eLearning development to assist you with the following:

  • Learning course development. Using our knowledge of modern authoring tools, we can make a series of interesting and effective lessons for your learners.
  • Custom eLearning development. Unique course development is our specialty. If you have an idea that no authoring tool can bring to life, that’s something we’ll be glad to help you with.
  • Instructional design. Choosing the appropriate methodology, setting reasonable objectives, and ensuring that the course will do what you want it to do.
  • Gamification. Designing a system of incentives that will keep your learners immersed and engaged.
  • Serious games development. If you have an idea of a game-based learning program, we can assist you with all the technical matters from game design to coding and post-launch support. We can do it for PCs, web, and mobile platforms.


An instructional designer is a person who systematically designs, develops, and delivers instructional products and experiences, both digital and physical, in a consistent and reliable fashion toward an efficient, effective, appealing, engaging, and inspiring acquisition of knowledge. They are the person busy defining the objectives of a course, interviewing subject matter experts, planning out gamification incentives, etc.

In a digital course, an instructional designer will prepare storyboards, work with designers to set up the appropriate visual style, and explain to the developers how each function should work.

Put simply, an instructional designer lays the foundation of a course like an architect plans a building, although they might work on content.

An eLearning developer, on the other hand, is responsible for implementing the design. They will study the storyboard to locate problematic areas, for example, features that can’t be implemented with the selected tools or functionality that would overextend the budget. Then they will use one of the authoring tools and potentially some custom programming to create the learning course.

One thing they both do is working with learner feedback. An instructional designer deals with changes to the lessons and the curriculum in general, while the developer handles the technical side of the things.

Skill Sets

This is what an instructional designer should know and be able to do:

  • Learning methodology. There are different approaches to teaching things. Some of them work better on one audience than others. The instructional designer needs to know which one is the best for a given situation.
  • Content creation - this includes instructional texts, tests, scripts for videos, and even serious game design. This content would be at the core of any learning experience.
  • Learning science - the gut feeling is not the best justification for instructional design decisions. Valid, peer-reviewed research, however, is.
  • Team Management - if an instructional designer also leads the whole development process, they need to know how to run a team and ensure efficient and quick work.

And these skills are in the purview of an eLearning developer:

  • Authoring tools - knowing at least one of them is a must. Knowing several major ones (e.g. Articulate, Captivate 360, iSpring, Elucidat, etc.) is definitely great. These tools dramatically decrease the development time compared to custom programming and are often enough in and of themselves.
  • Programming - basic web development skills (HTML, CSS, and JavaScript) can be used rather often, so programming knowledge is important. Some custom courses can’t be developed with common authoring tools. They require deeper knowledge (or hiring an eLearning development company).
  • User experience - knowing the principles of making good UX would help deliver better products.
  • Visual content editing - sometimes, all the assets are provided by the instructional designer or a dedicated graphic designer. For all the other cases, knowing how to work with vector graphics, video editing suites, and Photoshop or Figma would be useful.

Participation in the project

We’ll describe the stages of an eLearning product development and show where an instructional designer and an eLearning developer come in.

1. Preparation Stage

Before the actual work begins, there are matters of setting objectives, budgeting, and planning. This is when an instructional designer talks to the stakeholders, determines the needs, and starts outlining the course. An eLearning developer doesn’t have anything to do at this point, so their work is not required.

2. Design Stage

The instructional designer, based on the goals and budgets, will put together a design document and a storyboard. Together with the eLearning developer, they will review it and make it more realistic. This is also the stage where the eLearning developer is given the required assets or makes them on his own.

The instructional designer’s work on the learning content begins in earnest.

3. Development Stage

This is the time where eLearning developer shines. With authoring tools (and sometimes custom programming) the course is brought to life.

An instructional designer could still prepare the content and provide it as it becomes ready. But most of the work is done by the eLearning developer.

4. Testing Stage

Both positions are involved in the process. Instructional designer watches mostly for the learning side of things: how well does the content perform, are the objectives reached, and how motivated the users are. eLearning developer is busy with the technical matters: do all the features work as intended and what needs to be fixed (if anything).

5. Post-Launch Support Stage

After the course goes live, the eLearning developer and the instructional designer can continue working on making it better. The latter could come up with new ways to improve KPIs (completion rate, knowledge retention, etc.) and the former will make them happen.

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I've been leading a department specializing in eLearning applications and Business Intelligence for 14 years.
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