Online Instructional Design Certificate Programs: The Ultimate Guide

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Frustrated trying to find a comprehensive guide to 100% online instructional design certificate programs? Worried that you’ll miss a great opportunity?

Well, there is one ultimate guide available that contains the internet’s most extensive collection of certificates and you’ve found it!

Keep reading to explore over 80 graduate programs in instructional design, online teaching, e-learning, instructional technology and related fields in a free, sortable table. You will also discover 9 tips for choosing the best online instructional design certificate program and 8 benefits of a graduate certificate.

I want to hear your success story after using the ID Hunter’s ultimate guide! Please contact me here.

What is a graduate certificate?

It’s a great opportunity for professional development or to explore a new career!

A graduate certificate is a short sequence of courses, normally at the master’s level, provided by a university. Certificates typically require between three and six classes. The courses will usually transfer to related master’s degree at the same university.

Graduate certificates focus on a specific subject and bridge the gap between a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. In fact, most certificates are simply a subset of required courses and/or electives that are part of a master’s program. Many schools allow students to earn a graduate certificate or two while pursuing a master’s degree.

A graduate certificate usually does not include the heavily academic courses found in a master’s program like research methods and statistics. Certificates generally get straight to the meat of the subject and avoid the master’s degree courses intended to make you “well rounded.”

In order to apply, you will need to have a four year bachelor’s degree from an accredited university.

Many online instructional design certificate programs are part of the university’s department of education, along with related programs such as online teaching, e-learning and instructional technology. However, graduate certificates do not lead to a state teaching license or certification. In fact, graduate certificates do not typically confer any type of professional certification.

8 benefits of a graduate certificate

A graduate certificate demonstrates that you have successfully completed a formal course of study in a university setting. It’s a great way to explore a new career or advance in your current one.

You may not need or want a full master’s degree. Graduate certificates are great for anyone, including people who already hold a PhD or master’s degree.

Here are 8 benefits of a graduate certificate for you to consider:

Graduate certificate benefits

1. Quickly update your resume by earning a graduate level credential in six months to a year.

2. Study a very specific subject. Think of it as “laser guided learning.”

3. Receive formal recognition of your accomplishment at half (or less than half) of the cost and effort of obtaining a master’s degree at the same school.

4. Employers are comfortable with the idea of university credentials. As a graduate level program, hiring managers recognize that the education you received was not trivial or basic. It provides evidence that you have specialized knowledge in the subject.

5. Graduate certificates provide the opportunity to obtain a solid inside view of a university, the coursework and the professors without committing to a master’s program.

6. Most programs allow you to apply all or most of the credits earned for the certificate to a related master’s degree.

7. Many programs make admission easy. You can often avoid taking the GRE, writing an application essay, submitting references, or paying an application fee. You will need a bachelor’s degree though.

8. You can complete all of the certificates programs found on ID Hunter 100% online.

Why earn an instructional design certificate online?

Online education has come a long way in the last 15 years. The stigma that used to be attached to online learning is gone now that most universities offer a large selection of courses and even entire degree programs completely online.

Online courses are perfect for full or part-time students. You can work on assignments when it’s convenient and never have to commute to a campus. Attending school around your family and work obligations has never been easier.

Completing a certificate program online also allows you to choose from universities across the country. You aren’t limited to schools within driving distance and you don’t have to move. In fact, many international students are enrolled in online instructional design certificate programs. Pick the school and certificate that works best for your situation!

Pursuing an online graduate certificate provides you with choices. It gives you the freedom to choose the right school, to pick the best program and to work on your assignments whenever the time is right for you.

Many instructional design certificate programs are available

There are many online programs to choose from. Additionally, there are plenty of related disciplines that incorporate instructional design into the coursework. With so many choices, you will find an online certificate program that fits your goals exactly. Some examples of the many certificate titles available are:

  • Instructional Design
  • Online Teaching
  • ​e-Learning
  • ​e-Learning Instructional Design
  • ​Instructional Technology
  • ​Distance Education
  • Educational Technology

9 tips for choosing your ideal online instructional design certificate program

With so many choices available, how do you find the best instructional design certificate for your situation? Picking the right program involves a number of factors and each person weighs them differently. Here are nine essential elements to consider:

1. What do you want to learn? Coursework is the heart of the program

In addition to the name of the actual certificate program, you should thoroughly review the course titles and descriptions to get a sense of what you will be learning about and what interests you. Does the coursework address the skills you want to develop in order to meet your goals?

Many online certificate programs have similar titles, but the required courses vary a great deal. For example, is the program geared more towards theory or application, traditional classroom teaching or online instruction?

You may have to search the university’s website for the graduate school bulletin to learn more about individual courses.

Another consideration is whether you can choose any of the courses in the program (electives) or if the course series is fixed. Some online certificate programs allow you to pick electives from a list of approved courses. Don’t expect too many electives though, since the certificate will only include a total of three to six classes.

2. Never leave home? Required campus visits

Many universities advertise “online” programs and courses. However, you should double check to see if they are 100% online.

Some instructional design certificate programs require one or more visits to the physical campus. These are often referred to as “blended” or “hybrid” programs.

Campus visits can range from several times per year to just a single orientation session that lasts a few days at the beginning of the program.

Fortunately, it’s easy to find 100% online instructional design certificate programs that require absolutely no campus visits. You can explore these programs in the table farther down."

Justin 
ID Hunter

3. In class “on time” or “any time”? Asynchronous vs synchronous classes

You should understand whether the program’s classes are synchronous or asynchronous.

An asynchronous class means you don’t have to be “in class” at a certain time. Your complete the coursework when it works best for you (as long as you turn in the work on time). There will be assignment deadlines to help keep you on track, but it’s up to you to schedule your time around work or family obligations.

Some asynchronous courses offer voluntary meetings once per week (or less). The instructor often records these meetings and posts them online for viewing when it’s convenient.

Synchronous classes meet online at a specific time and day, likely once a week in the evening, and students are expected to take part in these sessions. Being “in class” could include attending a live video conference with the instructor, participating in an audio conference call or joining a live chat room.

If your time zone is significantly different from the school’s timezone, you should investigate when synchronous classes are likely to be scheduled to make sure you’ll be available.

There is nothing right or wrong with either asynchronous or synchronous formats. Some people want complete freedom to do their school work on their own schedule. If that describes you, then look for a certificate with primarily asynchronous classes.

Other students enjoy making a more personal connection with the instructor and their classmates. Synchronous classes with scheduled online meetings can provide the feeling of engagement and community that some desire.

4. How much is this going to cost? Tuition and student aid

One of the most important considerations when purchasing anything is the price. Determining the price of an online graduate school class can be a little tricky because of hidden fees. However, it is pretty straightforward to just find the tuition rate per credit hour on the school’s website.

Check to see if the tuition is the same for in-state and out-of-state residents. Many certificate classes offer online classes at a single tuition rate, regardless of residency. This is a great benefit that could allow you to take classes at a reasonable price from anywhere.

Courses can cost as little as around $400 to well over $1,000 per semester credit hour. Since most classes are three semester credit hours, that‘s a range of around $1,000 to $5,000 per class. Some states offer ultra low in-state tuition rates that are significantly lower than $400, but you have to live in that state to qualify.

The total price you will pay for the certificate is directly linked to the number of required classes/credit hours. A certificate program that requires additional classes can add substantially to the final cost of the certificate. 

Cost comparison example of instructional design certificate programs

Cost comparison example of instructional design certificate programs bar chart

When checking the current tuition rate, be careful that you look at the graduate school rates and not the undergraduate rates (grad school is often a bit more expensive). Also make sure to check for additional costs (technology fees, student services fees, etc.) that may be added to the tuition.

And of course, you will have to pay for textbooks.

Financial aid - fewer options

Unfortunately, not all graduate certificates are eligible for federal financial aid because students only pursuing a certificate are not considered “degree seeking.” Schools have to apply to the U.S. Department of Education for each certificate program they want to be eligible for federal financial aid.

However, you may be eligible for private student loans.

Always check with the school to see what financial aid options are available. You can also ask about scholarship opportunities.

5. Can I finish in two semesters? Program length

Another consideration is how long it will take you to complete the coursework. Most programs require 12, 15, or 18 semester credit hours to earn a certificate. That equals four, five, or six classes at three credit hours per class. A certificate that only requires four classes will obviously be quicker than one that requires six classes.

Some universities use an accelerated class schedule where each course is only about eight weeks long. You can easily complete a four course certificate program using the accelerated format in just two semesters (about eight months) without taking more than one course at a time."

Justin 
ID Hunter

Other programs use a more traditional four month long semester approach. Check the school’s calendar to see how many months it will take to complete the program.

The primary benefit of an accelerated format is that one class will end before the next one starts when you take two classes per semester. Therefore, you won’t have to divide your attention between two courses since they are not simultaneous. There will be more to do each week though, because an entire course is condensed into two months.

Likewise, if you take two classes per semester under the traditional semester format, they will occur simultaneously. You will have to divide your efforts and attention, but both classes will move at a slower pace.

6. Never heard of it! Institution and accreditation

The name and reputation of a university can be an important factor in picking the right certificate program. Is the school nationally known or is it a small regional school? How do you feel about for-profit schools? Do you want people to instantly recognize the name of the school or do you care?

There are many websites that rank schools. You can check several of these to get an idea of how a school is perceived. The rankings of best colleges by U.S. News and World Report is one of the most widely known.

You may pay more to attend an institution with a stellar academic reputation, but this may be a good opportunity to get a well-known school added to your resume.

Most people want their school to be fully accredited so that degrees and credits earned are universally recognized as legitimate. The most common form of recognition to look for in the United States is “regional” accreditation. For example, the “North Central Association of Colleges and Schools” is a regional accreditation authority.

Another type of accreditation is “national”, such as the “Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges.” Surprisingly, national accreditation is not as widely accepted as regional accreditation.

It may be difficult to transfer any credits earned at a non-regionally accredited school (such as a nationally accredited university) to a regionally accredited one, so be careful! You should probably stay away from any school that is not regionally or nationally accredited.

Accredited institutions usually make it readily known on their website. You can also check a school’s current accreditation status on the U.S. Department of Education’s website.

7. How hard is it to get started? The application process

Some schools require that you formally apply to the graduate school before you are admitted into a certificate program. Are you prepared to write an essay and get professional or academic references?

Many students are concerned about taking an admissions test such as the GRE or MAT. Perhaps you’ve been out of school for a long time or you’re just not good at standardized tests.

Good news! Very few online instructional design certificate programs require an admissions test. To make things easy for you, the ID Hunter’s list of programs identifies which certificates require a test."

Justin 
ID Hunter

Many institutions look at certificate programs somewhat differently from their traditional graduate school degrees and minimize the application requirements. It’s pretty easy to find an online certificate program that does not require traditional admission to the graduate school.

All graduate certificate programs require a bachelor’s degree, but most don’t require any specific undergraduate major. Universities generally want their e-learning instructional design certificates to be accessible to people from all types of educational backgrounds.

However, you should be on the lookout for any mandatory prerequisite classes. A few programs require previous specific coursework in the subject, but most do not. It’s something to keep an eye out for.

8. Will the certificate courses transfer to a master’s degree program?

A consideration for some prospective students is how the graduate certificate fits into the university’s master’s degree program(s). If you believe you may want to pursue a master’s degree, an online certificate can be a stepping stone to a full graduate degree.

Most instructional design certificate programs require that students take several of the core courses found in the master’s degree curriculum. Schools often encourage students to transfer all of the credits earned for the certificate to a related master’s degree, but some will only allow a limited number of hours to transfer.

Many of the classes will likely transfer to a master’s program at another school. However, most institutions limit the number of credits they will accept from other schools to around six or nine semester hours.

A few schools will not allow any credit hours to transfer, even within the same institution!

If you think you may eventually want a master’s degree, it would be a very good idea to understand how the certificate’s and master’s courses work (or don’t work) together.

The extensive list of instructional design certificate programs at the end of this guide also identifies any related master’s degrees at the same school. For more information on master’s degrees, visit the ID Hunter’s guide to online master’s in instructional design degree programs.

9. What do students think? Check online reviews

What do actual students think about a program you’re interested in? You can search the internet to see what current or former students feel are the best online instructional design certificate programs available.

One idea is to search subject related forums for a little insight. For example, students interested in a variety of subjects including e-learning, instructional design and online teaching can check out the lively community at the Articulate forums. Just conduct a search for the certificate or school that interests you to see what others may be saying about it.

A unique and in-depth review of the University of Wisconsin – Stout instructional design certificate program is available from the ID Hunter here.

You can also search the internet for resumes or personal websites that mention a particular school’s graduate certificate. Many former students enjoy discussing their experiences with a program. Just send an email and let them know you are trying to get an inside view of the certificate program.

Are you ready to search 100% online instructional design certificate programs?

You can browse the extensive table below to look at a variety of online certificate programs. These programs only include courses that provide official graduate school credit. Courses that simply provide continuing education or professional development credits are not included.

Each column can be sorted and filtered. Are you specifically looking for an instructional design certificate? The “Certificate Title” column is already sorted alphabetically, but you can click any column header to rearrange the list.

Warning! Not all instructional design certificates begin with the words “instructional design” so the filter method is very useful. For example, you may miss a certificate called “e-learning instructional design” if you just arrange the list alphabetically. Type “instructional design” in the field at the top of the title column to show any certificate with that term in the title.

There are some important notes after the table!

See a broken link or want to provide a program update? Do you know of any other online instructional design certificate programs that should be added to the table? Let me know."

Justin 
ID Hunter

Table last updated March 2017

Certificate TitleSchoolSem. HoursAdm. TestRelated Online Masters
Certificate TitleSchoolSem. HoursAdm. TestRelated Online Masters
Online Learning and Professional Development Appalachian State University 18 None Educational Media - Instructional Technology (M.A.)
eLearning Developers Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania 12 None Instructional Technology (M.S.)
Workplace E-Learning and Performance Support Boise State University 16 None Organizational Performance and Workplace Learning (M.S.)
Workplace Instructional Design Boise State University 18 None Organizational Performance and Workplace Learning (M.S.)
Online Teaching and Learning California State University - East Bay 12 None Education, Option in Online Teaching and Learning (M.S.)
Online Learning Innovation & Design Colorado State University - Global Campus 12 None Organizational Leadership and Master of Science in Management (M.S.)
Instructional Design Drexel University 18 None Learning Technologies (M.S.)
Computer-Based Instruction East Carolina University 18 None Instructional Technology (M.S.)
Distance Learning and Administration East Carolina University 18 None Instructional Technology (M.S.)
Educational Media and Technology Eastern Michigan University 20 None Educational Media and Technology (M.A.)
Online Teaching Eastern Michigan University 12 None Educational Media and Technology (M.A.)
eLearning and Online Teaching Emporia State University 12 None Instructional Design and Technology (M.S.)
Online Instructional Development Florida State University 15 None Instructional Systems and Learning Technologies (M.S.)
Instructional Design Franklin University 16 None Instructional Design & Learning Technology (M.S.)
Instructional Design and Technology Full Sail University 12 None Instructional Design and Technology (M.S.)
E-Learning George Mason University 15 None Instructional Design and Technology (M.Ed.)
E-Learning George Washington University 18 None Education and Human Development - Educational Technology Leadership (M.A.)
Instructional Design George Washington University 18 None Education and Human Development - Educational Technology Leadership (M.A.)
Multimedia Development George Washington University 18 None Education and Human Development - Educational Technology Leadership (M.A.)
Training and Educational Technology George Washington University 18 None Education and Human Development - Educational Technology Leadership (M.A.)
Instructional Design and Technology Georgia State University 12 None Instructional Design and Technology (M.S.)
Instructional Design Harrisburg University of Science and Technology 15 None Learning Technologies and Media Systems (M.S.)
Learning Design and Technology Harvard University Extension School 12 None None
Instructional Systems Technology Indiana University 15 None Instructional Systems Technology (M.S.Ed.)
Educational Technology James Madison University 12 None Educational Technology (M.Ed.)
eLearning James Madison University 12 None Educational Technology (M.Ed.)
Online Course Design Kansas State University 14 None Curriculum and Instruction (M.S.)
Online Teaching and Learning Kent State University 15 None Instructional Technology (M.Ed.)
Instructional Technology Management La Salle University 18 None Instructional Technology Management (M.S.)
Online Teaching and Instructional Design Lenoir-Rhyne University 18 None Online Teaching and Instructional Design (M.S.)
Instructional Design and Technology Minnesota State University - Mankato 9 None Educational Technology (M.S.)
Teaching, Training, and Educational Technology North Carolina State University 15 None Several
eLearning and Instructional Design Northeastern University 11 None eLearning and Instructional Design (M.Ed.)
Educational Technology Northern Arizona University 15 None Educational Technology - Adult Learning and Training (M.Ed.)
Professional Instructional Design Ohio University 14 None Computer Education and Technology (M.Ed.)
Distance Education Penn State World Campus 12 None Lifelong Learning and Adult Education (M.Ed.) School
Online Instructional Design Plymouth State University 15 None Online Instructional Design (M.Ed.)
Instructional Technology Specialist Saint Joseph’s University 33 None Education - Instructional Design and Technology (M.S.)
Instructional Design Saint Leo University 15 None Instructional Design (M.S.)
Instructional Design San Diego State University 18 GRE Learning Design & Technology (M.A.) - credits may not transfer to degree
Instructional Technology San Diego State University 15 None Learning Design & Technology (M.A.)
Design for E-Learning St. Cloud State University 12 None Information Media Program - Instructional Design and Training (M.S.)
Instructional Technology St. Cloud State University 10-12 None Information Media Program - Instructional Design and Training (M.S.)
Online Learning and Teaching University at Albany, State University of New York 15 None Curriculum Development & Instructional Technology (M.S.)
e-Learning University of Akron 18 None Educational Foundations and Leadership - Instructional Technology (M.A.)
Instructional Design and Technology University of Arizona South 15 None Educational Technology (M.S.)
E-Learning University of Central Florida 15 None Instructional Design and Technology (M.A.)
Instructional Design for Simulations University of Central Florida 15 None Instructional Design and Technology (M.A.)
e-Learning Professional Development University of Central Florida 15 None Instructional Design and Technology (M.A.)
Online Teaching and Learning University of Central Missouri 15 None Educational Technology (M.S.)
Instructional Design University of Florida 12 None Instruction and Curriculum (M.Ed.)
Online Teaching and Learning University of Florida 12 None Instruction and Curriculum (M.Ed.)
e-Learning Design University of Georgia 15 None Learning, Design, and Technology (M.Ed.)
Online Learning and Teaching University of Hawai‘i - Manoa 15 None Learning Design and Technology (M.Ed.)
Designing and Developing Educational Multimedia University of Houston 12 None Curriculum & Instruction - Learning, Design, & Technology (M.Ed.)
Online Teaching and Learning University of Houston 12 None Curriculum & Instruction - Learning, Design, & Technology (M.Ed.)
Distance Education University of Kentucky 12 None Instructional Systems Design (M.S.)
Instructional Systems Development University of Maryland - Baltimore County 12 None Instructional Systems Development (M.A.)
Instructional Technology University of Maryland - Baltimore County 12 None Instructional Systems Development (M.A.)
Distance Education University of Maryland - Baltimore County 12 None Instructional Systems Development (M.A.)
Instructional Technology Design University of Massachusetts - Boston 15 MAT Instructional Design (M.Ed.)
Online Teaching University of Michigan - Dearborn 12 None Educational Technology (M.A.)
Online Educator University of Missouri 12 None Information Science and Learning Technologies (M.Ed.)
Instructional Systems Technology - Training and Development University of North Carolina - Charlotte 18 None Instructional Systems Technology (M.Ed.)
Instructional Systems Technology - Online Learning and Teaching University of North Carolina - Charlotte 18 None Instructional Systems Technology (M.Ed.)
Instructional Technology University of North Carolina - Wilmington 18 None Instructional Technology (M.S.)
Online Teaching and Learning University of North Carolina - Wilmington 18 None Instructional Technology (M.S.)
Instructional Design and Technology University of North Dakota 12 None Instructional Design & Technology (M.Ed. Or M.S.)
Distance Education University of South Florida 12 None Curriculum and Instruction - Instructional Technology (M.Ed.)
E-Learning University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley 12 None Instructional Technology (M.Ed.)
Instructional Design University of Wisconsin – Stout 12 None Education (M.S.)
E-learning and Online Teaching University of Wisconsin – Stout 15 None Education (M.S.)
Instructional Design and Technology (Specialization in Instructional Design) Walden University 12 None Instructional Design and Technology (M.S.)
Instructional Design and Technology (Specialization in Online Learning) Walden University 12 None Instructional Design and Technology (M.S.)
Instructional Design and Technology (Specialization in Training and Performance Improvement) Walden University 12 None Instructional Design and Technology (M.S.)
Online Teaching Wayne State University 18 None Design & Performance Systems (M.Ed.)
Instructional Design and Technology: Educational Technology Specialist Western Illinois University 24 None Instructional Design and Technology (M.S.)
Instructional Design and Technology: Online and Distance Learning Development Western Illinois University 18 None Instructional Design and Technology (M.S.)
Instructional Design and Technology: Technology Integration in Education Western Illinois University 18 None Instructional Design and Technology (M.S.)
Instructional Design and Technology: Workplace Learning and Performance Western Illinois University 18 None Instructional Design and Technology (M.S.)
Instructional Design Western Kentucky University 12 None Instructional Design (M.S.)
Instructional Design Western Oregon University 16 None Education in Information Technology (M.S.)
Instructional Design for Digital Learning 1 Wright State University 12 None None
Instructional Design for Digital Learning 2 Wright State University 12 None Instructional Design for Digital Learning (M.Ed.)
Instructional Design University of Maine 12 None Instructional Technology (M.Ed)


Notes

All of the certificates programs listed above should be 100% online. However, the associated master’s programs may not be 100% online. There are master’s degrees listed on this table that are not found on the master’s degree table because the full degree is not available 100% online. Check carefully if the possibility of obtaining an online master’s degree at the same school is important to you.

Some institutions are restricted from offering online courses to residents of certain states. Check to see if your residency impacts your admissibility.

Many schools offer a special tuition rate for online courses. Check with the school to see if you qualify for lower in-state tuition.

A few programs use quarter hours and they have been converted to semester hours for easier comparison.

Some schools listed as not requiring an admissions test (GRE, MAT) will require one if your undergraduate GPA is below a certain level.

Listings do not include certificates specifically intended for K-12 teacher licensing or programs in some related, but different fields such as Human Performance Technology. The tables does include certificates not called “Instructional Design” as long as they have an instructional design component. Be sure to determine the focus of each certificate so you can decide if it is right for you.

All information is subject to change at any time so check the school’s website to ensure you have the most recent information.

Check back periodically to see if there are any new online instructional design certificate programs available!