I was reading an online message board the other day and the age-old topic came up about what exactly people in our field should be called. The “usual suspects” emerged. You had instructional designers declaring that they are the true designers of the field. Learning developers insisted there isn’t much difference between them and instructional designers. The training specialists chimed in with their unique skill set. Then came the content writers with their two cents.

When I first built my team, I had the fortune of choosing my title, and choosing the title of the roles on my team, with the blessing of HR. I understand not many leaders are that fortunate. But that gave me the awesome opportunity to structure my team and learn more about the differences between these job titles.

I was looking for titles for my team that:

  • Is easily identifiable for salary comp purposes (so no niche titles like Head Honcho of Learning).
  • Is understood in the industry to describe what their expected tasks were.
  • Is easily transferrable to other organizations. After all, as a leader, my goal is that my team members grow.

The titles on the table were:

  • Instructional Designer
  • Learning Consultant
  • Training Specialist
  • E-learning Developer
  • Learning Developer
  • Learning Specialist
  • Instructional Consultant

At the time, we were looking for two roles: one to perform client-facing ILTs (instructor-led trainings), and the other to assess and fulfill internal training needs. Although a single role could have done both, I wanted to split them up because the workload from just one facet is a team effort.

Right away, I determined that I’d like to call the client-facing role a Training Specialist. These people should be familiar in andragogy (adult learning), be trained and engaging presenters, and know how to design and develop their own client-facing materials.

The second title was Instructional Designer. These would be the wizard behind the curtain. They could perform a full-out needs analysis for several audiences, create design documents and determine if the solution required an instructional intervention. Because they were not just “churning out content” (as someone else put it), I wanted to be especially careful with their title so that internal teams understood the consultative nature of the role.

I am of the order that there is a distinct difference between an Instructional Designer and E-learning Developer. Often, there is a misconception that the two are the same. I think about it this way. You wouldn’t call a web designer a web developer if they don’t script (and HTML doesn’t count). While IDs can develop, in an ideal situation, they analyze and maybe design, then hand off to the developers to construct if the solution required development. This is the precise reason we separate our Product and Engineering teams.

This does have implications for pay, too. On average, the Instructional Designer job title yields over 10% more in annual salary than E-learning Developer. Training Specialists bring in even 5% more on average than Instructional Designers, primarily because of potential travel involved.

In my experience, precise title is very important. It helps leadership focus your role and provides the practitioner with the leverage needed to boost career opportunities. So choose wisely!


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