How to Create an Instructional Design Portfolio
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How to Create an Instructional Design Portfolio

It’s a tough landscape for job hunters right now. To land your instructional design dream job, you’re going to need a powerful tool kit: a well-crafted resume, a solid social media presence, and stellar references. But if you really want to seal the deal, you’ll need a great portfolio to share with potential employers.

More than any other part of your toolbox, a portfolio can help you land an interview by shining a spotlight on your abilities and talents, not just as line items on a resume, but as finished products. While not all jobs explicitly request a portfolio, sharing one with hiring managers or potential clients puts you a step ahead of the pack.

Travis Jordan, founder of Instructional Design Central insists that “a portfolio is essential. It allows a potential employer to quickly see some of your work.” In a competitive industry where hiring managers may be looking at hundreds of applicants, that’s a huge advantage.

How do you create a memorable and desirable instructional design portfolio? We will take you through the steps in this blog post. In case you could use some extra inspiration after reading: we've collected over thirty unique portfolios in an online gallery, check it out at the bottom of this post!

First, Understand Your Goals

Before you invest time and money into creating a portfolio, take a moment to clarify your intentions. Your goals will help guide the choices you make moving forward. Ask yourself these questions:

What’s your career objective?

Are you actively job hunting? Looking for freelance gigs? Or just trying to create an ongoing showcase of your work? Each of these will influence the kind of portfolio you create.

If you’re job hunting right now, focus on creating a balanced portfolio that really sells your biggest strengths, demonstrates a variety of skill sets, and showcases your years of experience.

If you’re trying to pull in freelance work, incorporate your portfolio into a more sales-centered website that also includes information on your availability and rates.

If you’re just looking to showcase your work and maybe build credibility as an authority in the industry,  pair your portfolio with a blog or a strong social media presence espousing your views on ID.

What Kind of Job Are You Looking For?

The kind of job you want will dictate the type of projects you choose to give premium space to in your portfolio.  

Do some research into your desired field: read job descriptions, ask around on forums, and, if possible, set up informational interviews with people who are already doing your dream job. Try to discern the most pertinent skills that hiring managers are looking for.

For example, if you’re searching for a job in K-12 education, highlight your work with blended learning designs, collaborative learning, and eLearning technology.

If you’re searching for a corporate ID job, showcase work you’ve done surrounding employee training, training-related software packages, and video creation.

What is your experience level?

Finally, how much raw material do you have to work with? Depending on your years of experience in the industry, your challenges will either be picking the right project to highlight... or making sure you have projects to showcase at all.

Portfolio Cara North
An example of a portfolio with self-directed projects (Cara North)


Don’t worry if you’re just starting out. You can still create a great portfolio without any paid professional experience, either by sharing artifacts from your training and education or by simply designing your own products. Pick a subject you know a lot about, be that cats, or cooking, or car maintenance, and create your own learning products around it. It may seem silly, but it’s very common to see personal products in ID portfolios. The point is to showcase your skills and creativity, whether your products were assigned to you or were self-directed.

Make a Website

The best way to host your portfolio is on your own website. Don’t bother with clunky, unsecured email attachments. Putting your portfolio on the internet for all to see boosts your online presence, and increases the likelihood of recruiters and hiring managers reaching out to you directly.

Depending on how web-savvy you are, you have a few different options. The easiest method is to post your portfolio on a dedicated portfolio sharing website like Behance, Dribbble, or Portfoliobox. This requires no technical skills and lets you quickly share your projects with minimal effort. However, you miss out on a lot of the flexibility that comes from configuring your own website.

Portfolio hosted by Michelle R. Perez
A portfolio hosted on Behance (Michelle R. Perez)


The more impressive and creatively flexible option is to host your portfolio on your own website. It’s fairly easy to set up a website these days by using services like WordPress, Wix, or Joomla. Many of these sites have premade portfolio template; or, if you have the skills, you can create your own. Just make sure you choose a design that’s well-organized and easy to understand.

Self-hosted portfolio site by Holly Castellow
A self-hosted portfolio site (Holly Castellow)


With your own website, you also have the option of hosting a blog or other materials on-site as well. As an added bonus, building your own website is a way to showcase your creative skills to potential employers.

Create the Components of Your Portfolio

Although their design may vary, most instructional design portfolios have similar components. Of these, the only requirement is to include examples of your work, but consider giving potential employers a bit more information about yourself and your background.

Introduction

This brief paragraph is similar to the objectives statement in a resume: it clarifies who you are and what you’re looking for. It’s usually displayed prominently near the top of your page, so visitors to your portfolio immediately know if your interests align.

Header introduction Sean Ward
Example of a header introduction (Sean Ward)


Sidebar introduction Ashley Chiasson
Example of a sidebar introduction (Ashley Chiasson)

Projects

This is by far the most important part of your portfolio: examples of your work! This where you will share artifacts from your training, resources you created as part of your past jobs, or totally new work you’ve created for the portfolio.

When choosing which work to highlight in your portfolio, include items that showcase a variety of skills. If you have experience using different authoring software or other content creation programs, display that here. If you have content specific expertise in subjects like gamification or video editing, make sure those are highlighted as well.

The exact sorts of projects you include will vary, depending on your personal expertise and goals, but common types of ID material to include are:

  • Storyboards
  • eLearning examples
  • Participant and Facilitator Guides
  • Evaluations/QA Documents
  • Job Aides/Quick Reference Guides (QRG’s)


Unlike, say, a visual artist’s portfolio, an ID’s work can come in many different formats: simple screenshot, video walk-throughs, Google Docs, slide shows, and more. You can display your work in any medium you like, as long as it’s easy for the viewer to understand.

For each offering, include a detailed description of the project. Include the objective of the project, your specific involvement (if you didn’t create the entire finished product), the tools that you used, and any other pertinent details.

Product description Devlin Peck
Example of a product description (Devlin Peck)


Product description Houra Amin
Another example of product description (Houra Amin)


Include a minimum of three projects that showcase the diversity of your skills. There’s no limit to how many projects you can list, but no hiring manager is going to take the time to sort through dozens of different projects, so make their job easier and your skills most apparent by highlighting only the best of the best. If you have a lot of projects, segment them by skill set or by type of material to aid organization.

Projects organized by category by Nada El Maliki
An example of projects organized by category for easier parsing (Nada El Maliki)


What if your past work was confidential? This is a common issue that IDs run up against, and one that most employers immediately understand. You have a few different options here:

  • Put your work behind a password-protected barrier, and only show that work on request. Check with your previous employer to make sure this is OK first; otherwise, you may run afoul of your nondisclosure agreement.
  • Strip the materials of proprietary data before sharing. Remove logos, and substitute text with lorem ipsum to guarantee anonymity. That way, you can display your original work— although, without details, it may lose some of its impact or come across as generic.
  • Create similar content using the same workflows and interactive elements as your professional work, but without proprietary data. This is a lot more work, but it’s the best way to stay on the right side of your former company while still showcasing your full abilities.

Biography

Your biography or “About Me” section is your opportunity to give your professional package a personal touch. While an Introduction page is meant to be just one or two sentences stating your objectives, your biography can be longer and more in-depth.

Don’t post a full resume, but, within the confines of two or three paragraphs, share the highlights of your education and employment history. Include notable certifications or awards you’ve won as well.

Example of an About Me page (Colleen Griffiths)


Some people also include a photo as a personalized touch, but this is a personal choice, and never essential or required.

Contact Information

While most potential employers will be viewing your portfolio because you specifically shared it with them, there is always the chance that someone will come across your portfolio on their own, particularly if you are using it to solicit freelance work. There’s no point in wowing potential job prospects if they have no way to contact you. So make sure you include, at the very least, an email address where people can message you for more information.

Example of a contact page with both a form and an email address (Colleen Griffiths)


If you want to take things a step further, you can create a contact form, or you can link to your social media accounts.

See More Instructional Design Portfolio Examples... and Add Your Own

When it comes to portfolios, there’s no one right way to display your work. To help you get your creative juices flowing, we’ve collected over thirty of our favorite examples in an online gallery. Come check it out, and when you’re ready, add your own portfolio to our collection.

Even if you’re not actively job hunting, creating a portfolio of your work can be a great exercise in clarification. As you put together the highlights of your career, it’s easier to see your biggest strengths as well as the gaps in your knowledge. Work on these issues now and you’ll have a strong, well-balanced portfolio ready to go whenever you’re ready to get into the market again.

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