Books For Learning Designers To Read

In 2014

I know how much learning professionals love to read. Last year’s list was crazy popular, so here is a new list of fascinating books for 2014. Most of these books were published in the past year and there are a few to look forward to in the Spring.

Learning Design Books

accidental-id The Accidental Instructional Designer: Learning Design for the Digital Age by Cammy Bean.

If you became an instructional designer through happenstance, fate or necessity, you’ll love Cammy Bean’s practical and real-world look at the field. She introduces what instructional designers really do and the differences between instructional design in academia and in real practice.

The meat of the book is in Part II, where Cammy provides a template for working through the instructional design process. She explains how to work with subject matter experts  and presents how to design with different learning models based on a course’s purpose. She also touches on ways to gain attention with a hook, interactivity, writing, telling stories and visual design. This is a wonderful book for both accidental and intentional instructional designers.

show-your-workShow Your Work: The Payoffs and How To’s of Working Out Loud by Jane Bozarth
Times have changed and there’s no excuse nor reason to keep your methods and techniques to yourself. In Show Your Work, author Jane Bozarth argues for the benefits of sharing how we get work done and demonstrates lots of ways to do it. Showing your colleagues how you implement, execute and solve problems is an effective way to record tacit knowledge, improve productivity and promote reflection. And imagine how smooth life would be, if everyone leaving an organization left behind a trail of how they accomplished their jobs. On a personal note, showing your work gives you credibility and demonstrates your expertise.

So how do people share their work? They record what they do in videos. They narrate using Google Glass. They sketch diagrams and take photos. They write out an entire process of what it was like to work with a vendor. They keep a journal or diary of how they handled a big project. They find and pin examples, like on the author’s Show Your Work Pinterest page. They speak into a digital audio recorder. Really, the number of ways to share is unlimited. I think this book is an important contribution to the field of Learning and Development.

bookRevolutionize Learning & Development (L&D): Performance and Innovation Strategy for the Information Age by Clark Quinn
In Revolutionize, author Clark Quinn answers the question, “How can Learning and Development move forward?” The discussion is based on the assumption that L&D is out of alignment with the workplace, research and the greater culture. For example, L&D is still measuring efficiency, not impact. It is still offering courses instead of assistance in the workflow, and often fails to notice the power of social media.

The book is organized into four sections that tell the story of why and how L&D needs to change. First, Quinn provides evidence of how the world is moving faster than the L&D group. Second, is a review of the changes in the greater world that are not being accounted for in L&D, such as technological, organizational and brain science advances. The third section paints an imaginary picture of what L&D would look like if it revised itself. The final section offers steps for making practical improvements. It also looks to the future of L&D.

the-virtual-training-guidebookThe Virtual Training Guidebook: How to Design, Deliver, and Implement Live Online Learning by Cindy Huggett
If you’re considering synchronous online training as part of your blended learning strategy, you’ll want The Virtual Training Guidebook by your side. In this well-written book, author Cindy Huggett gives you the 360º view of virtual training.

She guides you through the first steps of preparing your organization and selecting technology. For design, she covers how to create interactive sessions and how to prepare the facilitators, producers and participants. The Guidebook also covers pre- and post-event preparation; special issues and future trends.

This book is both broad and deep. I like the way Huggett focuses on meaningful interactivity and engagement rather than busy work. And then there’s a super bonus—helpful checklists and worksheets at the end of each chapter.

interface-design-for-learningInterface Design for Learning: Design Strategies for Learning Experiences by Dorian Peters
Although there are many books on user interface design, author Dorian Peters argues that interface design for learning is unique. She defines interface broadly, to include multimedia and visual design, information design and architecture, usability, and screen-based interactions. In her book, Peters collects guidelines and strategies for a variety of these interfaces.

To provide background, the book starts with an overview of learning theories, the eLearning landscape and a “crash course” of important concepts. Every chapter thereafter, presents one aspect of learning with background content and lots of strategies based on effective principles. For example, in the Learning is Emotional chapter, there are useful strategies for inspiring creativity, supporting engagement and flow, and sparking motivation. Unlike many books in our field, this one will appeal to learning designers in both K-12 education, higher education and workplace training. Stay tuned for a podcast interview coming up with Dorian Peters in April 2014.

really-useful-elearningThe Really Useful eLearning Instruction Manual: Your toolkit for putting elearning into practice by Ron Hubbard
This book caught my eye because it features many of the heroes in our industry. This is a collection of writings on many aspects of designing and building online learning. You’ll find practical guidance on: persuading your organization, optimizing for human cognition, whether to build in-house or outsource, informal and social learning, mobile learning, game-based learning, learning management and more.

The chapter structure keeps things organized. Each one starts with the big idea, presents the details behind the idea and then explains how to implement. Each author then presents hints and tips, pitfalls and a wrap-up. This manual covers a lot and might just answer some nagging questions you’ve had.

playful-designPlayful Design: Creating Game Experiences in Everyday Interfaces by John Ferrera
Playful Design explores ways to make conventional experiences into games. Although it was written for the user experience crowd, there’s a lot to learn and apply to the design of learning experiences. The chapters are organized into three sections: the thinking behind playful thinking, designing game experiences and playful design in user experience.

There’s a lot here for people in our industry to chew on. For starters, author John Ferrera explains motivations for game play that go beyond just having fun. He also covers: making games meaningful, how to develop a game concept, player interactions, game prototypes and playtesting. There are even chapters on Games for Learning, Designing Persuasive Games (think: attitudinal change) and How Games are Changing. Nice! Stay tuned for a podcast interview coming up with John Ferrera.

Brainy Books

socialSocial: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect by Matthew D. Lieberman
Relevant to the theory and application of social learning, this book helps us understand the compelling human need for connection. Not only do people have a need for social contact, we have the ability to mentalize, or to understand and predict the minds of others.

The author reviews evidence for the Social Brain Hypothesis. The theory states that the large size of the human brain exists for the capacity to connect and cooperate with one another. This allows us to live in groups, which increases our chances for survival. Through alliances and friendships, we can overcome the downside of living in a group (competition), while the advantages are emphasized.

Through this lens, he turns Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs on its head and shows how social pain is similar to physical pain. Now imagine how the social brain can be leveraged to improve education and training. Rather than thinking of social interaction as a distraction, it can be a centerpiece of learning. I’d love to interview him someday. Matthew are you out there?

soft-wiredSoft-wired: How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life by Dr. Michael Merzenich, PhD
I picked up this book after hearing a fascinating interview with professor, author and scientist, Michael Merzenich on the Brain Science Podcast. I needed more. There is a lot of speculation about how our brains are hard-wired for visuals, stories and social connections (see above). But not enough chatter about how we can leverage brain plasticity for a rich and fulfilling life.

In Soft-Wired, Dr. Merzenich presents a compelling case against the traditional belief that the human brain is immutably wired during the early years of life. This book demystifies decades of brain plasticity research. Although you may find the brain aging process he describes as pessimistic, the book ultimately provides an evidence-based optimistic perspective on how the brain is continually revising itself. Later chapters provide practical guidance on maintaining brain fitness and sharpness throughout your lifetime.

Books with a Visual Focus

sketchnote-handbookThe Sketchnote Handbook: The Illustrated Guide to Visual Note Taking by Mike Rohde
Go to conferences and read blog posts from attendees and you’ll see the trend in our industry for visual note taking. It’s a great skill to have for more than notes.

Imagine you’re at a meeting and your client or boss doesn’t get the concept that you are attempting to communicate. You take out your pad and pencil and quickly mark up your ideas in rudimentary but clear sketches. Suddenly everyone understands! This is another advantage of learning how to make shorthand sketches.

The whole book is illustrated, making for a fun and lively reading experience. Mike is another one of those true believers that everyone can sketch. If you can make marks, you can learn to draw. You can download a free chapter of The Sketchnote Handbook here.

doodle-revolutionThe Doodle Revolution: Unlock the Power to Think Differently by Sunni Brown
If you don’t think doodling is an important skill, you probably haven’t bumped into author Sunni Brown, who has been leading the charge for years. Research shows that doodling helps people make mental breakthroughs and innovate, yet we have an educational system that tells kids to stop doodling.

And similar to the Sketchnotes book above, doodling gets you comfortable with and helps you improve your sketch skills, an important business communication skill. I think one reviewer summed it up perfectly, “Don’t be fooled. This is a carefully hidden book about drawing for business people that believe they can’t draw and don’t want to even mess with it. Very clever Sunni.”

digital-design-essentialsDigital Design Essentials: 100 Ways to Design Better Desktop, Web, and Mobile Interfaces by Rajesh Lal
Rajesh Lal organizes this hefty book around patterns found in graphical user interface design. He then presents best practices, design guidelines and user experience rules for each pattern. The book covers all types of products, from desktop to mobile to touchscreen.

You may be particularly interested in the web page UI because websites will probably become more important for use in performance support. And the mobile section is important for the same reason. For example, some of the user interface examples covered in the mobile section include: Mobile Web App, Mobile Website, Information App, Mobile Game App, Augmented Reality App, Mobile Search and Voice User Interface. This is a good reference and may provide inspiration for approaches to eLearning interfaces.

show-and-tellShow and Tell: How Everybody Can Make Extraordinary Presentations by Dan Roam
Dan Roam is a visual communication expert and author of the now famous, Back of the Napkin (see my review). This book caught my eye because of the author’s reputation and reviews, where it is highly recommended.

Show and Tell covers concepts that are applicable to learning experience design: the three rules of show and tell. These are: (1) Lead with the truth and the heart will follow. (2) Lead with a story and understanding will follow. (3) Lead with the eye and the mind will follow. Perhaps the essence of the book is captured in this statement by the author,“If I tell you the truth, if I tell it with a story, and if I tell that story with pictures, I can keep you glued to your seat. Let me show you how.”

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  1. AlanB says

    Interesting that we already have a recent release called Show Your Work from Austin Kleon and that John Stepper is working on a book about working out loud. Getting a bit duplicative.

  2. Connie Malamed says

    Hi Alan,
    You might think it’s duplicative from the titles, but I think that the content is pretty different. Jane Bozarth has the perspective of workplace learning, succession planning and spreading knowledge where as Kleon’s book is more about promotion for creative types, I believe. I haven’t read his but know of his background. You know the old saying, “Don’t judge a book by it’s title.” (I don’t know about the third book.)
    Thanks for your comment.

  3. Randy Matusky says

    I was just thinking about putting together a new list of books to read, but it looks like now I don’t have to. Some of these titles seem really interesting, and I can’t wait to dive into them. Thanks so much Connie!

  4. Connie Malamed says

    I’m so glad this was helpful, Randy. If you think of any others, please come back and share them here. Also, I’d love to see which books you’ve found most helpful.


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