If there is any career in which practitioners particularly love to learn, I’d put learning designers high on the list. It’s nearly a requirement for working as a learning designer, considering that we often work with content that others find dry. So, here is my list of best books for instructional designers to read this year. They are not all new, but they’ve all been published in the last few years. I hope you find a few that interest you. For previous lists, see the book lists for 2014 and 2013.
Learning Design Books
The Gamification of Learning and Instruction Fieldbook: Ideas into Practice by Karl Kapp, Lucas Blair and Rich Mesch
This Fieldbook is a follow-up to Karl Kapp’s excellent book, The Gamification of Learning and Instruction (see review here). It is meant to be used while designing, developing, and creating interactive learning experiences like simulations, games, and gamification approaches. The first sections of the Fieldbook cover how to get started, game elements, making a case for your game, game design and game development. The final section has interesting accounts of learning game design and development from people who have accomplished it.
Immersive Learning: Designing for Authentic Practice by Koreen Olbrish Pagano
Immersive Learning presents an outstanding case for replacing page-turner eLearning with designs that emulate real performance environments. These environments take learners beyond mere knowledge acquisition, providing a way to design for “synthesis, skill application, and realistic practice.” Pagano provides a comprehensive immersive learning design process, including how to design and create worlds, user experience considerations, storyboards and user flow, technology, implementation and evaluation. I like the way this book integrates instructional design with the design of a variety of immersive environments.
Rapid Instructional Design: Learning ID Fast and Right by George M. Piskurich.
The purpose of this book is to demonstrate how to “make both the learning and doing of instructional design faster.” If you are new to instructional design and looking for a hefty volume to keep by your side, consider this new updated version. The author covers traditional instructional design basics for a variety of delivery approaches, not just eLearning. In addition to covering the conventional process, some things covered here that you might not find in other ID books include: data collection, cost/benefit analysis, rapid design shortcuts, beta tests and repurposing. There are lots of helpful charts and templates too.
Facilitator’s and Trainer’s Toolkit by Artie Mahal
Interesting how things come full circle. If you’ve spent years concentrating on design for learning technologies, you may not have the skills to facilitate virtual or face-to-face meetings, workshops and classes. This book presents a framework for facilitation, from value proposition to leadership to processes. The author covers ways to: energize and engage participants, use helpful tools, facilitate cross-cultural events, conduct a visual facilitation and more.
Visual and Information Design
Visual Design Solutions by Connie Malamed
I’m excited to list my own book here (coming in April) because I think it will be valuable to the many learning designers who are struggling with the visual design of eLearning and slides. I wrote this for you! It covers being a designer, elements of visual design (space, typography and images), power principles (color, visual hierarchy, unity, contrast and grouping) and a section on practical ways to accomplish visual tasks, such as showing learners where to look, adding excitement and telling stories with visuals. There are lots of concept examples throughout.
Design for Information: An Introduction to the Histories, Theories, and Best Practices Behind Effective Information Visualizations by Isabel Meirelles
Design for Information provides a valuable introduction to and deep analysis of many different types of visualizations. The purpose is to understand the underlying principles that go into effective solutions. Meirelles delves into the historical value, visual elements, perceptual organization and challenges of visualizations, such as hierarchical graphics, relational structures (networks), temporal structures, maps and others. The book is loaded with wonderful examples too. For me, this book is a beautiful visual symphony.
Mastering Mobile Learning by Chad Udell and Gary Woodill
Drawing from their own and the experience of others, Udell and Woodill capture what you will need to know to be successful with mobile learning in your organization. Divided into five sections and 50 chapters, you can imagine how many topics are covered. The first sections focus on mobile for the Enterprise—including lots on strategies. The later sections get into the practical details—covering the variety of mobile experiences, design and development, and managing mobile projects. You can also listen to an informative podcast interview with one of the authors.
Mobile Design Pattern Gallery: UI Patterns for Smartphone Apps by Theresa Neil
The Mobile Design Pattern Gallery will help readers improve the user interface design of mobile support and apps. Neil presents examples of how others solve sticky problems. Imagine a catalog of solutions and ideas. The book not only focuses on UI design, but it has the latest research on real-world usability. You’ll find patterns for navigation, forms, search, and tools. Learning designers may be particularly interested in the patterns for tutorials, feedback, affordance and help. I wish I had this book when I was designing the Instructional Design Guru app.
User Experience/User Interface
Microinteractions: Designing with Details by Dan Saffer
While listening to an interview with this book’s author, I became convinced that it is the small interactions that often make or break the user experience. Yet, how often do we overlook these microinteractions while we design? The book’s overall message is that designers should pay attention to both the big picture (features) and the little details (often within features). To help you with this goal, Saffer introduces a microinteractions model from which you can work—trigger, rules, feedback, and loops and modes. He then devotes a chapter to each component of the model, which personally, I found fascinating. The book concludes with examples and a discussion of prototyping, implementation and testing. There are lots of lessons here for learning designers.
BadAss: Making Users Awesome by Kathy Sierra
The purpose in this book is to blow away the misconceptions of what makes a product outstanding. Sierra teaches that instead of focusing on an awesome product, focus on making awesome users. The principles here relate to all kinds of design, including learning design. And you’ll like the fact that her journey takes you through how to build expertise through the de-automation of skills, the right kind of deliberate practice, and effective pattern discovery. Now what learning designer wouldn’t be interested in this? Thanks to Julie Dirksen of Usable Learning for recommending this book.
A Web for Everyone: Designing Accessible User Experiences by Sarah Horton & Whitney Quesenbery
A Web for Everyone tackles the important topic of web accessibility from a user-centered design approach. The authors use different personas to demonstrate how people with varied abilities access and use the web. Their examples evoke empathy and help readers understand what its like to be online from different perspectives and abilities. They create a convincing case that designing for differences is good design. Fortunately, their principles apply to eLearning as well and should be implemented in everything we produce. I would like to do a podcast interview with these authors.
Designing with the Mind in Mind:Simple Guide to Understanding User Interface Design Guidelines, 2nd Edition by Jeff Johnson
Author, Jeff Johnson, provides a background in perceptual and cognitive psychology that would benefit anyone involved in design. Covering topics such as vision, color, recognition versus recall and brain plasticity, there are many relevant topics here for learning designers. There is even a chapter on the factors that affect learning. In this updated and revised second edition, Johnson also covers attention, how people make decisions and hand-eye coordination.
UI is Communication: How to Design Intuitive, User Centered Interfaces by Focusing on Effective Communication by Everett M. McKay
User interface design is under-studied in learning design, yet it is an important component of a learner’s experience. In this book, McKay focuses on the user interface as a conversation between users and a product to perform tasks that achieve a users’ goals. From this thesis, he explains basic design principles and applies them to user interface design, interaction design and visual design. For example, how the controls in a user interface are presented affects how they are interpreted. The ideas here are intriguing and will make you see UI design in a new light.