12+ Books for Instructional Designers

If you’re looking for some reading to improve your skills or get started in the field of instructional design, check out these books.
ID books

General Instructional Design and E-Learning

Design For How People Learn (now in its second edition) by Julie Dirksen is one of my favorite books in the field. I’ve recommended it many times. It’s easy to read and understand. It makes research about learning accessible in ways you can apply immediately. The illustrations are charming and reinforce the concepts well. Read my review for more details.
The Accidental Instructional Designer by Cammy Bean is especially good for career changers and those who landed in instructional design from other fields. It provides a model for the range of skills that fall under the umbrella of “instructional design.” It includes practical tips on topics such as working with SMEs and avoiding “clicky clicky bling bling” or flashy interactivity and multimedia for the sake of being flashy. The design models in chapter 4 are probably familiar to many with experience in the field but very helpful to beginners who want to do more than just the same type of course and interaction for every situation.

Designing Successful e-Learning by Michael Allen tells you to “Forget What You Know About Instructional Design and Do Something Interesting.” All of Allen’s books are focused on helping people design e-learning that is interactive, engaging, and useful.

e-Learning and the Science of Instruction by Ruth Clark and Richard Mayer is one of the first books on e-learning I bought, and I still refer to it when I need evidence to justify decisions to clients. If you’ve ever wondered if formal or conversational style is better for learning (conversational) or if your on-screen text should replicate what’s on the screen (no, it shouldn’t), this book explains it with the research to back it up. It’s not perfect; the authors do sometimes disregard research that contradicts their own findings, and they sometimes make their principles seem more absolute than they probably are in real life. However, it’s still a solid reference.
First Principles of Instruction: Identifying and Designing Effective, Efficient and Engaging Instructionis David Merrill’s effort to distill the common principles from multiple instructional design theories. A shorter, earlier explanation of these principles is available as a free PDF.

Games and Scenario-Based Learning

The Gamification of Learning and Instruction by Karl Kapp explains how to do more with gamification than just badges and points. Karl summarizes research and game theory and explains how substantive elements of games like narrative can be used to improve learning design. I wrote more about this gamification research previously.
Scenario-based e-Learning by Ruth Clark is similar to eLearning and the Science of Instruction in that it summarizes research findings. This book is specifically focused on developing scenario-based e-learning, including everything from simple branching scenarios to complex simulations.

Learning Communities

Building Online Learning Communities by Rena Palloff and Keith Pratt is aimed more at online instructors than instructional designers, but it’s a wonderful resource for IDs working in higher education or supporting online and blended learning communities.
Digital Habitats: Stewarding Technology for Communities by Etienne Wenger, Nancy White, and John Smith is about how technology can enable communities of practice.

Other Topics

Learning Everywhere by Chad Udell is a fantastic resource on mobile learning, providing everything from a big picture view of broad categories of mobile learning to specific technical considerations and pitfalls. You can read my review of the book for more details.
Show Your Work by Jane Bozarth is full of visuals and explains how to “show your work” by sharing what you’re doing and learning using social tools. The book explains the benefits of creating a culture where people share their processes and discoveries.
Now updated to E-Learning Uncovered: Adobe Captivate 9, which I’m sure is just as good as the last edition. E-Learning Uncovered: Adobe Captivate 8 by Diane Elkins, Desiree Pinder, and Tim Slade sat on my desk for multiple weeks because I used it so often that it wasn’t worth bothering to put it back on the shelf. This book was an immense help to me in learning Captivate 8. I’m sure their other books on Storyline 2, Lectora, etc. are equally valuable.

More Reading Lists

I received so many great suggestions after posting this list that I posted 20+ More Books for Instructional Designers.
If that’s not enough, these reading lists will give you additional ideas.

Your Selections

Did I miss one of your favorite books? Leave a comment with your suggestions.

31 thoughts on “12+ Books for Instructional Designers”

  1. Hi Christy,
    thanks a lot for this handpicked collection.
    Would you add any new books published since then?
    And are there any online learning resources you would recommend?

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      1. Hi Christy – just wondering if you ever had a chance to look at our book, Streamlined ID. We are in the process of compiling the second, expanded edition and any feedback you might have would be greatly appreciated!
        Miriam Larson

  8. Hi Christy!
    What could make us all more passionate than books?! A great idea to post a booklist– we graduate students just can’t seem to get enough. I am taking an ID course with Dr. Steve Villachica at BSU this semester, and we have been discussing what additional books (apart from our reading lists) would be good for our shelves.
    Here’s one I’m planning to read when I’ve got a minute:
    Adlin, T., & Pruitt, J., (2010). The Essential Persona Lifecycle: Your Guide to Building and Using Personas. Burlington, MA: Morgan Kaufmann.
    I attended a webinar on how BSU librarians had used personas to help them address their learning audience, and I was really intrigued by the idea. Thought you might find it fun if you hadn’t seen this book yet.

    1. Thanks for the recommendation! I have seen the power of personas, and I have used them a little, but I admit that I’m not very systematic about them. It looks like that book would help me be more intentional about personas.
      You might also be interested in Natalie Laderas-Kilkenny’s explanation of how they used user personas to create a more usable learning site. This post includes her slides from a presentation explaining their process. Natalie has done a lot more with personas than me, so if you’re interested in that topic, she’s a good source.

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  11. Thank you for including my article on First Principles of Instruction. Are you aware of my new book First Principles of Instruction: Identifying and Designing Effective, Efficient and Engaging Instruction?

  12. I’d recommend adding texts/resources that address Learning Design and not just Instructional Design. These include my own work (Design Alchemy) as well as Biggs & Tang (their work on Constructive Alignment) and The Open University (UK – the OULDI Project).

  13. Hi Christy,
    I like your list. I’m in the midst of reviewing some books for a list too, including a few on user interface/user experience. Anyway, I love book lists. So thanks.

    1. Connie, I had a forehead-slapping moment yesterday when I realized I’d left your book off my list. Sorry about that! I’m planning a follow up post so I can include that and some of the other suggestions I’ve heard from others.

  14. I always look for new books in Instructional Design, so your list is very helpful. Thank you very much for putting it together! I recently bought and read Marina Arshavskiy’s Instructional Design for ELearning book and liked it a lot. It is very practical and well-written book. I will definitely keep using it after I graduate.

  15. I’m curious if you have read, or heard feedback from others on, the book: “ISD From the Ground Up: A No-Nonsense Approach to Instructional Design” by Chuck Hodell? This is the textbook for an upcoming Instructional Design class I’m taking. thanks!

    1. I’m not familiar with it, but the feedback on Amazon and Goodreads is mostly positive. It’s clearly popular at UMBC. From the reviews, it sounds like it is a fairly practical book that you’ll keep using even after you graduate–something that can’t be said for all your textbooks, I’m sure. Come back after your class and let me know what you think!

  16. Great list! Design for how people learn would be on the top of my list as well. I would add The Art of Explanation. As we create leaner and quicker learning experiences, being able to distill content is a skill that is indispensable. Thanks again!

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