Do you want to improve your eLearning skills by cozying up with a nice instructional design book (or five)?
The five instructional design books in this article will help you create top-notch eLearning that grabs attention and produces results.
Some of these books have had a significant impact on my instructional design practice, and I imagine that the same will hold true for you.
On top of making you a better instructional designer, these books will give you the knowledge and theory you need to critique designs and help other designers improve.
One more thing before we get started — this article includes affiliate links. Using them will help support me and the content on this site.
Let’s dive into the books!
Map It by Cathy Moore is, hands down, one of the best instructional design books that you can get your hands on.
In it, Cathy Moore tackles one of the biggest issues plaguing our field — infodump training that doesn’t help people perform their jobs better (and, in effect, wastes everyone’s time).
The way that she tackles this issue is extremely engaging — the prose is rich with witticisms and examples — and she doesn’t just talk about the issue.
Instead, Cathy Moore gives a clear, actionable approach, called action mapping, that you can use with your clients and stakeholders to shift the focus to what’s important: human behavior.
She covers both the soft skills and hard skills that you need to pull off action mapping successfully.
This will help you design eLearning only when it helps improve performance, and it will ensure that the eLearning you design is instantly more approachable, effective, and engaging.
Reading this book after being in the industry for a year or two, I felt like Cathy Moore gave words to many of the feelings and issues that I was grappling with. Map It gave me a clear path forward, and it was a breath of fresh air having read the book when I did.
So, if you’re in the corporate or freelance instructional design space, then I’d consider this book a must-read.
Cathy Moore also has great action mapping content on her website, but, in my opinion, Map It is much more cohesive, actionable, and engaging.
Want to learn more about action mapping before buying the book? Watch the live Q&A event replay with Cathy Moore.
Visual design is one of the most overlooked skills in eLearning examples and portfolios.
Strong visual design skills make your eLearning stand out in a powerful way — it leads to an end-result that appears more professional, polished, and appealing.
I started developing my visual design skills with The Non-Designer’s Design Book by Robin Williams, and many other instructional designers have done the same.
This book breaks down the four key elements of visual design: contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity. It includes many examples to help drive home the principles.
As you learn more about these principles, apply them to your own designs, and critique other designs with them in mind, you will steadily hone your eye for design.
This is a skill that you can learn, and the book really emphasizes that. It is concise, focused, and example-rich — a perfect book for instructional designers who know that they can improve their visual design skills, but don’t know where to start.
How much does The Non-Designer’s Design Book cost? Check the latest price on Amazon.
e-Learning and the Science of Instruction by Ruth Clark and Richard Mayer dives into the research-backed, science-driven side of eLearning.
The key word when it comes to this book is evidence. Why do we do things this way? What research and theories can inform our design decisions? These are the questions that this book helps answer.
The best part about the book is that it dives into each of the multimedia principles for learning.
Learning these principles (and taking the time to understand the research that gave rise to them), will make you a much more intentional instructional designer...at least when it comes to eLearning.
This book gives you a vocabulary that you can use to critique eLearning from an evidence-based perspective, which is extremely powerful in the current state of our industry.
There are so many false claims and promises about what makes eLearning good or effective, so familiarizing yourself with the research is a great way to stand apart from the competition.
Therefore, if you want to learn the eLearning research (and how to apply it), then you should definitely grab this book.
Michael Allen’s Guide to e-Learning is a classic tome of wisdom for those in the eLearning space. Michael Allen built one of the most successful eLearning companies, and reading this book feels like getting direct insight into what made him and his company so successful.
Like Cathy Moore, Michael Allen has a different perspective on eLearning. He emphasizes that it should be meaningful, memorable, and motivational.
Understanding these three pillars (and truly applying them to your eLearning projects) is a great way to take your eLearning products to the next level.
The book includes many practical examples and guidelines to help you bring your eLearning in the right direction.
Michael Allen also does a great job discussing the cost of boring eLearning, and I’ve used what I learned in this book to have tough conversations with clients about why they may want to make a larger up-front investment to save money in the long run.
You will also find an entire chapter on the Serious eLearning Manifesto — an effort to help the eLearning industry adopt best practices and become more effective overall.
Grab this book if you want direct insight into the mind of one of the biggest names in eLearning.
While I have not yet read Tim Slade’s The eLearning Designer’s Handbook, it comes highly acclaimed and recommended.
In this book, Tim Slade breaks down eLearning design into a simple, step-by-step process that you can follow along from beginning to end.
He also draws on his rich experience serving at the director level for various agencies and corporations...this gives new instructional designers a window into what it’s like on the other side of the hiring table.
Because of this, new instructional designers sing this book’s praises on social media on an almost daily basis. It is clearly having an impact.
If you’re newer to the field and looking to get a strong handle on the eLearning design process from beginning to end, then you should definitely pick this one up.
As you can imagine, reading these five books and applying what you learn is a surefire way to take your eLearning design practice to the next level.
Seriously — if you practice what you learn in these books, then it will definitely show in your work. The people who take your eLearning will thank you!
If you have any questions about the book, or if you just want to join a community of like-minded peers, then you should join the instructional design community.
See you there!