Category: Instructional Design

40+ Instructional Design and eLearning Books

If your New Year’s Resolution is to read more books, you’ve found the right post. This is a compilation and update of my previous book list and review posts.

40+ Instructional Design and eLearning Books

Instructional Design

Design For How People Learn 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.

Training Design Basics by Saul Carliner is a perfect book for people just getting started in the field, especially those who are current students or are switching to instructional design or training from another career. Read my full review about this practical book.

Performance-Focused Smile Sheets by Will Thalheimer explains why most of our training evaluations don’t provide useful data and explains how to fix it. Read my  review of Performance-Focused Smile Sheets.

First Principles of Instruction: Identifying and Designing Effective, Efficient and Engaging Instruction is 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.

ISD From the Ground Up: A No-Nonsense Approach to Instructional Design by Chuck Hodell was suggested by Phrodeo, who is using it as a textbook in a course she’s taking.

Marina Arshavskiy’s Instructional Design for ELearning was recommended by another student, Alisa, who says “I will definitely keep using it after I graduate.”

Design Alchemy: Author Roderick Sims suggested that I include “texts/resources that address Learning Design and not just Instructional Design” such as his own book.

Streamlined ID: A Practical Guide to Instructional Design: Miriam Larson suggested her book, co-authored with Barbara Lockee. This book was positively reviewed in Education Review.

eLearning and Blended Learning

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.

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.

Although I have several of Michael Allen’s books, I haven’t read Leaving ADDIE for SAM yet. Several people recommended that (including some who said they wished their organizations would pay more attention to it and move to a more agile approach).

William Horton’s e-Learning by Design is Nahla Anwer Aly’s favorite book in the field. I read it a number of years ago. Although I don’t refer back to it as often as some of my other books, it’s a strong selection, especially for those early in their careers.

Patti Shank’s The Online Learning Idea Book, Volume 1 and Volume Two: Proven Ways to Enhance Technology-Based and Blended Learning have lots of inspiration. Even though it was published in 2007, I still pull out the first volume sometimes when I’m stuck for ideas.

Learning and Psychology Research

Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning is geared more towards teachers and professors or those interested in the psychology of how we learn rather than specifically aimed at instructional designers. The authors have done an amazing job of reviewing, summarizing, and organizing dozens of studies about how we learn. As instructional designers, we often work hard to make learning easier, but the research shows that “desirable difficulties” can actually increase learning. I do wish the book had some visuals to help explain the concepts. As an instructional designer, especially one who develops self-paced e-learning, you’ll need to reflect on your own about how to apply these ideas to your work. Most of the examples are from classrooms, either academic or corporate.

Richard Mayer’s Applying the Science of Learning was recommended by Clare Dygert, who says, “If you want to create e-learning that works the way a human brain wants it to work, read this book!”

Urban Myths about Learning and Education was positively reviewed by Will Thalheimer. My one caution with this book is that Paul Kirschner is one of the authors, and he has shown some (in my opinion) irrational bias against discovery learning, project-based learning, and constructivism in the past. Based on Thalheimer’s review, it sounds like Kirschner is more nuanced in this book, noting situations where the methods he previously labeled as “failures” do, in fact, have benefits. (For a balanced review of Kirschner’s previous attack piece on constructivism, see Don Clark’s review five years after its publication.)

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck is about growth and fixed mindsets and how the way we praise people affects their success. This book would be especially of value to teachers and those working in higher education.

John Medina’s Brain Rules was recommended by one of my readers, and I’ve heard these principles mentioned by a number of others in the field. I’m a little cautious about neuroscience claims; I’m not sure that the research is as solid as it is sometimes conveyed. However, I know many people have gotten excited about Medina’s work.

Daniel Pink’s Drive explains three principles of motivation that go deeper than just rewards and punishments: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. More money won’t always motivate behavior change (in fact, sometimes it might be counterproductive). Helping people improve their skills can be even more motivating, and that’s certainly part of what we should be doing as instructional designers.

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die is about why some stories and ideas are memorable while others aren’t. Robert Beck says, “Its principles are ones that I often turn to for reminders of how to make learning more compelling and memorable.”

Visual Design

Connie Malamed’s Visual Design Solutions is great for all of those of us who need to communicate visually in our e-learning but lack the formal training on how to do so. Unlike a lot of visual design books out there, this is focused specifically on visual design for learning. Read my full review of Visual Design Solutions.

Connie’s previous book, Visual Language for Designers, was helpful to me in learning about the fundamentals of visual design.

The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman isn’t a visual design book, but a user design book about the psychology of how we interact with objects. This book is a frequent recommendation for IDs interested in improving the usability of their courses.

Performance Consulting

Analyzing Performance Problems: Or, You Really Oughta Wanna–How to Figure out Why People Aren’t Doing What They Should Be, and What to do About It was recommended by Mike Taylor, who also recommended the next selection.

Dana and Jim Robinson’s Performance Consulting was also recommended. Mike says neither of these books is very recent, but they have remained relevant.

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.

Software Specific

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.

Articulate Storyline Essentials and Mastering Articulate Storyline by Ashley Chiasson take you from start to finish with Storyline projects, including advanced interactions and creative techniques.

Consulting

Joel Gendelman’s Consulting Basics was a critical resource for me when I made the leap from being an employee to being a freelance instructional designer. I regularly recommend this book to people who are just getting started in the freelance world or hoping to make the switch. The tips are very practical and concrete, and my own consulting agreements borrow heavily from the examples provided in this book. This book is focused on freelance training and training design work.

Peter Block’s Flawless Consulting is currently in my to-read stack. This was recommended as a resource for treating consulting as a business and building better relationships with my clients.

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. You can now download the ebook for free.

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.

The Art of Explanation by Lee LeFever of Common Craft explains how to make information easier to understand. This was suggested by Luis Flores, who says, “As we create leaner and quicker learning experiences, being able to distill content is a skill that is indispensable.”

TED Talks Storytelling: 23 Storytelling Techniques from the Best TED Talks was also recommended by Robert Beck. He says, “If IDs keep in mind the elements of a powerful story and how to deliver a spellbinding presentation to an audience, they’ll likely design an effective training product.”

The Essential Persona Lifecycle by Adlin and Pruitt was recommended by Ieva Swanson. I have seen examples of personas used effectively for different projects, including creating a learning portal. This isn’t an area I personally know much about, but I can see the value in exploring it further.

Your Selections

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

Image: Colorful Stack of Books in Library from GraphicStock.com

I use Amazon affiliate links when I recommend books. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but a small percentage is returned to me when you purchase a book from my links.

3 Tricks for Working with SMEs on Branching Scenarios

If you’ve ever worked with a SME on scenario-based learning, you know it can sometimes be challenging. SMEs who are accustomed to working on traditional elearning may be uncomfortable or unsure how to help you write scenarios. I have used these 3 tricks to help SMEs get “unstuck” while working together.

Working with SMEs on Branching Scenarios

Ask for Their Stories

SMEs almost always have a collection of good stories about their topic. The trick is figuring out how to get those stories out of their heads and into a format you can use in a course.

Try these questions to gather for stories and consequences:

  • Can you give me an example of how someone used this technique successfully? What were they able to accomplish by doing it right?
  • What are the common mistakes people make? What happens when they make that error?

You may have to keep probing for more details with follow up questions like, “Tell me more about…” or “What happened next?”

The questions above give both positive and negative examples, plus the consequences for actions. The success story can become the outline for the correct path in your branching scenario. The mistakes help you identify the decision points in your scenario and the consequences following those choices.

Start Writing Even If It’s Wrong

Sometimes it’s hard to get anything from a SME. We’ve all worked with SMEs who were too busy to get on the phone or sit down for a meeting, or who replied to all of our questions with one- or two-word answers. I worked with one SME whose thought processes are so linear that she literally couldn’t read a flow chart unless someone physically sat next to her and pointed at each box while explaining it.

For whatever reason, if you’re having trouble drawing information out from a SME, start writing something yourself. Do your research–review existing training materials, online articles, books, blogs, etc. Make your best guess and start writing a scenario as best you can. The trick is, it doesn’t matter if it’s wrong. At this stage, you’re just trying to get something other than a blank page. Ask the SME to review it and point out all your errors. Even a recalcitrant SME will have a hard time not correcting your mistakes–and now you suddenly have more realistic mistakes or consequences.

Prototype Early

SMEs frequently have a hard time envisioning how a storyboard will translate into a final product. Creating a prototype early helps them see how everything will work and how learners will progress through the scenario.

No matter how hard you work on the storyboard, even with multiple rounds of revision and a final approval, expect at least some small changes once the scenario is built and functioning. Build a few iterations into your project plan. An early prototype helps catch major problems before you build the entire scenario. If your SME is stuck, a prototype of part of the scenario might help them see how to fill in the gaps for the rest of the scenario.

Your Tricks?

Do you have a great trick for working with SMEs on branching scenarios? Tell me about it in the comments!

Read More

Read all my posts about Storytelling and Scenario-Based Learning.

A Range of Options for Scenarios and Storytelling

When someone mentions scenario-based learning, do you automatically think of complex branching scenarios? While that’s one way to implement scenarios (and a very effective one!), I don’t think it’s the only option. A range of options are available, from passive to active. Even if you can’t convince your organization to invest in full-blown branching, you can find less intensive alternatives to incorporate scenarios and storytelling. Some of these options can work for both elearning and instructor-led training. In fact, you may already be using some of these methods.

Scenario-Based Learning Options from passive to active

Provided Examples

When I take instructor-led courses, often the most valuable part of the training is the stories the trainer tells. The stories are often about how a real person applied this training in their jobs or about how a failure to apply principles caused problems. Stories with examples make the abstract concrete. It’s one thing to talk about customizing footers in Word; it’s another to tell the story of a past student who manually typed in page numbers for a 400+ page document because she didn’t know how to make it work. (That is a real example from my software training days. In her defense, it wasn’t straightforward numbering. Do you know how to add chapter numbers and how to exclude the first page from the count?)

Examples are the most passive method of using scenarios and storytelling, but they still work. They can be used both in classroom training and elearning. Examples can make concepts relevant, show why a topic is important, or show how others have solved problems.

Mini-Scenarios

Mini-scenarios, or one-question scenario assessments, are slightly more active than just listening to an example. Set up a short scenario and ask learners a multiple choice question. I frequently use this technique with clients who are just dipping their toes in scenario-based learning but aren’t ready to jump into full-blown branching or simulations. You can use this technique for practice or assessment, even in a linear elearning course. In ILT, use a scenario to pose a question to the class. Ask which choice they would make with a show of hands.

Here’s an example:

Andrew is a sales manager who has been struggling to motivate his team. He sent his team to a workshop where they learned about sharing stories about previous happy customers to improve sales. A few salespeople really like using this technique, but he wants everyone to start using it more. In the long term, he wants to change their attitudes about the technique.

What should Andrew do to encourage his team?

  1. Threaten punishment for anyone not using storytelling
  2. Offer a small reward for using storytelling
  3. Offer a large reward for using storytelling

Two Narrators with Decisions

Rather than using a single narrator for elearning voice over, you can use two narrators having a conversation to deliver content. Set up a story where one character has a problem to solve, and a more experienced character mentors and trains the first character how to improve. This is still mostly passive delivery, but it’s more engaging than traditional elearning. Adding a few questions where learners help the narrator solve a problem makes it more active and lets learners practice in a realistic context.

Pamela and Michael discussing coaching

Case Study with Practice

If a case study is just read, it’s a passive example. If you use the case study as a prompt for practice, it’s more active. Case studies are used in both ILT and elearning. They can be used to start discussions (either in person or online) or for group work.

Branching Scenarios

Branching scenarios are one of the most active methods of using scenarios for learning, short of simulations and serious games. Branching lets learners make choices and see the consequences of their actions. It gives them a safe space to fail and learn from mistakes.

Role Play or Simulation

Role play exercises and simulations are some of the most active ways to use storytelling. Simulations and role plays are more immersive and open-ended. Learners must make multiple decisions, and feedback comes in the forms of consequences and may be delayed. Role play exercises require skilled facilitation to keep everything running smoothly and to debrief afterwards. Simulations require more intensive development and resources. Both of these tools can be very effective at practicing skills to improve job performance.

What Else?

What did I forget from my list? How are you using storytelling in your courses? Which of these methods do you find works best for your audience?

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Consider 4 Cs in Scenario-Based Learning

When I create scenarios for learning, I keep these four elements in mind: characters, context, challenge, and consequences.

Characters

4 Cs of Scenarios: Characters, Context, Challenge, and Consequences

The main character of your scenario who drives the action should generally be someone similar to your learners. Even if the main character isn’t named and the scenario is in second person (What do you do next?), the role of that character should be familiar to your learners. Give your main character a goal that aligns to the learning objectives and that your learners share.

The other people your main character interacts with should be typical and mostly realistic, with perhaps a little exaggeration. If you’re doing customer service training, think about the different types of customers employees interact with. If you’re creating manager training, the other characters might be employees and coworkers.

Context

The context is the background for the situation. This is often implied by the training, especially if the scenario is part of a larger course. The context isn’t just shared with words. When you add a photo background for a scenario, you show learners the context rather than telling them. Your learners’ work environment should match this context. It’s easier to transfer learning to a similar situation than one that’s radically different.

A hospital room on the left; comfy chairs in a corporate lobby on the right
These two backgrounds provide very different contexts for scenarios.

Challenge

Your characters face challenges in the scenario. Those are the points where learners have to make a decision or take an action. The challenges are where the learning happens. Think about the frequent obstacles: faulty technology, impatient customers, or a limited budget. Common mistakes are good challenges to include. If sales associates often forget to provide a recommendation at a specific point in the sales process, include that point in the scenario. Give learners a choice to make a recommendation or not. You might also include challenges that happen less often but are critical to address correctly. Sales associates won’t often have to deal with a customer so angry that they threaten violence, but it’s important to know how to handle that volatile situation.

Consequences

Especially in branching scenarios, the feedback should be part of the scenario rather than something you just tell them. A customer gets angry, a patient refuses to follow your recommendations, the technology continues to malfunction, or you run out of budget two months before your project is finished. Show learners the consequences of their mistakes rather than just telling them. You might also provide coaching or instructional feedback, especially for novice learners, but don’t neglect the consequences of their actions.

While this isn’t a complete list of everything you need for scenarios, these are elements I see people omit or downplay. Which of these four elements do you find most challenging to incorporate into your scenarios?

More Reading

Interested in reading more? Check out all my posts on storytelling and scenarios.

This is post number 1000 on my blog! Thanks for reading!

Book Review: Performance-Focused Smile Sheets

On a scale from 1 to 5, how useful are your current level 1 evaluations or “smile sheets”?

  1. Completely worthless
  2. Mostly worthless
  3. Not too bad
  4. Mostly useful
  5. Extremely useful

Chances are, your training evaluations aren’t very helpful. How much useful information do you really get from those forms? If you know that one of your courses is averaging a 3.5 and another course is averaging a 4.2, what does that really mean? Do these evaluations tell you anything about employee performance?

Personally, I’ve always been a little disappointed in my training evaluations, but I never really knew how to make them better. In the past, I’ve relied on standard questions used in various organizations that I’ve seen over my career, with mixed results. Will Thalheimer’s book Performance-Focused Smile Sheets changes that by giving guidelines and example questions for effective evaluations.

smile_sheets

Raise your hand if most of your evaluation questions use Likert scales. I’ve always used them too, but Thalheimer shows in the book how we can do much better. After all, how much difference is there between “mostly agree” and “strongly agree” or other vaguely worded scales? What’s an acceptable answer–is “mostly agree” enough, or is only “strongly agree” a signal of a quality course?

The book starts with several chapters of background and research, including how evaluation results should correspond to the “four pillars of training effectiveness.” Every question in your evaluation should lead to some action you can take if the results aren’t acceptable. After all, what’s the point of including questions if the results don’t tell you something useful?

The chapter of sample questions with explanations of why they work and how you might adapt them is highly useful. I will definitely pull out these examples again the next time I write an evaluation. There’s even a chapter on how to present results to stakeholders.

One of the most interesting chapters is the quiz, where you’re encouraged to write in the book. Can you identify what makes particular questions effective or ineffective? I’d love to see him turn this book into an interactive online course using the questions in that quiz.

I highly recommend this book if you’re interested in creating evaluations that truly work for corporate training and elearning. If you’re in higher education, the book may still be useful, but you’d have to adapt the questions since the focus is really on performance change rather than long-term education.

The book is available on Amazon and on SmileSheets.com. If you need a discount for buying multiple copies of the book, use the second link.

 

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