Instructional Design Skill Development

Curated Resources

What resources help L&D professionals deepen their skills and keep their fingers on the pulse of the field?

A curated list of developmental resources for instructional designers.

I facilitate the instructional design course for several graduate programs in human resource development, and I’ve taught intense workshops on the topic as well. In these courses, my students learn the key processes and decision points in designing learning approaches that run the gamut from traditional classroom or online modules to developmental approaches that involve curation, social learning, experiential learning, and other less structured techniques.

But instructional design can’t really be learned in one course, even with the benefit of a robust application project to test out new skills. As we are wrapping up, students often ask what’s next – they want to know some strategies for deepening their skills and staying up to date.

This page is my response to that query. There are no additional courses or training programs on this list, but I have highlighted resources that I think take the discussions we’ve had to the next level along with the people and organizations instructional designers would do well to follow. (Note: If you’ve not taken a core course on instructional design, I recommend that as a starting place to give you the core concepts and practices that are the foundation of the work.)

To my mind, one of the attractions of a career in instructional design is that you can spend a lifetime in the field and not reach the full depth and breadth of what is possible. Our tools and techniques are ever evolving, and every project has its own nuances and challenges. The resources here share words of wisdom that will help you to expand your perspective and develop your design skills.

Elegant, effective design is born out of both discipline and art. And I hope instructional design brings you the same joy it brings me.

If you would like support planning your own professional development or devising training and development for your team on core instructional design skills, contact me to discuss options.

Curated Resources

“What we become depends on what we read after all the professors have finished with us. The greatest university of all is a collection of books.”     ~ Thomas Carlyle

  • Design for How People Learn by Julie Dirksen  (New Riders, 2nd ed, 2016)
    A highly readable text full of evidence-based recommendations for structuring learning activities.
  • Designing for Modern Learning by Crystal Kadakia and Lisa M.D. Owens (ATD Press 2020)
    Offers a model for designing learning strategies that encompass formal training along with social, experiential, and digital resources.
  • The Successful Virtual Classroom by Darlene Christopher (Harper Collins, 2014)
    Provides an overview of virtual classroom functionality and techniques and an overarching method for crafting an online event.
  • Blended Learning by Jennifer Hoffman (ATD Press, 2018)
    Describes effective ways to structure learning events that combine multiple formats.
  • The Gamification of Learning and Instruction by Karl M. Kapp (Wiley, 2012)
    An excellent explanation of how to apply engaging elements and characteristics of games to the design of learning events and components, whether or not you create an actual game. Full of research on what works and why.
  • See also: Curated resources on the Art of Design and Design Thinking
  • Real World Instructional Design by Kathleen Cennamo and Debby Kalk (2nd Routledge, 2019)
    Describes a process that is intentionally iterative and that incorporates key practices of design thinking and blended learning design. My current favorite ID text.
  • Agile for Instructional Designers by Megan Torrance (ATD Press, 2019)
    A practical description of applying agile methodologies to instructional design from one who has plenty of experience to share.
  • The eLearning Designer’s Handbook by Tim Slade (CreateSpace, 2018)
    Specifically written for new elearning designers, this book demystifies the process and gives plenty of practical tips.
  • Leaving ADDIE for SAM by Michael Allen (ASTD Press, 2012)
    Often applied to elearning design, the successive approximation method (SAM) describes iteration cycles as conceived and stress-tested by Allen Interactive, a leader in elearning design since the concept was invented.
  • Consulting in Uncertainty by Ann K. Brooks and Kathy Edwards (Routledge, 2014)
    An important read on the role of the consultant. Describes and advocate for the kind of ongoing collaboration with clients that is highlighted by design thinking practices.
  • The Trusted Advisor by David H. Maister, Charles H. Green and Robert M. Galford (Touchstone, 2000)
    Classic text on developing deeper relationships with clients.
  • A Guide to Assessing Needs by Ryan Watkins, Maurya West Meiers, and Yusra Laila Visser (The World Bank, 2012) Available online here.
    A practical handbook with advice about devising a data-gathering strategy and about designing and implementing specific techniques for inquiry and later analysis.
  • The Performance Consultant’s Fieldbook by Judith Hale (2nd Pfeiffer, 2010)
    My favorite reference on the practice of performance analysis which describes what to look for in the environment, how to address challenges you may find, and how to engage effectively as a consultant.
  • Idea-Based Learning by Edmund J. Hansen  (Stylus, 2011)
    A backwards design process for higher education, starting with the identification of a “big idea” and crafting structure and activities with that always at the forefront.
  • Teaching in Blended Learning Environments by Norman D. Vaughan, Martha Cleveland-Innes, and D. Randy Garrison (AU Press, 2013)
    Describes the community of inquiry framework that has been proven to be effective in online learning environments.
  • Culturally Inclusive Instructional Design, by Charlotte Nirmalani Gunawardena, Casey Frachette, and Ludmila Layne (Routledge, 2019)
    Provides guidance for building “online wisdom communities” – deep learning communities in an online environment.
  • 101 Ways to Make Training Active, edited by Elain Biech (Wiley, 2015) and
    101 More Ways to Make Learning Active Beyond the Classroom, edited by Elain Biech (Wiley, 2015)
    Excellent inspiration and practical tips to stimulate your own creativity.
  • Interact and Engage! By Kassy Laborie and Tom Stone (ATD Press, 2015)
    General advice plus specific activity frameworks.
  • Adding Some Tec-Variety by Curtis J. Bonk and Elaine Khoo (Open World Books, 2014) Online free here.
    Terrific compendium of ideas for online learning, including notes on what makes them work.
  • The Extended Mind by Annie Murhpy Paul (Mariner Books, 2021)
    An excellent exploration into how we use non-neural (outside the brain) resources for learning, with plenty of good advice on how to improve your thinking.
  • Evidence Informed Learning Design by Mirjam Neelen and Paul A Kirschner (Kogan Page, 2020)
    Contains both general tips for validating and interpreting research claims and overviews of evidence-based practices.
  • Adult Learning by Sharan B. Merriam and Laura L. Bierema (Jossey-Bass, 2014)
    Textbook overviewing key learning theories and practices including self-directed learning, experiential learning, and transformative learning.
  • Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences edited by R. Keith Sawyer (2nd Cambridge, 2014)
    A collection of articles on key learning and teaching concepts and techniques. Solid reference.
  • Driving Performance Through Learning by Andy Lancaster (Kogan Page, 2020)
    Practical advice on implementing and benefitting from a wide range of learning techniques.
  • Workplace Learning by Nigel Paine (Kogan Page, 2019)
    Shares key theories and concepts around developing a learning culture.
  • Foundations of Talent Development by Elaine Biech (ATD Press, 2018)
    The crash course in talent development practices.
  • TD Magazine – Member magazine from ATD
  • CTDO – member magazine from aTD
  • Learning Solutions – online journal from Learning Guild
  • eLearning Industry – online journal
  • HRD Review – Academic publication from the Academy of HRD, often features very good literature review articles (requires AHRD membership or academic database access)
  • CLO Magazine – publication of CLO Media

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” ~ Isaac Newton

The L&D community on Twitter is quite robust, and you’ll get a window into what others are discussing by following prominent professionals and peers. Here I offer just a baker’s dozen professionals as a starting place for your L&D list on Twitter.

“But what makes our field – and any other field – extraordinarily complicated in practice is the additive and often exponential nature of accumulated knowledge as a field matures.”  ~ Jon Kolko

To be effective in a learning and development role requires mastering multiple skill sets. Many of us have hyphenated job roles even when those are not reflected in our official job titles. This makes building a capability map for our field quite complicated. That job has been tackled by both the Association for Talent Development and the Learning and Performance Institute, and the resultant knowledge and skill sets reflect the full range of L&D efforts. These may help you to consider your own capabilities – the areas in which you want to go deep and the areas that provide broader context for your work. Both groups have online assessments so you can see where your own strengths may lie.

The International Board of Standards for Training, Performance and Instruction ( ibstpi®) is a not-for-profit corporation that taps experts in the field to set standards for training, performance and instruction.

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Last updated: April 30, 2020 by Catherine Lombardozzi
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