Conference season brings with it a special treat for attendees: the onsite bookstore. This is a chance to put your hands on the books likely not found on shelves at your local bookshop: the ones on instructional design, and learning theory, and eLearning in particular (as opposed to some programming language or other).

For those of you new to eLearning, or those who came in through a side door (classroom training or IT), there are several resources that will give you a deep, comprehensive view of things worth knowing, and perhaps help you better situate your work and interests in a bigger picture. Here are some books I consider must-haves, likely to be found on the conference bookstore tables. It’s always dangerous to single out writers and books, but I suggest this list as a good start for those confronted with lots of choices.  

The basic best

  • Ruth Clark & Richard Mayer, (2011). eLearning and the Science of Instruction. San Francisco, Pfeiffer. Now in its 3rd edition, this is an excellent resource for those wanting to get past the “narrated presentation” approach to eLearning. It’s a wonderfully accessible, research-based tour of effective strategies, supported by plenty of examples showing why they are effective. I have often found the material on multimedia learning especially useful in articulating design decisions to management and other project stakeholders.
  • William Horton (2011) eLearning by Design, San Francisco: Pfeiffer.  The first edition has been considered a standard in the field since it was first published in 2006.  Horton has a great deal of first-hand, real-world experience and provides this comprehensive, common-sense-based guide on all aspects of designing eLearning, including assessment and implementation. Good news:  The updated edition was released less than 3 weeks ago, so is as up-to-date as anything you’ll find in print. (Editor’s Note: I will be reviewing the new edition of this book in Learning Solutions next week.)
  • Allison Rossett and Lisa Shafer (2006). Job Aids & Performance Support. San Francisco: Pfeiffer.  Our work in learning & development should be focused on supporting performance in and at work, not just creating and delivering instruction; a huge issue for those tasked with designing eLearning is that “instruction” is not always the answer. There’s plenty of room for designers in the realm of support, and Rossett & Shafer highlight the myriad ways we can help workers work.

Special interests

  • Clark Aldrich, (2009). Simulations & Serious Games. San Francisco: Pfeiffer. Although this is intended for something of a niche market, I find it an energizing read and encyclopedic (at nearly 600 pages) tool for reminding me of the many, many forms good eLearning design can take. From my own review in this publication: “I wish this book as a starter gift for everyone who enters the eLearning or training design and development field: the true novice starting with this would never accept flying lines of text supported by word-for-word narration as anything resembling a learning experience.”

(See full review at

  • Jennifer Hofmann (2003), Synchronous Trainers Survival Guide. San Francisco: Pfeiffer. This one has held up remarkably well; while many of the virtual classroom technologies – WebEx, Adobe Connect, etc. -  have become more stable, the features themselves really haven’t changed all that much. Those designing, facilitating, and producing (you do use a producer, don’t you?) for the virtual classroom will find a wealth of tips and help here. Especially useful are ideas for using virtual classroom features such as chat and whiteboards more effectively to stimulate engagement and interaction.
  • Clark Quinn (2011). Designing mLearning. San Francisco: Pfeiffer.  “Mobile” is a hot new word these days, and it’s nice to have the reasoned voice of Quinn offering hands-on, step-by-step ideas for leveraging the new devices that support it. From consideration to implementation, this is a great guide for those stepping into new waters.

And there’s more!

Again, these are hardly the only choices. There are lots of great volumes out there. While you’re browsing: Pretty much anything by Michael Allen, Ruth Clark, William Horton, Clark Quinn, Robert Mager, or Patti Shank are also worth a look.  

And… don’t forget the collected works of Jane Bozarth, especially Better than Bullet Points: Creating Engaging eLearning with PowerPoint, and Social Media for Trainers.

Not heading to any conferences anytime soon? Everything here is still in print and easily available through the usual online booksellers, as well as the publishers.

Are you at DevLearn this week?  Join me Wednesday for a Morning Buzz session on social learning and on Thursday for concurrent sessions “Designboarding: Leveraging Good Treatments for Your Content” (with Kevin Thorn), and “What Managers and Executives Need to Know About Social Learning”. Also find me Thursdsay on the Strategic Buyer’s stage for a discussion of outsourcing social media – why and why not. You’ll also have a chance to see a number of the authors mentioned here. And be sure to check out the bookstore!