Resources & Tools

The 10 best Instructional design books: Resources for beginners and professionals

The theory and practice of instructional design is constantly evolving. Whether you’re a veteran of the field, or a novice just starting out, it pays to continually stay in touch with new ideas, developments and fresh research in your chosen profession.

As instructional designers, we often get on distribution or must-read lists, join online forums or attend seminars and symposia to stay on top of developments in our profession. However, given the limited time most of us have at our disposal, it’s difficult to learn it all or get to know it all. We need other resources to help us.

That’s why we’ve compiled a list of 10 books on Instructional Design (ISD) and related topics that, in our opinion, are considered “must read” or “highly valuable” resources on the subject.

1. The Essentials of Instructional Design: Connecting Fundamental Principles with Process and Practice (Abbie H. Brown and Timothy D. Green)

Rated: Beginners

If you are relatively new to the field, this is one of the books on Instructional Design that will prove invaluable in helping you get a better understanding of the core principles of your profession. From learner analysis and task analysis, to more complex processes and procedures like needs analysis and learner evaluation…you’ll find it all in one book. It is a great resource for beginners to reinforce what they’ve learned, while looking at that body of knowledge through a practical lens.

2. Leaving ADDIE for SAM: An Agile Model for Developing the Best Learning Experiences (Michael Allen)

Rated: Advanced

If you are already an experienced Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation (ADDIE) practitioner, then this book by Michael Allen offers remarkable insight into alternate ISD concepts – Successive Approximation Model (SAM) and Savvy Start. Combined, these concepts offer a more efficient and effective instructional design approach than other contemporary ISD models.

If you are looking for an innovative newer approach to designing, developing and implementing training content, then you should seriously consider reading this book.

3. Leaving ADDIE for SAM Field Guide: Guidelines and Templates for Developing the Best Learning Experiences (Richard Sites, Angel Green)

Rated: Advanced

If you’ve already given Successive Approximation Model (SAM) and Savvy Start a go, and are convinced that they are the future of ISD, then this book is definitely for you! Written as a companion for “Leaving ADDIE for SAM”, within its pages you’ll find a wealth of supplementary content and practical resources, tools, and templates that you can use to put the SAM and Savvy Start methodologies into practice.

4. ISD From the Ground Up: A No-Nonsense Approach to Instructional Design (Chuck Hodell)

Rated: Beginners and Advanced

As the title suggests, this book provides great insights into the ISD process, starting from foundational concepts, and moving on to more advanced and practical topics related to every phase of instructional design. By taking a single project through the entire process, the author is able to offer learners, trainers, training managers and other ISD practitioners practical insight into the world of designing eLearning.

Plus – you’ll find a number of sample forms, templates, tips and other invaluable information between the covers, which you can readily adapt and implement into your own instructional design projects!

5. Design for How People Learn (Julie Dirksen)

Rated: Advanced

As instructional designers, we often fall into the trap of “designing for efficiency”, “designing to spec” or “designing quickly”. Anyone who has found themselves in one of those traps, and has had to then rework their entire course design, will find this book an invaluable resource.

Grounded in the science of memory, learning, retention and attention, you’ll find it to be of tremendous help in developing content that will not only engage your audience, but which will actually stay with learners once they complete the course.

6. Instructional Design for ELearning: Essential guide to creating successful eLearning courses (Marina Arshavskiy)

Rated: Beginners

If you are looking for an essential “how to” resource on instructional design, then this book will neatly fit into what you are searching for. Concisely written, yet powerfully structured for novices, it gives you a basic understanding of ISD for eLearning. However, intermediate-level practitioners and more advanced and professionals will also find this a great read.

Instructional designers will find loads of information on the practical application of the basic principles behind designing and creating highly engaging instructional content for learners.

Geared towards practical application of all of the principles discussed, within its covers you’ll also find comprehensive visual aids, checklists, tables, questionnaires and templates, which you can use to produce highly engaging instructional content for your audience.

7. Mastering the Instructional Design Process: A Systematic Approach (William J. Rothwell, H. C. Kazanas)

Rated: Advanced

Instructional designers, trainers, and HR professionals looking for a resource to help them develop training programs that enhance employee performance, will surely find this a vital addition to their “must read” list of books on instructional design.

Among other interesting topics tackled by the authors, readers will find priceless nuggets on conducting training needs assessments, detecting performance issues amongst employees, identifying root causes of such problems, and developing realistic performance objectives.

Anyone looking to enhance workplace productivity through such innovative approaches as employee rewards programs, performance training, organizational redesign and high-impact training, will find plenty of “food for thought” in this book. The publication also comes with comprehensive case studies, charts, checklists and other instructional design aids.

8. The Accidental Instructional Designer: Learning Design for the Digital Age (Cammy Bean)

Rated: Beginners, Advanced

Written by an instructional designer, for instructional designers, this book is filled with the author’s personal insights and experiences with a broad spectrum of eLearning design and development processes.

From the basics of instructional design, to developing scenarios, creating interactivity and producing engaging visuals that can grab learners’ attention – you’ll find it all here. If your role includes working with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), you’ll even find some great tips on how to manage those relationships.

Ideal for designers that are just getting started in the business, as well as advanced practitioners, the book is filled with anecdotal missteps and mistakes that the author encountered and provides helpful advice and best practices on how to avoid them.

9. Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology (Robert A. Reiser, John V. Dempsey)

Rated: Beginners, Advanced

If you have been associated with ISD for a while, and you now have a yearning to learn more about Instructional Design Technology (IDT), then this is an absolute must have book for your collection.

However, even newcomers to the field will find it packed with interesting information about the history of ISD, what IDT is, how it evolved, and what challenges and opportunities it presents. Anyone wanting to learn about ISD, and how to design, develop, conduct, and evaluate eLearning content will find this a useful book to have.

In their discussions on the various trending topics, the authors have also tackled complex, yet very relevant, subjects like diversity, ethics, international multiculturalism and accessibility. The content reads more like a sequence of topical articles on industry-related subjects. While it may be used as a text book on ISD and IDT, this remains a handy reference book for beginners and more advanced practitioners of the discipline.

10. Graphics for Learning: Proven Guidelines for Planning, Designing, and Evaluating Visuals in Training Materials (Ruth C. Clark, Chopeta Lyons)

Rated: Beginners

As someone just entering into the realm of ISD, you may want to read this book to appreciate the power of using visual aids and graphics to develop truly compelling learning content.

The book successfully links the most recent research on cognitive learning behaviors to graphical instructional design principles currently used by mainstream practitioners. This is an extremely useful text for anyone looking to produce highly effective print or online graphical learning content.

The authors of this book on Instructional Design make use of a model that takes you through the process of using graphical content in learning modules – from needs assessment right up to design and development. Regardless of how much prior experience you have with creating visual content, this book will help you produce and implement powerful graphical elements that will energize and rivet your audiences.


While it may be difficult to stay abreast of what’s going on and what’s new in the field of Instructional Design, in part because it’s closely linked to technology and its rampant developments, we hope that this book list can help with some inspiration. Plus, what’s better than taking a book to the beach?

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