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Summer Reading: Becoming a Designer

Summer Reading: Becoming a Designer

Use Your Summer to Improve as a Designer

Do you remember those summer reading lists you were given in school? Your teachers recommended age-appropriate books you could read to give you a jump on the following year’s topics and learning goals. Maybe you posted them on the refrigerator and dutifully checked off the list all summer, or maybe you squeezed in one book in the waning days of vacation just so that you could write the required book report or paper. The idea of summer reading imprinted regardless—that niggling notion that you could learn even through the lazy days of summer. 

As summer begins here in the northern hemisphere, I thought I’d put together a summer reading list for those of you who are making the transition to design. So many people find their way into the L&D field without having extensive preparation, and they learn as needed. Perhaps you can pick one or more of the titles as your summer reading assignment to enrich your understanding of how to be an effective designer. 

The Art Of Design 

Design for How People Learn  

by Julie Dirksen 

New Riders, 2nd Ed, 2016 

This is a well-written and helpfully illustrated guide to some of the key principles that ensure your training programs generate learning. Julie covers important theories related to memory, attention, skill development, motivation, and social learning. She also helps readers to consider how to support learners in their work environments, including how to build new behaviors and habits. Her analogies and stories help bring the concepts to life. I appreciate how Julie illustrates how to apply the theory-based concepts to effective instructional design. This book is always first on my list of recommendations to new designers. 

The Accidental Instructional Designer: Learning Design for the Digital Age  

by Cammy Bean

ATD Press, 2nd Ed, 2023 

If you are finding your way into instructional design through a side door, Cammy Bean is a terrific guide. Her book provides solid grounding in the language and key activities of instructional design with the tone of someone who has taken the “accidental” route and lived to tell the tale. There’s practical advice on understanding learners and working with subject matter experts to get you started, and she outlines a variety of approaches for structuring design, getting and keeping attention, and extending learning into the workplace (blended learning). Cammy is known for warning us all to avoid “clicky-clicky, bling-bling” in e-learning design, and her book contains chapters on writing, storytelling, and visual design. There is a lot of good advice here. 

Blended Learning  

by Jennifer Hoffman

What Works in Talent Development Series, ATD Press, 2018 

Instructional designers need to know how to put together learning paths, or learning campaigns—blended solutions that mix modalities, required and supplemental materials and activities, and on-demand, asynchronous, and synchronous learning. Though that's a tall order, Jennifer Hoffman describes an approach to thinking about blended learning in this resource book. Full of tips, resources, worksheets, and examples, Blended Learning focuses on crafting a particular form of the modern blend—one that is useful in a wide variety of circumstances, especially new hire training, orientation, new initiative overviews, and skill-building. It is a solid jumping-off point for thinking about blended learning design. 

The Process Of Design 

It can be important to understand the formal process of design, especially if you are working as part of a team and designing large projects. We’ve come a long way from a simple ADDIE model (analyze, design, develop, implement, evaluate) of the core activities of design and have learned quite a bit about the importance of iteration, flexibility, and rapid design. Here are my recommendations for books that speak to the process: 

Agile for Instructional Designers: Iterative Project Management to Achieve Results 

by Megan Torrance

ATD Press, 2019 

Instructional designers have come to appreciate the value of rapid, iterative design processes, prompting many designers to adopt tools and techniques from agile methodology. Megan Torrance provides an instructional-design-specific interpretation of agile in this book. Learn all about scoping, user stories, task definition, project planning for iteration, and the working rhythms and communication practices that define the agile approach. Megan’s advice is clear, practical, and customized to L&D.  

The E-Learning Designer’s Handbook: A Practical Guide to the E-Learning Development Process for New E-Learning Designers 

by Tim Slade

TimSlade.com, 2nd ed, 2020 

Tim’s book is specifically intended to document the process of designing e-learning modules (as created by Camtasia, Storyline, Rise, etc.), and it covers elements of both art and process. Written in Tim’s signature breezy style, the handbook includes sections on storyboarding, selecting an authoring tool, and prototyping, and highlights learning principles specifically related to e-learning. Since Tim has taught e-learning design for quite some time, he knows how to talk to new e-learning designers. This is a solid place to start if you’re hoping to break into e-learning design. 

Real World Instructional Design: An Iterative Approach to Designing Learning Experiences 

Katherine Cennamo and Debby Kalk

Routledge, 2nd Ed, 2019 

While this text is not well-known, it’s the one I use in my graduate courses on instructional design. What I appreciate about this model is that it is explicit about describing an iterative process and that it acknowledges the many kinds of assets that instructional designers produce. The process focuses on learners and intended outcomes and describes how designers create activities and assessments to ensure achievement of goals. The chapters on designing activities are explicit about grounding design in adult learning theory. There are plenty of checklists, templates, and examples to provide guidance. Like all ID process maps, real-world instructional design can look more complicated than it needs to be, and I would have liked to see more discussion of up-front consultation before agreeing to create a training solution. Nonetheless, the book gives a solid, detailed overview of the process that can serve to orient new designers. This reads like a textbook but is a good resource for designers of complex programs. 

L&D Summer Reading 

Here’s hoping you enjoy the summer reading season. Can’t you just picture it? Swinging in a hammock or stretched out on a lounge chair, iced tea or fruity cocktail at your side, water feature in your peripheral vision (a pool, a beach), and a short stack of books waiting to be enjoyed. Mix in a little L&D nonfiction with your usual cache of absorbing beach reading, and you’ll gain some skills to go along with a fully refreshed body and mind. 

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