What books to read in learning and development?

Recently, on a whim I asked the following question on Twitter:
What book has had the greatest impact on your career in learning?

Despite it being Friday afternoon, in a few minutes the responses below came through – I have also given the Twitter handle of the recommender.

Do you agree? What else would you like to see on this list? If you would like to make a recommendation, please could you include your reason for nominating the book:

  • Analyzing Performance Problems, Robert Mager -Jay Cross (@jaycross)
  • As If, Saler – Janet Laane Effron ‏(@janet_frg)
  • Back of The Napkin, Dan Roam – Sam Taylor ‏(@samt_el)
  • Being Digital, Nicholas Negroponte – Nigel Paine‏ (@ebase)
  • Beyond ELearning, Marc Rosenberg, Kate Graham (‏@kategraham23)
  • Complications, Atul Gawande -Jane Bozarth ‏(@JaneBozarth)
  • Conditions of Learning, Robert Gagne – Nigel Paine‏ (@ebase)
  • Designing Successful e-Learning: Forget What You Know About
  • Istructional Design and Do Something Interesting, Michael W. Allen Michael – Louise Baynes ‏(@Louise1979)
  • Disrupting Class ,Christensen, Horn and Johnson- micheldiaz (@micheldiaz)
  • Electronic Performance Support (1991), Gloria Gery – Charles Jennings (@charlesjennings)
  • Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software, Steven Johnson – Jay Cross (@jaycross)
  • Facilitating Live Online Learning, Colin Steed – Amanda Randall-Gavin (‏@MandyRG)
  • How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School, Bransford et al – Britt Watwood‏ (@bwatwood)
  • Human Competence, Tom Gilbert – Dave Ferguson (@Dave_Ferguson)
  • Improving Performance: How to Manage the White Space in the Organization, Geary Rummler and Alan Brache  – Dave Ferguson (@Dave_Ferguson)
  • Informal Learning: Rediscovering the Natural Pathways That Inspire Innovation and Performance, Jay Cross – Harold Jarche (@hjarche)
  • Make To Stick, Chip & Dan Heath – Sam Taylor ‏(@samt_el)
  • Management, Peter Drucker -Jay Cross (@jaycross)
    Maverick, Ricardo Semler – Henry Stewart (‏@happyhenry)
  • Narrative as Virtual Reality, ML Ryan – Janet Laane Effron (‏@janet_frg)
  • Presentation Zen, Garr Reynolds – Colin Steed (‏@ColinSteed)
  • Rapport Sur Vital De L’instruction Publique Dans Quelques Pays De L’allemagne Et Particulièrement En Prusse, Victor Cousin – Charles Jennings (@charlesjennings)
  • A New Learning Culture, Doug Thomas – Charles Jennings (@charlesjennings)
  • Teaching Hard, Teaching Soft, Colin Corder – Andy Parker‏ (@aparker60)
  • Teaching Training Learning Practical-Guide, Reece and Walker – Tony Burnett
  • Tell Me a Story,Roger Schank -Jay Cross (@jaycross)
  • The Adult Learner, Malcolm Knowles -Jay Cross (@jaycross)
    The Blended Learning Cookbook, Clive Shepherd – Craig Taylor (‏@CraigTaylor74)
  • The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning, Richard Mayer – Rachel Kubel (@rachelmiriam)
  • The Cluetrain Manifesto, Doc Searles, David Weinberger, et alia – Jay Cross (@jaycross)
  • The Educated Mind: How Cognitive Tools Shape Our Understanding, Kieran Egan – Harold Jarche (@hjarche)
  • The Knowledge Making Company ,Nonaka & Takeuchi – Awooler ‏(@awooler)
  • The New Learning Architect ,Clive Shepherd – Damian Farrell‏ (@Dames20), Andrew Taylor‏ (ajtlearn)
  • The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom,Yochai Benkler – Harold Jarche (@hjarche)
  • What Every Manager Should Know about Training, Robert Mager – Dave Ferguson (@Dave_Ferguson)
  • Working Smarter Field Book , @jaycross & friends – mark britz (‏@britz), Sam Taylor ‏(@samt_el)
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Jack Mezirow, R Clark and S Brookfield – Candice Kramer (‏@CandiceCPLP)

21 responses to “What books to read in learning and development?

  1. The Adult Learner, by Malcolm Knowles
    The Cluetrain Manifesto, by Doc Searles, David Weinberger, et alia
    Analyzing Performance Problems by Robert Mager
    Tell Me a Story by Roger Schank
    the blog posts of Donald Clark, Plan B
    Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software by Steven Johnson
    Management by Peter Drucker

  2. Don – here’s 3:

    Gloria Gery’s ‘Electronic Performance Support (1991)

    Victor Cousin’s 1831 ‘Rapport sur Vital de l’instruction publique dans quelques pays de l’Allemagne et particulièrement en Prusse’ – One of the foundations of the curriculum….. It’s been a long-lasting, if less-than effective, model 😉

    John Seely Brown & Doug Thomas ‘A New Learning Culture’

  3. Rachel Kubel (@rachelmiriam)

    The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning by Richard Mayer.

  4. Hi Don, agree with all these books (in the post and comments)
    I would add : Disrupting Class (Christensen, Horn and Johnson, and some books in French (That I’m not certain they have been translated).

  5. I see that @jaycross won’t nominate his own book, so I will:

    “Informal Learning: Rediscovering the Natural Pathways That Inspire Innovation and Performance” by Jay Cross

    Here’s one that won’t likely appear on anyone else’s list, but had a significant impact on me:

    “The Educated Mind: How Cognitive Tools Shape Our Understanding” by Kieran Egan

    Finally, a keystone book for the network era:

    “The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom” by Yochai Benkler

    ~ @hjarche

  6. Great recommendations – thanks so much Jay, Charles, Michel, Rachel and Harold

  7. Only one that I can think of:

    Teaching Training Learning Practical-Guide by Reece and Walker


  8. Tom Gilbert’s 1978 classic, Human Competence. This is the foundational book for moving from training (or cheerleading) to performance improvement. Gilbert wrote in a witty but somewhat rococo style. Probably the most important inside is his emphasis on two levels (the individual and the organization), and on three kinds of influence at each level ( knowledge/information, capabilities/resources, and motivation/incentive).

    The two-hour version I always recommend for people who seem to be in a training-is-all-I-do frame of mind is Robert Mager’s What Every Manager Should Know about Training. Takes about two hours to read; smuggles in the performance-movement point of view.

    More up-do-date than Gilbert, with only a glance at training and learning, is Improving Performance: How to Manage the White Space in the Organization by Geary Rummler and Alan Brache.

    What I think these three have in common: in the world of work, to say “learning” is to utter only half a phrase. Learning for what? Sooner or later, in an organization, your individual learning has to benefit the organization–in some way, what gets done is better, faster, cheaper, or more abundant. That may be an internal process; that may be efficiencies or expansions of what some small group does or what an entire division does. Each of these three books takes a swing at that: Gilbert by questioning industrial-era assumptions, Mager by explaining how you can’t train your way out of a non-training problem, and Rummler & Brache by a serious, wide-ranging applicaiton of a systems point of view.

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  10. Tony and Dave thanks for your suggestions. Dave, I find your well thought-out explanations of why you chose these particular books very enlightening.

  11. Joan Combs Durso

    I think that any time you read about performance/learning/org improvement, you need to include Something about visualizing the data it generates. Maybe Tufte’s Visual Display of Quantitative Information. It’s still the first one I recommend.

  12. Wow – what a comprehensive list – very useful. Thanks for posting.

  13. Hello Don, for me Images of Organizations by Gareth Morgan is a classic. It provides multiple perspectives of the phenomena an orgasiation is or can be. I think it gives a good understanding of non rational aspect of organisations wich is very helpful to be aware of and take into account as professionals on workplace learning. It helps to make the right fit of learning connected and aligned with the organisation.

  14. I’d add this to the list:

    Salmon G., 2004 E-Moderating: The Key to Teaching and Learning Online (Second Edition), RoutledgeFalmer, London, UK

  15. Carl Rogers Freedom to Learn is a classic

    Also look at Cathy Davidson’s Now You See it (2011)

  16. Jon_hhs (@jon_hhs)

    Two that are definitely missing for me, and ones you put me onto in the first place Don, are:
    “Improving employee performance” and “How to be a true business partner by performance consulting) both by Nigel Harrison.

  17. To go back to your original question “What book has had the greatest impact on your career in learning?” I’ll have to cite two books that I read way, way back and still stay with me through working contacts with schools, HE and now CPD with Employer Engagement. They were the 2 books by John Holt: How Children Fail (1964) and How Children Learn (1967) (I told you it was way, way back!). (Quick bio: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Holt_(educator) )
    The books outlined for me the ease with which children and adults can be both put off learning or encouraged in their learning … it doesn’t take much in either case.

  18. Wonderful list. I also would recommend: Brain Rules by John Medina.

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  21. Pinaki Chakladar

    Hi Don,
    One book that has had the most profound influence as a Learning & Performance Mgt professional is “Fifth Discipline” by Peter Senge

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