Top 10 learning theory books

Posted on Jun 30, 2016

Learning strategies

Updated 06/12/2019

Understanding the way people learn allows you to create better training.

Finding relevant research and studies on learning theories is becoming easier but relating them to the way your business works can be more of a challenge.

We’ve updated this list of the top 10 learning theory books to inform the use of learning technologies in the workplace. 

Some offer an overview of theories or discuss the digital learning landscape; others take a more specialised approach, dealing with specific aspects of learning technologies.

There’s definitely something for everyone; whether you’re new to L&D or a seasoned professional looking to update your library, this is our definitive list of learning theory books.

Design for How People Learn

Read for: The go-to book for learning designers has had an update.

The second edition builds on the original’s practical guidance on putting theories into practice with new chapters on social media, designing for habit and evaluating learning.

Whether you’re a learning designer yourself, or an L&D professional who works with them, Design For How People Learn is a valuable resource.

Author: Julie Dirksen

Connect: @usablelearning

Review: “This perfectly translates instructional design theories and practices so that non-designers (trainers, managers, etc.) can be better facilitators.” – C. Wright via Amazon


Map It: The Hands-On Guide to Strategic Training Design

Read for: Learn how to design experiences, not information. Cathy Moore shows you how to use action mapping and other techniques to make a real difference to your learners’ performance.

Author: Cathy Moore

Connect: @CatMoore

Review: "I've been using Cathy's action mapping, preaching its importance, spreading the words for years now. Finally, it's all in a one book." -Zsolt Olah.

Formats: Paperback, ebook

Purchase: Amazon

Formats: Paperback, ebook

Purchase: Amazon


Driving Performance Through Learning

Read for: How to identify business needs and leverage learning that drives performance improvement to enable an organisation to achieve its objectives.

AuthorsAndy Lancaster

Review: “In a world of fast-changing work, Andy shows how L&D can strategically align and integrate learning into work to drive performance.” - Mark Reilly. 

Formats: Hardcover, paperback, ebook

PurchaseKogan Page

How People Learn

Read for: For a new way of thinking about corporate learning by exploring what happens when we learn. Draws on marketing, neuroscience, AI, ethics and psychology to inform training design.

Author: Nick Shackleton-Jones

Review: “Nick's book starts in the right place: he sees the world through the lens of a psychologist rather than a pusher of e-learning.” - Roger Schank.

Formats: Hardcover, paperback,ebook

Purchase: Kogan Page

More Than Blended Learning

Read for: An introduction to blended learning theory and how to apply it in the real world. Using storytelling, case studies and analysis to show the difference it can make in adult learning.

AuthorsClive Shepherd

Review: “Shepherd's writing is clear, concise and laced with gentle humour.” – N. Lamont. 

Formats: Paperback, ebook


Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning

Read for: Contemporary research into theories with examples of how they’re being used in practice.

If you’re struggling to apply learning theory to the real world Make It Stick could offer you the answer. This popular book features examples and case studies from many industries and education.

Authors: Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, Mark A. McDaniel

Review: “If I had to recommend just one book it would be Make It Stick by Brown, Roediger and McDaniel.” – Donald Clark

Formats: Hardcover, ebook, audio book


Top 10 Learning theory books: Make It Stickj

The Learning Challenge: Dealing with Technology, Innovation and Change in Learning and Development

Read for: Experienced L&D leader, Nigel Paine takes buzz words and adds practical advice and real life examples.

The book focuses on the areas which are seeing the most change, explaining how L&D can incorporate new ideas into their strategies to get the most benefit.

Author: Nigel Paine

Connect: @ebase

Review: “The book covers everything from the changing L&D landscape, 70-20-10, neuroscience, performance support and instructional design, and my favourite of all was learning impact.” – Con Sotidis via Amazon

Formats: Paperback, ebook

Purchase: Amazon


Learning Technologies in the Workplace

Read for: A complete guide with practical examples of how to effectively embed learning technologies into organisations.

Author: Donald H Taylor

Review: “We have some practical, concrete and exceptionally clear answers here that should not be ignored. This book could save you time, money and a lot of embarrassment. Go read it.” - Nigel Paine.

Formats: Paperback, ebook

Purchase: Kogan Page

Beyond the Hole in the Wall: Discover the Power of Self-Organized Learning

Read for: The lessons learned from a pioneering self-directed learning project in India.  Sugata Mitra’s ‘hole in the wall’ scheme has provoked much discussion of learning theories, and there’s a lot L&D can learn from this short look back by the poster child for self-directed learning.

If this short ebook leaves you wanting more you might want to check out the Mitra’s original book on the Hole in the Wall project.

Author: Sugata Mitra

Connect: @Sugatam

Review: “This book should change the way we look at education and learning. An engaging and thought provoking read.” – Steve via Amazon

Formats: Ebook

Purchase: Amazon


And don’t forget these other great additions to your learning theory library:

Digital Learning in Organizations

Read for: Ways to ensure your workforce is 'digitally ready' with the skills, capabilities and understanding needed to capitalise on the opportunities created by learning technologies.

AuthorSteve Wheeler

Review: “The unprecedented pace of technological change presents us with revolutionary opportunities to improve how we learn and work. This book demystifies the complexities and provides us with an indispensable analysis of what we can achieve with digital learning.” - Edmund Monk

Formats: Hardcover, paperback, ebook.

PurchaseKogan Page

Contemporary Theories of Learning: Learning Theorists ... In Their Own Words

Read for: The book is split into 16 chapters with each one featuring a leading theorist talking through their research in their own words.

It’s definitely aimed at an academic audience, but breaking each theory into its own chapter means it’s still accessible and useful for people in enterprise.

Author: Knud Illeris (editor)

Review: “A great book for anyone interested in gaining an overview of current thinking from contemporary theorists. Great to have so many perspectives in one volume and in chapters which are of manageable size and fairly easy to digest.” – LMP via Amazon

Formats: Hardcover, paperback, ebook


Top 10 learning theory books: Contemporary Theories of Learning

Learning with 'e's: educational theory and practice in the digital age

Read for: Research into and advice on the use of technology in training. Much of the book is focused on higher education but there are valuable lessons for L&D in business.

If you’re struggling to incorporate technology into your strategy, or you want an insight into how technology relates to learning theory, this is a great starting point.

AuthorSteve Wheeler


Review: “Steve has skilfully taken renowned learning theories and placed them in context within authentic examples of learning in the digital age.” – Sue Beckingham via Amazon

Formats: paperback, ebook


Top 10 learning theory books Learning With Es

Learning Theories Simplified

Read for: A broad overview of classic and contemporary learning theories with step by step guides to put them into action.

You won’t find an in depth analysis of theories, just easy to read summaries and diagrams to show you the core concepts.

It’s ideal for busy L&D managers who need a quick reference on a wide range of theories.

Author: Bob Bates

Review: “This book delivers exactly what it promises. It is an accessible guide which accompanies the reader through a range of complex concepts.” – Janet Selby

Formats: Hardcover, paperback, ebook

Purchase: Amazon


e-Learning and the Science of Instruction: Proven Guidelines for Consumers and Designers of Multimedia Learning

Read for: A recently updated manual for delivering learning using evidence-based techniques.

Dr Richard E. Mayer is described as “the most productive instructional research scientist in the world”. Ruth C. Clark is a respected author who focuses on proven techniques that work in the real world. Together they are behind the fourth edition of e-Learning and the Science of Instruction, released in April 2016.

The latest edition includes new chapters on evidence based games design and engagement as well as updated instructor’s materials so you can make the most of the practical guides.

Author: Ruth C. ClarkRichard E. Mayer

Review: “As a professional educator, it gives me the ammo to justify the direction of instruction methods and e-Learning at work.” – Leslie via Amazon

Formats: Hardcover, ebook

Purchase: Amazon


Digital learning content: a designer's guide

Read for: An up to date guide that covers a huge range of digital learning content.

Once you’ve got the background on the theories from other resources this will give you the techniques you need to implement an effective design.

Author: Clive Shepherd

Connect: @cliveshepherd

Review: “Clive Shepherd is a skilled writer as well as a learning designer and ably presents the concepts, principles and processes of the learning designer’s trade in a logical and memorable way.” – Bob Little via Training Journal

Formats: Paperback, ebook

Purchase: Amazon


Exploring the World of Social Learning

Read for: An expert’s view of social learning and the social age.

Julian Stodd collects 50 articles on social learning and links them together to form a view of social learning in business.

If you’re investigating how to best use social learning in your organisation, this is a great resource.

Author: Julian Stodd

Connect: @julianstodd

Review: “Whilst Julian has clearly aimed the handbook at leaders and managers, I see it resonating so closely with those of us who work across disciplines, as we often need to exhibit skills more aligned to management than technical.” – David Hopkins

Formats: ebook

Purchase: smashwords


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