Three non-instructional design books for Instructional Designers


By Natalia Matusevscaia, Learning Strategist

What is a good book? Every person has their own answer to this question. For me, a good book is one that evokes strong feelings after I turn over the last page. You can feel happy, sad, or angry, but a good book is what causes these overwhelming feelings. Today I will be sharing the books that made me feel different about my practice as a professional.

Book 1: Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon

Let me start with the book that brought up mixed feelings of agreement and resentment: Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. Kleon addresses 10 things that may not be known about creativity. One of the main ideas is that a product of creativity is never completely new. It consists of a borrowed inspiration that is further developed to reach your goals. The author brings an example of personal computer creation. The people who came up with the computer as we know it today, were inspired by previously invented machines and concepts. The book outlines ten principles on how to be creative:

  1. Steal like an artist.
  2. Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started.
  3. Write the book you want to read.
  4. Use your hands.
  5. Side projects and hobbies are important.
  6. Do good work and share it with people.
  7. Geography is no longer our master.
  8. Be nice.
  9. Be boring.
  10. Creativity is subtraction.

One of the main things that resonated with me is how important it is to write the book you want to read, or in other words, do what you want to have in your life. If you are not interested in the result, do not do it. Ask yourself as an instructional designer, if you develop an e-learning course that you would never want to take, what is its true value?

What is in for me? (WIIIFM)

Firstly, to be creative, it is useful to look around your environment and explore, dig into your past, and be inundated with ideas to design something new, create it and make it awesome.

Secondly, it might be helpful to put yourself in the shoes of the learner, take your course, see if there are any issues. After that, you can make it better: design, test, improve, and repeat.

Book 2: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

The focus of this book is on how to change habits, both bad habits and routine ones. The book is very interesting, funny, informative and not written in the form of scientific research. The tone is casual and it contains lots of real life examples, which cause “aha” moments on almost every page. The author explains the concept of a habit loop, which is: cue, reward and routine. To change a habit, you must “keep the old cue, deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine.” Simple? Not really. But the book helps us understand the steps to take.


I got three ideas out of this book that I will use as an instructional designer:

  1. Habit change requires hard work. It may seem trivial, but it is important to keep in mind when designing a course whose goal is to improve performance. A solution can be to think through and implement stronger coaching and support.
  2. When designing performance improvement campaigns, we need to focus on building tools for both changing employees’ current habits and developing new ones.
  3. Needs assessment should provide enough information for an instructional designer to identify and break down existing habit loops. This can be applied to compliance training programs and those that target culture shifts within a company.


Book 3: Speaking as a Leader by Judith Humphrey

This book should be used by anyone who is looking to be a leader in any professional sphere. The main idea is that everyone can be a leader, it is not something we are born with. It is a teachable skill because it is not only about charisma. The author suggests that to speak as a leader you must develop emotional and political intelligence, tact and courage. Every time you speak, you can do it as a leader by following four simple steps:

  • Think as a leader. This means that everything you say must show vision and inspire. You can achieve this by being convincing, positive, optimistic, a good listener, etc. You need to have a concrete vision and find a way to convey it.
  • Be very practical and follow the leader script. That does not mean reading off of a piece of paper. It means being able to structure and deliver an idea that you carefully thought through.
  • Use leadership language. This means to be clear, professional, and eloquent and to avoid jargon. Surprisingly, the author insists that a leader should not make jokes: people may not take the idea or project seriously. Another surprise: do not use the words “I think,” because you need to show that you are confident in what you claim and say.
  • Project leaders’ presence. This means to be there every time people need you, share ideas, provide information and not hesitate to ask for information.


Working in a company that provides e-learning services and training expertise to the clients, we certainly do our best to come up with best training solutions. If we want to be world leaders in designing and developing cutting-edge training solutions, we need to be leaders in speaking about them. Every time we speak to a client, we build on the impression that we are professionals that they can trust. Take 10 minutes to prepare for your next phone conference and follow the steps outlined in Speaking as a Leader. It becomes a routine that brings you to success (creating a new habit, right?).

Every time you open up a book for any type of professional development, it does not matter which field it is from. What matters is that these books help you grow and become a better person and provide you with the knowledge and skills you need in your specific profession. Read beyond the book cover!


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