Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

14 January 2006

Classic books?

Clark @ 3:55 PM

The Association for Computing Machinery has been collecting recommendations for classic books in Computer Science, and it made me think of the key books that have influenced my thinking. This is part of a broader consideration of what books people doing learning technology should read.

I have an eclectic view, trying to take a broader view of technology supporting performance support, Knowledge Management, informal learning, etc, so I largely ignore traditional instructional design approaches like Gagne’ and Merrill. I’m a fan, note, and have read lots of Merrill for instance, but lets take that as a baseline and move beyond. (I recommend Reigeluth’s survey’s of instructional design approaches.)

So here’s a brief annotated list of readings I think are seminal:

  • Don Norman’s Things That Make Us Smart gives us a valuable perspective on how to support people’s performance (everyone should’ve already read his Design of Everyday Things…).
  • John Carroll’s Nurnberg Funnel, a landmark book touting a minimalist approach focusing on respecting (and leveraging) your learner’s real world knowledge.
  • Allen Collins & John Seely Brown’s Cognitive Apprenticeship is not a whole book but either a chapter (with Susan Newman) or an article (with Ann Holum). In either case, it’s the best model for designing learning that I know, abstracting across work by Palincsar & Brown, Scardemalia & Bereiter, and Shoenfeld.
  • Jeroen van Merrienboer’s Training Complex Cognitive Skills presents the best model for separating out knowledge from skills and addresses both.

In addition to these full thoughts, several other elements contribute to my design approach. Reigeluth’s Elaboration Theory talks elegantly about starting from a broad context and drilling down. Spiro’s Cognitive Flexibility Theory emphasizes the importance of multiple representations. Sweller’s Cognitive Load Theory helps us understand the importance of providing appropriate support in performance and even in representations. Mager’s specification of objectives helps us emphasize the resulting performance. And Keller’s ARCS model helps us incorporate the emotional side of learning.


  1. Fred Brooks: The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering

    The classic IMHO.

    Comment by Jay Cross — 22 January 2006 @ 1:13 PM

  2. Hey, congrats on spreading your wisdom for soon to be almost 10 years! :-)

    I really enjoyed this journey and will stick around for the next 10 as well.

    Best regards,

    Comment by Henrik — 12 January 2016 @ 3:02 AM

  3. Thanks for drawing that to my attention, Henrik, and for the kind words. Much appreciated. And indeed, hope it continues!

    Comment by Clark — 12 January 2016 @ 8:28 AM

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