L&D is an integrative domain that draws on so many other subjects. Therefore, it’s essential that we educate ourselves on these subjects. This article covers a list of the disciplines that are of interest to those in our field, along with some book suggestions under each discipline.

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I’ve always believed that L&D is a multidisciplinary field that draws on so many other disciplines such as psychology, behavioral science, design thinking, marketing, advertising and sales, copywriting, and so many more. So, while it’s important to keep ourselves updated about the happenings in our field, it’s equally essential that we educate ourselves on these disciplines as well.

I have compiled a basic list of books from some of these other disciplines. These feed in to the work that we do, directly or indirectly, and make us richer for it. I hope you will check them out.

Behavioral Economics

Behavioral economics, as the name suggests, is a combination of psychology (behavior) and economics, and seeks to understand how and why people behave the way they do. It differs from core economics, which assumes that people have clear, defined preferences and make rational decisions based on those preferences.

1. Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman

In this groundbreaking book, Nobel prize-winning economist Kahneman takes us through the two systems that explain the way we think. System 1 is quick, intuitive, and emotional, while System 2 is slower and more logical and deliberate. Understanding the two systems and how they work can help us become more deliberate about which system to employ in what circumstances.

2. Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein

We make choices every day, but these choices are often not well thought out. Nudge, from another Nobel prize-winning author, Thaler, and his colleague Sunstein, helps us make better choices.

3. Self-Determination Theory: Basic Psychological Needs in Motivation, Development, and Wellness, by Richard Ryan and Edward Deci

Traditionally, people have thought that motivation requires two external factors – carrots and sticks. The authors show us otherwise, and that motivation can come from within too. Motivation is basically of two types – intrinsic and extrinsic – and both are powerful forces in shaping our behavior. There are several sub-types too, and the authors delve into these in detail in the book.

4. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by Daniel Pink

This book draws on decades of research, primarily self-determination theory (SDT), and examines the three elements of true motivation – autonomy, mastery, and purpose. It offers accessible techniques for putting this understanding into action in our day-to-day lives and work.

5. Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely

Smart people make rational and well thought out decisions all the time, right? Not necessarily. Like everyone else, really smart people are prone to making illogical decisions too. This book examines how irrationality often replaces rational thought, through a series of experiments. It shows that by understanding this, we can make better decisions in life and at work.

6. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

What experiences bring true happiness? Is it leisure? Or is it fun? The answer, surprisingly, is deep, meaningful, and satisfying work – in a state of consciousness called flow. In this state, people experience enjoyment, creativity, and a total involvement with life and their work. The author demonstrates the ways this positive state can be brought about and controlled, and not simply left to chance.

Habit Formation

7. Atomic Habits, by James Clear

If you’re working towards establishing good habits and kicking bad ones, this book is for you. It covers a series of practical and easy-to-apply strategies that will teach you exactly how to form good habits, break bad ones, and master the tiny behaviors that lead to remarkable results.

8. Tiny Habits, by BJ Fogg

‘Behavior Design’ is a unique system that we can use to change our habits for the better. This book is practical, brimming with immediately applicable insights and actionable points. In the author’s own words, “Creating a happier, healthier life can be both easy and fun.”

9. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do, and How to Change, by Charles Duhigg

This book distills advanced behavioral science into practical strategies for self-improvement. It explains how some people are able to make drastic changes in their habits while others struggle to do the same.

10. Indistractible, by Nir Eyal

When it comes self-improvement, this book addresses the elephant in the room – the biggest enemy that humans face in the modern world – a lack of focus, or in other words, distraction. Hint: Distraction comes from within, and not from outside. It provides simple yet practical techniques to regain power over your time and attention.

11. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by Cal Newport

This book delves into the reasons why we are unable to do deep, meaningful work in a focused manner. It explains that the solution lies in taking a break from technology and social media, and using that time alone to rewind and introspect.


Steve Jobs famously said, “Design is not how something looks, it’s how it works.” Irrespective of whether you do instructional design, learning design or graphic design, or spend time in LMS administration, there are certain principles of design that apply universally across domains. What better way to learn these principles than from the masters?

12. Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, by Steve Krug
13. The Design of Everyday Things, by Donald Norman
14. Universal Principles of Design, by William Lidwell
15. Non-Designer’s Design Book, by Robin Williams
16. 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know about People, by Susan Weinschenk


As asserted by the first book on this list, everybody writes. I’ve tried to turn the focus away from instructional writing, and into other forms of writing – for selling, copy, etc.

17. The Idea Writers, by Teressa Iezzi
18. The Ultimate Sales Letter, by Dan Kennedy
19. The Copywriter’s Handbook, by Robert Bly
20. Everybody Writes, by Ann Handley
21. How to Write Seductive Web Copy, by Henneke Duistermaat

Marketing and Advertising

As we’ve seen in this list, there are many fields that intersect with and feed into our work in learning design, but nothing comes close to marketing. This is because while the language and methods used in marketing may seem different from ours, the goal is the same – to change the audience’s perspective and/or behavior. And, we must admit, marketers are way more successful too! So, what can we learn from them?

22. To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, by Daniel Pink
23. Ogilvy on Advertising, by David Ogilvy
24. Confessions of an Advertising Man, by David Ogilvy
25. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert Cialdini


Gamification is not exactly an ‘allied’ field. It’s a part of what we do in learning design. However, while we are at it, it helps to step out of the learning realm, and see what others in doing in gamification. As might be obvious, I have left out gems on gamification from within the learning industry, and focused only on those outside.

26. Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, by Jane McGonigal

Why should games be used for escapist entertainment alone? This is the question the book sets out to answer. In this revolutionary work, the author shows how we can leverage the power of games to fix real world problems – from individual problems like anxiety to collective ones like climate change and poverty.

27. Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards, by Yu-kai Chou

Gamification and behavioral psychology have been thought of as separate fields. In the book, the author explains how to merge the two fields to create gamified experiences that reliably improve outcomes.

28. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Game Theory: The Fascinating Math Behind Decision-Making, by Edward Rosenthal

This book is based on the premise that human beings act competitively, and for their own best interests. And therefore, it is possible to anticipate the actions of others in nearly every aspect of life. With clear examples and solutions, the book makes it easy to understand game theory, and offers insights into how important it has become in our society and why.

Social Experiments and Miscellaneous

29. The Lucifer Effect, by Philip Zimbardo
30. The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control, by Walter Mischel
31. The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment, by A. J. Jacobs
32. Experimentation Works: The Surprising Power of Business Experiments, by Stefan Thomke

At first glance, many of these books look like they are for the self – to improve our individual thinking, behavior, and habits, for a better life. Well, they are. But if we look deeper, we will find that they all carry fascinating lessons for our work in the learning field.

I’m sure I have left out plenty of books, and fields as well. What would you suggest we add to this list?

Written by Srividya Kumar, Co-Founder @ Learnnovators

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