The fields of instructional design, learning & development and learning theory have been shaped by a wide range of people over many years. We decided to study these influences, to get an idea about just how wide-ranging the sources of influence are. In this post, we share a list of 100 people who are some of the most influential people within instructional design, learning and development, and learning theory. We have decided to call this list the "Top Learning Influencers".
Our list was carefully curated through extensive research and input from hundreds of experts in the field. We surveyed industry leaders, asked for recommendations from top professionals, and analyzed the networks of influence within the field to identify 100 individuals who have been instrumental to getting the industry to where it is today. We believe that recognizing and showcasing the achievements of these individuals will not only highlight the important contributions they have made to the field, but also inspire others to continue pushing the boundaries and advancing the industry as a whole.
The final list is a testament to the hard work, dedication, and innovation of these individuals, and we are proud to recognize their achievements. We hope that recognizing the achievements of these individuals is important not only for their own careers, but also for the field as a whole. By showcasing their contributions and highlighting the important work they are doing, we hope to inspire others to continue pushing the boundaries and advancing the industry.
Below is the list, and at the bottom of the post is some information about how we constructed it.
The following list is in random order.
We are announcing the winners from the 3rd of January 2023 to the 24th of February. We plan to announce between 15 and 20 people per week. To see the announcements and stay up to date, follow David Kofoed Wind and Eduflow on LinkedIn.
The late Robert Mills Gagné is best known for developing the Conditions of Learning that stemmed from his work as an Educational Psychologist during World War II. The theory posits that different types of learning require complementary forms of instruction. His work also resulted in the famous Nine Events of Instruction which recommends a systematic approach to designing a learning experience.
Julie Dirksen is the author of Design For How People Learn, which has become required reading for instructional designers worldwide. She has many years of experience creating highly interactive e-Learning experiences for clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to major grant-funded research initiatives. Her focus has been on utilizing the disciplines of educational psychology, neuroscience, change management, and persuasive technology to promote and support the improvement of people's lives through sustainable long-term learning and behavioral change.
Moe Ash brings a wide variety of experiences to his role as ‘human development consultant’ and founder of instructional design consultancy The Catalyst. From experience in business process outsourcing, and management in the United Nations, Ash has spent the last 15+ years focused on training.
Ash has conducted learning interventions with over 50,000 learners to catalyse development through microlearning, AR, eLearning creations, learning games and gamification systems.
For over 30 years, Charles M. Reigeluth has worked to facilitate paradigm change in public schools, working for learner-centred instruction, and a system in which student progress is based on learning, rather than time seated at a desk. He has published 11 books on this topic, four of which received an "outstanding book of the year" award from the AECT (Association for Educational Communications and Technology), including Reinventing Schools, which received the award in 2013.
Reigeluth started our as a high school teacher, gained a doctorate in instructional psychology, and was Professor in the Instructional Systems Technology Department at Indiana University’s School of Education in Bloomington until 2013. He was also facilitator for a paradigm change effort in the Indianapolis Metropolitan School District of Decatur Township for over 10 years.
Tim Slade is a freelance Instructional Designer and the author of The eLearning Designer's Handbook. He founded the eLearning Designer's Academy and is one of the go-to thought leaders regarding design and development best practices - especially using the Articulate suite. You'll also find him offering up his wisdom as he presents at the biggest conferences in L&D.
Author of the industry-favorite book called Map It: The Hands-on Guide to Strategic Training Design, Cathy Moore's concept of Action Mapping has left a lasting impression on the Instructional Design landscape. Her blog and frequent speaking appearances at top conferences are rich resources for industry professionals.
As founder of Mastering Instructional Design, Connie Malamed heads up an international community of instructional designers in-training. She has also run her own ID business for 20 years, and specializes in the intersection of visual design and learning, a subject about which she has written two books.
Malamed also runs The eLearning Coach website, The eLearning Coach Podcast, and was given the Guild Master award for her contributions to instructional design.
Guy W Wallace
Performance Analyst and Instructional Architect Guy W Wallace started out as a Training Developer at Wickes Lumber in 1979. In the 40+ years since then, Wallace has designed and developed performance-based Instruction and training for dozens of Fortune 500 companies, and been a partner in 3 consulting firms. In 2010 he was the recipient of the Honorary Life Member Award from the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI).
Wallace specializes in the design and development of training experiences via group processes. He shares his methods on his website, where you can find his published work, audio and video resources, and 400+ free PDFs.
Karl Kapp is an Instructional Technology Professor at Bloomsburg University. He is one of the most noteworthy experts in the field of gamification, and his book called The Gamification of Learning and Instruction can be found on the shelves of many learning professionals. Kapp is also an engaging speaker, having presented at top industry conferences. You can also find a number of his courses on LinkedIn Learning.
Christy Tucker is one of the most often-invoked names at the intersection of storytelling and instructional design. In her work as a learning experience design consultant, she develops engaging learning experiences that storytelling and technology in new ways. Prior to striking out as an independent consultant, she honed her ID skills at organizations such as Cisco, Accenture, and the Career Education Corporation.
Christy’s blog contains information on everything from branching scenarios and creating characters for learning interventions, to story-based coaching and role-play.
Robin Sargent is the founder and president of the IDOL Course Academy, a training school for instructional designers & online learning developers. Robin founded IDOL after 17 years in the instructional design industry, during which time she created learning content for both companies and universities, including the Center for Disease Control, Emory University Law School, Boston Consulting Group, and the National Parent Teacher Association.
Robin made it onto our list not only for her role in helping 100s of professionals transition to instructional design careers, but also for her work with non-profits. She started IDOL World, a project which matches non-profit organizations with instructional designers and free eLearning modules, and also serves on the board of DESIGNxHUMANITY.
Nick Shackleton-Jones, author of How People Learn, is best known for his affective context model of learning, and his determination to evolve learning design ‘from courses to resources’.
In 2021, Nick launched Shackleton Consulting, and organization that helps companies move their L&D efforts away from learning objectives and towards performance outcomes. Prior to that, Nick led innovative learning projects at some of the UK?s biggest organizations, including the BBC, BP, and CLO (UK) Deloitte.
In 2018 Nick won the LPI’s prestigious lifetime contribution award for services to the industry.
M. David Merrill is an is professor emeritus at Utah State University, and one of the best-known researchers on instructional design and technology. He’s spent the last 50 years focused on making instruction engaging, and is known for three key educational theories—The Component Display Theory, Instructional Transaction Theory and the First Principles of Instruction. Merrill has also received numerous awards over the course of this career, including a lifetime achievement award from the Utah State University College of Education, the AECT Distinguished Service Award 2001 for advancing the field of Instructional Technology through Scholarship, Teaching and Leadership, and the AECT D&D Outstanding Book Award 2014 for his book First Principles of Instruction.
Devlin Peck is a freelance Instructional Designer and eLearning Developer. His YouTube channel features a wealth of useful how-to videos, interviews with industry experts, and simple explanations of common concepts and processes in the industry. Devlin also runs an academy and community that helps people build their knowledge in Instructional Design.
Patti Shank is a learning designer, researcher, author, and facilitator working with evidence-based learning methods. In her work with organizations and individuals, Shank helps solve hard training problems through a laser-like focus on techniques that have actually been shown to work. She’s also a prolific author on instruction, contributes to online publications such as the ATD Science of Learning Blog, and speaks at conferences.
As CEO and “resident mad scientist” of the Thiagi Group, Dr Sivasailam Thiagarajan focuses on helping people improve their performance through enjoyment. He has designed leadership, soft-skills, and technical training for companies as varied as Chevron and Fujitsu, to the American Red Cross and the Peace Corps.
Dr Thiagi, as he’s known, also holds the unusual honor of having twice been elected as president of the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI), 27 years apart.
Diane Elkins is an award-winning e-learning developer with 20 years experience as a trainer, instructional designer, and e-learning project manager. She’s spoken at big national events like eLearning Guild DevLearn and Learning Solutions, and received awards from the eLearning Guild and Articulate. Elkins also co-authored the E-Learning Uncovered book series.
Elkins co-founded Artisan E-Learning, where she helps companies from government agencies and non-profits, to Fortune 500 corporations develop e-learning initiatives.
Will Thalheimer is Principal at TiER1 Performance, where he helps organizations put their learning strategies into practice. In fact, Thalheimer has been at the vanguard for the research-to-practice movement in L&D for over 20 years, developing theories like the Learning-Transfer Evaluation Model (LTEM) and the Performance-Focused Learner Survey methodology. His belief in research- and evidence-based L&D approaches influences every corner of Thalheimer’s work, including his co-organization of the Learning Development Accelerator (LDA), a group for L&D professionals aiming to support research-based practices.
Educational psychologist and Professor of Psychology Richard E. Mayer is best-known for his multimedia learning theory, co-developed with Roxana Moreno. Since developing the multimedia learning theory in the early 2000s, Dr. Mayer has extended his research into areas such as using words and pictures to explain scientific and mathematical concepts, and learning in computer-supported environments.
Dr. Mayer has received numerous awards during his career at the University of California, Santa Barbara, including the Thorndike Award for career achievement in educational psychology, the Scribner Award for outstanding research in learning and instruction, and the American Psychological Association’s Distinguished Contribution of Applications of Psychology to Education and Training Award. Contemporary Educational Psychology ranks him as the most productive educational psychologist in the world.
Dr. Luke Hobson is a Senior Instructional Designer and Program Manager at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In addition to his role at MIT, he is also an Online Instructor for Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). He is an expert in online learning with a range of skills including learning sciences, andragogy, learning experience design, Universal Design for Learning (UDL), and relationship management. He is the author of the book What I Wish I Knew Before Becoming an Instructional Designer and has a podcast, blog, and YouTube channel to help IDs learn more about the industry and create meaningful online learning experiences.
Clark Quinn combines cognitive science, learning experience design, and technology to come up with learning technology strategy for organizations. From his self-designed major in Computer-Based Education, to his PhD in cognitive science, Quinn has sought to apply evidence-based practices about how people think, work, and learn for organizational performance improvement.
He’s developed mobile learning apps, web-based learning, effectiveness evaluation methodologies, and is the author of many L&D books, including Make It Meaningful: Taking Learning Design from Instructional to Transformational and Learning Science for Instructional Designers: From Cognition to Application.
Mirjam Neelen is a seasoned learning and development professional with a passion for driving change and improving the impact of L&D in the workplace. With over 15 years of experience in the industry, she has a deep understanding of adult learning, instructional design, and technology-enhanced learning, and is skilled in needs analysis, learning strategy design, development, assessment, and evaluation. She is the co-author of the book Evidence-Informed Learning Design: Creating Training to Improve Performance. In her current role as the Head of Global Learning Design and Learning Sciences at Novartis, Mirjam is working to redefine how the company's associates build competence and become a trusted advisor to increase business impact.
Saul Carliner is a Concordia University professor specializing in the design of learning and communication materials for the workplace. His numerous published works include books like Career Anxiety: Guidance for Tough Times, and Training Design Basics, as well as over 50 peer-reviewed articles, and over 150 news and magazine articles. Outside of his faculty work, Saul offers learning and communications consulting to business leaders for companies like Boston Scientific, Bronx Zoo, and PwC, among others. He also uses his expertise in the community, serving on the board of organizations, including the Canadian Network for Innovation in Education and the Institute for Performance and Learning.
Jane Hart is an independent consultant focused on helping organizations modernize their approach to workplace learning. Jane has spoken internationally on workplace learning methods and continuous learning, and founded the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies. She’s also the author of online resource guide Modern Workplace Learning.
Maria Montessori was an Italian physician and educator known for her philosophy of education and her contributions to the field of scientific pedagogy. Born in 1870, she was one of the first women to attend medical school in Italy, graduating with honors in 1896. Montessori's educational method, which is still in use today, was influenced by the work of Jean Marc Gaspard Itard, Édouard Séguin, Friedrich Fröbel, and Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi. She is best known for her work at the Orthophrenic School, where she used sensory exploration and manipulatives to teach children with learning difficulties, and at the Casa dei Bambini, where she developed her own pedagogy based on observations of children at liberty in an environment prepared to meet their needs. Montessori believed that children have an innate program of development and that the role of the educator is to remove obstacles to this natural development and provide opportunities for it to proceed and flourish. Her educational method has been widely adopted and continues to be influential in classrooms around the world.
Richard Edward Clark
Dr Richard E. Clark works at the Rossier School of Education as Emeritus Professor of Educational Psychology and Technology. In that capacity, he focuses on researching best practices for human performance improvement, the attainment of advanced expertise, and new applications of instructional technology. Richard has written books such as Turning Research Into Results: A guide to selecting the right performance solutions, and has received several awards throughout his career, including the Thomas F. Gilbert distinguished professional achievement award, and the Thalheimer Award for bridging the gap between science and practice.
Nathan Pienkowski is Partner and Co-founder at BCL, a consultancy handling design and delivery of digital learning for companies. From British Petroleum to IBM and Johnson & Johnson, Nathan and BCL have brought learning tech and focused instructional design to some of the world’s biggest companies.
Julian Stodd is an author, researcher, and consultant focused on the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems. He has written 14 books and over 2,000 blog posts and articles. As the founder of Sea Salt Learning, he is an evidence-based practitioner who works with organizations around the world to help them adapt and become fit for the Social Age. He has an academic background in communication theory, psychology and neurophysiology, learning design, educational psychology, and philosophy, and is a mentor with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and a Trustee of Drake Music, a charity that works to break down barriers to music education and research.
John Robert Anderson
John Robert Anderson is a professor of Psychology and Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University, and has a PhD in psychology from Stanford. His research ranges from work on cognitive architecture and rationale analysis, to intelligent tutoring systems.
John’s work on cognitive stages when solving math problems is particularly interesting. Alongside Jon Fincham, Anderson mapped encoding, planning, solving, and response stages while subjects solved a formula, and determined how much time participants spent in each problem-solving stage
Additionally, John is known for rebutting non-evidence-based claims in mathematics education, including some claims that actively contradict agreed findings in cognitive psychology.
Barry Sheckley is an Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Connecticut and an expert in the relationship between experience and learning. Over three decades, his research has suggested that engaging individuals in ongoing inquiry about problems of practice is the most effective way to help them learn effectively.
In addition to his role at the University of Connecticut, Barry is also a former Ray Neag Professor of Adult Learning, and former Head of the Department of Educational Leadership in the Neag School of Education. He has received professional awards such as the Association of Continuing and Higher Education’s Marlowe Froke Award for Excellence in Professional Writing; the American Society for Training and Development’s Excellence in Research to Practice Award; a Doctor of Humane Letters, honorus causa, from the Board of Trustees University of New Hampshire. He also won a lifetime achievement award from the Council for Adult and Experiential Education for contributions to the field of adult and experiential learning.
Hadiya Nuriddin has over 20 years of experience in learning and development and is the owner and CEO of consultancy Duets Learning. Nuriddin focuses on instructional design and development for both corporate and academic environments. She has extensive experience in designing, developing, and delivering both technical and professional development courses. She also designs and develops eLearning courses using Articulate Studio, Articulate Storyline, and Captivate. Hadiya is the author of the book StoryTraining: Selecting and Shaping Stories That Connect.
Ellen Wagner has run the gamut of educational experiences, from research professor and administrator in continuing education, to edtech entrepreneur and founder. Ellen is currently a partner of North Coast EduVisory Services, LLC, helping people understand emerging technology initiatives in education, including things like augmented reality and blockchain.
Ellen is perhaps best known for co-founding the Predictive Analytics Reporting (PAR) Framework, a predictive analytics research effort funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Dr. Saundra McGuire is the Director Emerita of the Center for Academic Success at Louisiana State University (LSU), where she was previously a chemistry professor and assistant vice chancellor. Sandra centers her work on the application of cognitive science to improve academic performance, particularly among university students. To that end, in 2015, Sandra wrote Teach Students How to Learn: Strategies You Can Incorporate into Any Course to Improve Student Metacognition, Study Skills, and Motivation. She followed this with a version directed at students themselves in 2018.
Ant Pugh is a freelance learning design consultant and instructional designer with over twenty years of experience in the field of learning and development (L&D).
Working with global clients such as ANZ, Westpac, Link Group, Microsoft, and Carnival, Ant is renowned for using a performance-based approach to design training and is passionate about implementing human-centered solutions to change behavior, improve performance, and deliver measurable business results.
Etienne Wenger-Trayner is recognized in the field of social learning and has authored several popular books on the subject: Situated Learning, where the term “community of practice” was coined; Communities of Practice, which lays out a theory of social learning; Cultivating Communities of Practice, for practitioners in organizations; and Digital Habitats, about the use of technology.
His more recent books, co-authored with Beverly Wenger-Trayner, include Learning in Landscapes of Practice and Learning to make a difference. The latter **proposes a new framework for understanding and supporting social learning.
Etienne is also one of the most cited authors in the social sciences and the recipient of two honorary doctorates. To further develop social-learning theory, practice, and leadership, Etienne and Beverly recently founded the Social Learning Lab in Sesimbra, Portugal.
Robert "Bob" Mager was an American psychologist and author who focused on understanding and improving human performance. Bob's work on learning objectives, goal analysis, and the whole criterion-referenced instruction (CRI) framework also made a lasting impact on the field of instructional design.
He was also a pioneer in areas such as goal orientation, student evaluation, student motivation, classroom environment, educational change, performance technology, and instructional design.
Bob passed away in May 2020 at the age of 96.
Dr. John Sweller is the brains behind cognitive load theory. An Emeritus Professor at UNSW Sydney in Australia, John formulated the idea of cognitive load in instructional design using our knowledge of evolutionary psychology and human cognitive architecture. The theory is now widely applied to instruction and training design across disciplines.
John has also authored over 180 academic publications and is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia.
Paul A. Kirschner
Paul A. Kirschner, dr.h.c. is an accomplished educator and researcher, with a wealth of experience in the field of educational psychology. He is currently Emeritus Professor at the Open University of the Netherlands, Guest Professor at the Thomas More University of Applied Science in Mechelen, Belgium, and owner of kirschner-ED, an educational consultancy company.
He is a research fellow of the American Educational Research Association, the International Society of the Learning Sciences, and the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Science. Paul has published over 350 scientific articles as well as many popular articles for teacher journals and several books, including How Learning Happens: Seminal Works in Educational Psychology, Evidence Informed Learning Design, and Urban Myths about Learning and Education.
Heidi Kirby is perhaps best known for her ‘pandemic podcast’ BLOC (Building Learning and Organizational Culture), in which she and fellow L&D experts help organizations improve their learning culture. She is also the co-founder of Usefull Stuff where you can get practical advice about L&D and instructional design.
With a Ph.D. in Instructional Design and Technology; and experience working with companies like NASA, Medical Mutual, and The University of Florida, Heidi’s expertise is in designing, developing, planning, and implementing learning solutions.
Brad Hokanson is a professor of Design at the University of Minnesota, and current Director of Graduate Studies at the same institution. With a background in the arts and design, Brad received a Ph.D. in Instructional Technology and now teaches creative problem-solving with a particular focus on problem-solving for learners. He’s published books on the topic, including Developing Creative Thinking in Learners and runs a super-successful Coursera MOOC on creativity.
Brad also walks the walk on great instruction—in 2002 and 2008, he won his college's awards for outstanding teaching and served as the Mertie Buckman Professor of Design Education from 2016–2021.
Dr Philippa Hardman is the creator and founder of the DOMS™️ Learning Design Engine, an evidence-based learning design process using learning science to help instructors design evidence-based learning experiences. The DOMS Engine is designed to 10X learner motivation & mastery.
Philippa didn’t come up with the process overnight. She’s spent 20+ years researching online & hybrid course design at institutions such as Cambridge & Harvard. Along the way, she’s also held titles such as Chief Learning Officer and VP of Learning at private companies and startups. In all her roles, she tried to connect “what we know about how humans learn with how we design learning experiences.”
Don Norman is co-founder the Nielsen Norman group, a user experience, and usability consulting firm. He’s also had a storied (and varied) career ranging from electrical engineer and computer scientist to university professor and Apple VP.
Don has had a deep influence on the discipline of cognitive systems engineering and is an energetic advocate for user-friendly design in everything, including learning. He’s honed his craft at places like Harvard and the University of California, San Diego, and has three honorary degrees as well. Don has over 10 published books to his name, including well-known titles such as *The Psychology of Everyday Things*.
Jane Bozarth is director of research for The Learning Guild, and the author of several books, including eLearning Solutions on a Shoestring, Social Media for Trainers, and Show Your Work: The Payoffs and How-To's of Working Out Loud.
Jane’s areas of expertise range from social media and eLearning to communities of practice. While she started out as a classroom teacher, Bozarth made the leap to eLearning in the late ‘90s and has since then gained a Ph.D. in training and development, and won the Guild Master Award in 2013 for her accomplishments and contributions to the eLearning community.
Cammy Bean is an expert in instructional design and eLearning; and author of the industry-favorite book The Accidental Instructional Designer. She is currently a Senior Solutions Consultant at Kineo, a global company that provides custom e-learning solutions to its clients. In addition to her work at Kineo, Cammy is an accomplished public speaker and blogger. She has a B.A. in English and German Studies from Cornell University.
Lori Niles-Hofmann is a senior learning strategist with over 20 years of experience in the L&D industry, including expertise in international banking, management consulting, and marketing. She is known for her specialization in large-scale digital learning transformations and has a passion for helping companies navigate the complexities of change. With a track record of successful EdTech implementations, Lori has developed data-based methodologies and frameworks to empower L&D teams to become strategic drivers for their organizations. In addition to her work as a consultant, Lori is also the author of an eBook called Data-Driven Learning Design and a course about the same topic on LinkedIn Learning.
Joellyn Pollock is a partner at Rising Stars LLC consultants, and Principal at Organizational and Instructional Innovators. There, Pollock consults on organizational process effectiveness and leadership development to increase employee and team performance.
With a Ph.D. from Arizona State in Educational Technology, Curriculum & Instructional Design, Joellyn has a wealth of extensive experience in organizational effectiveness, as well as creating effective work teams and leaders.
Dr. Michael Allen is the founder and CEO of Allen Interactions, a consultancy that optimizes business performance through eLearning and software. Over an almost 5 decade career ****in teaching, developing, and marketing interactive learning and performance support systems, Dr. Allen has defined unique methods of instructional design, including CCAF-based design and the SAM process for iterative instructional design.
On top of that, Michael has eight published books on eLearning to his name. In 2011, he received ATD’s Distinguished Contribution to Workplace Learning and Performance Award. A year later, he won the 2012 Ellis Island Medal of Honor. In 2014, the e-learning Guild presented Michael with its Guild Masters Award, which recognizes an individual for consistently contributing to the e-learning community in both quantity and quality of content.
Michael also has MA and Ph.D. degrees in educational psychology from The Ohio State University and is an adjunct associate professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health.
Dr. Olaf Zawacki-Richter is a professor of educational technology at the University of Oldenburg in Germany and has more than 25 years of experience in open, distance, and digital education. He has edited several books, including Online Distance Education – Towards a Research Agenda, and Systematic Reviews in Educational Research. He also acts on several editorial boards and recently co-published (with Professor Insung Jung) the open-access Handbook of Open, Distance, and Digital Education (ODDE).
Olaf has also served as a consultant and advisor for institutions such as the United Nations' International Labor Organization, the Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag, and the German Science and Humanities Council (Wissenschaftsrat).
Robert Ritchie is a former teacher and founder of Positive Difference, which provides training in Applied Positive Psychology and Positive Leadership to optimize personal and organizational well-being, performance, and capacity. In this capacity, he’s worked with organizations like the Queensland Education Leadership Institute (QELi). He also works with schools to embed the language of Character Strengths into the professional practice of classroom teachers and support staff.
Robert holds a Master of Education degree, a Bachelor of Education, a Bachelor of Arts with Honours, and a Diploma of Positive Psychology and Well-being. He is also an accredited practitioner of CAPP's Strengths Profile.
Michelle Ockers is an organizational and workplace learning practitioner and founder of Learning Uncut, a consultancy working with business leaders to transform corporate learning.
Ockers started out in the Royal Australian Air Force before transitioning to corporate L&D. She worked with some of the biggest brands in Australia, including Qantas, Coca-Cola, and the National Australia Bank.
Michelle came to prominence in the L&D community through her podcast, also called Learning Uncut. On the show, Ockers interviews L&D professionals about their work and shares lessons for some of the biggest names in the industry. In 2019 Ockers was awarded Learning Professional of the Year by the Australian Institute of Training and Development, and the Internet Time Alliance Jay Cross Memorial Award for her contribution to the field of informal learning.
Adriaan de Groot
Adriaan de Groot was a Dutch chess master and psychologist, famed for his revealing chess experiments. In these experiments, de Groot aimed to reveal the cognitive processes behind moving a chess piece.
The findings changed how we view cognition and, in particular, problem-solving. De Groot found that there are four phases in the moving of chess: the orientation phase, when the player assesses the situation; the 'exploration phase' when the player mentally runs through scenarios; the 'investigation phase,’ when a probable best move is chosen; and the 'proof phase,’ in which the player validates results.
De Groot’s work, co-formulated with Alfred Binet, concluded that problem-solving is driven by visual memory and visual perception. His work has inspired instructional designers to apply the conclusions to other forms of problem-solving beyond the chess board.
Crystal Kadakia is a seasoned organization design and development consultant, author, and keynote speaker. She is the CEO of the LCD Group and a leader in the field of modern learning. With a passion for conservation and sustainability, Crystal's goal is to support nonprofit organizations and for-profit efforts that make a positive difference in the world.
As a consultant, Crystal specializes in enabling complex change for organizations, working on strategic projects with cross-org teams. She is known for her ability to make sense of complexity, design efficient team processes, and plan change through dialogue. With values of intentional leadership, unshakeable resolve, honoring the story, and integrative thinking, Crystal has made a significant impact in her work with the Sierra Club and the World Bank. She is the author of three books, including Designing for Modern Learning: Beyond ADDIE and SAM, The Millennial Myth: Transforming Misunderstanding into Workplace Breakthroughs, and Your Career: How to Make It Happen.
Jill Davidian is the founder of Learning Strategy and Design, a training development agency. The agency runs a popular 9-month Coaching and Mentorship program for Instructional Designers who want to transition into Corporate ID. Jill also provides custom training design expertise to companies in a variety of industries, including finance/banking, oil and gas, health care, government, IT, and hospitality.
Jeroen van Merrienboer
Jeroen van Merrienboer is a full professor of Learning and Instruction at Maastricht University and Research Director of the School of Health Professions Education (SHE). He specializes in instructional design for the health professions, and most of his research is related to cognitive load theory or four-component instructional design (4C/ID). Jeroen has published more than 350 journal articles and book chapters, and he received numerous international awards and prizes for his research.
Andy Gibbons uses training initiatives to help people and organizations achieve measurable results. He’s been helping people learn for four decades and has accrued a wealth of experience from his interactions with companies like Manchester United Football Club and Cambridge University.
Andy spends a lot of time creating frameworks and materials for other learning practitioners, as well as contributing to journals and publications on instructional design and performance management.
Penny Ralston-Berg is a designer, author, and mentor specializing in many facets of instruction, including online program and course design, student perspectives of quality in online courses, professional development for faculty and instructional designers, and strengthening the faculty/designer relationship. She’s been designing online courses since 1997, as well as working as a technology trainer and design consultant for K-12, higher education, nonprofit, and private groups. Penny also co-authored the book MindMeld: Micro-Collaboration between eLearning Designers and Instructor Experts with Jon D. Aleckson.
George Hillocks was an emeritus professor in the US Department of Education, with a joint appointment in the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of Chicago. He’s best remembered for his work on the teaching of writing, literature, and language in schools, and on large-scale writing assessments. He wrote many books and publications on this topic, including The testing trap: How state writing assessments control learning and Ways of thinking, ways of teaching.
It was for his lifelong contribution to English language teaching that George won the James R. Squire Award of the National Council of Teachers of English in 2011, for his “transforming influence and [making] a lasting intellectual contribution to the profession."
John Keller is an American educational psychologist best known for his pioneering work on learner motivation. John introduced the ARCS motivational model in 1979, arguing that the existing instructional design model emphasized external stimuli too heavily and that more attention needed to be given to endogenous motivation. The ARCS model proposed an alternative, breaking learner motivation down into four components (Attention, Relevance, Confidence, and Satisfaction) and provided strategies for instructors to incorporate each into their courses.
Ruth Colvin-Clark is an expert in evidence-based learning and President of Clark Training & Consulting. She was also president of the ISPI and a past training manager for Southern California Edison. She’s written several books on how to apply research and instructional psychology to learning environments, and is a frequent keynote speaker on the topic.
Dr. Allison Rossett is a Professor of Educational Technology at San Diego State University and a consultant in training and technology-based performance. Allison is a member of the Training magazine HRD Hall of Fame and serves on the Board for the eLearning Guild and Chief Learning Officer magazine. Her work focuses on needs analysis, technology-based learning, and performance support.
Allison is the author or co-author of six books, including the award-winning First Things Fast.
Monica Cornetti is the founder and president of Sententia Gamification. In that role, she has codified and trademarked a process for the gamification of learning for HR, L&D, and Adult Education.
Ken Bain is president of the Best Teachers Institute. He’s also the author of two best selling books, What the Best College Teachers Do, and What the Best College Students Do, both winners of the Virginia and Warren Stone Prize.
Ken has a career worth of experience in the higher education industry, including higher education administration, program evaluation, instructional design, curriculum development, and research.
Roger Kaufman was an educational technologist and human performance expert best known for the Mega Planning model, a framework for adding value to society.
Over his four-decade career, Roger worked on innovative approaches to strategic planning, change management, needs assessment, assessment, evaluation, and organizational improvement. He wrote over 30 books on those topics, inspiring a whole generation of educational and performance technologists.
In 2014, the International Society for Performance Improvement launched the Roger Kaufman Award for Societal Impact for individuals and organizations who demonstrate continuous improvement and measurable positive societal impact.
Thomas Tobin is an author, speaker, and consultant in the area of quality when using technology in higher education. His expertise is in Universal Design for Learning (UDL), evaluating online teaching, academic integrity, and non-faculty career paths. His books include UDL for FET Practitioners: Guidance for Implementing Universal Design for Learning in Irish Further Education and Training and Going Alt-Ac: A Guide to Alternative Academic Careers, in which he was a co-author.
Anna Sabramowicz is an instructional designer and coach who has worked in both academia and corporate environments for over a decade. Her coaching program helps instructional designers unleash and develop immersive learning experiences with Storyline 360, using her Narrative Scenario Dynamics framework. She’s consulted with companies such as Sony, Michelin, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, Save the Children, Norwegian Refugee Council, and the Tanzanian Government.
Michelle Pacansky-Brock is a faculty member at the CCC California Virtual Campus, and an educator committed to supporting faculty in the cultivation of equity-minded, humanized online learning experiences. Michelle is particularly focused on supporting the needs of diverse college students and sees online courses as key to expanding access to higher education for those who don’t have the privilege to be on-campus full-time.
Lev Vygotsky was a Russian psychologist and the coiner of the idea of ‘the zone of proximal development’, or ZPD. The ZPD is the distance between what a student (apprentice, new employee, etc.) can do on their own, and what they can accomplish with the support of someone more knowledgeable. For years learning designers have used the ZPD as a mental model to understand stages of competence and the types of teaching needed at each stage.
Lev also wrote about language development and language acquisition as influenced by the socio-cultural environment.
Mike Taylor is a learning consultant with around 25 years of experience in training and development. Mike focuses on engaging people with the right content, in the right place at the right time, and getting them excited about learning something new. He advises organizations on the best approaches to achieving their learning and performance goals.
John Dewey was a philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer. His influence on education mainly revolves around his arguments that education and learning are social and interactive processes, and school is a social institution capable of social reform. He advocated for an environment in which students interact with and have agency over the curriculum, and are active participants in their own learning.
Nisha Ligon is the co-founder of Ubongo, Africa's leading kids' edutainment company. At Ubongo, Nisha creates localised edutainment to help Africa's 500 million kids learn, and leverage their learning to change their lives.
Donald Taylor is a commentator and thinker in workplace learning and technology. He’s been on the corporate side, as a company director and shareholder for three startups, and uses that experience to support ed-tech startups. He’s also done design and delivery of training for over 30 years, and is currently chairing the Learning Technologies Conference.
In 2007 Donald won the Colin Corder award for services to training.
Marcy Driscoll is the Dean Emerita of the FSU College of Education and was also the Leslie J. Briggs Professor of Educational Research until 2018. Her research focuses on learning systems and instruction in technology-rich learning environments. She has also done extensive research on preparing science and math teachers with deep content knowledge combined with deep pedagogical knowledge.
Albert Bandura was a psychologist and Stanford professor famed for his social learning theory, which posits that observing behavioral models is an impactful way of creating behavioral change in educational and professional settings.
Bandura’s work stretched far beyond social learning theory, encompassing social cognitive theory, personality psychology, and the theoretical construct of self-efficacy. He has been frequently cited as one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century.
Alexandra Allen helps experts and organizations create professional development programs & courses for remote contexts. She’s a learning designer with professional development certificates from McGill and Harvard Extension School. She’s helped companies like Maven, District 3, and Concordia University to improve their professional development approach.
Mel Milloway is a learning experience designer with 10+ year’s experience in corporate learning for over 10 years. She’s known for her popular LinkedIn newsletter, This Side Up, where she shares digital learning practices through articles, videos, lists, and more.
Mel is also a frequent speaker at L&D events, where she focuses on user experience and e-learning.
Terry Anderson is a professor emeritus at Athabasca University, where he previously held the Canada Research Chair in Distance Education. He taught educational technology courses and research modules in the same institution and was the founding director of the Canadian Institute for Distance Education Research CIDER.
Stephen Downes is a researcher in learning and performance support systems at the National Research Council of Canada. He’s built LMSs, learning communities, and was the first 'edublogger' in the world, pioneered the use of RSS and content syndication in learning, demonstrating the Distributed Learning Object Repository network (DLORN) and the edublogger syndication network 'Edu_RSS.’
Stephen is known for his work on connectivism, a network-based learning theory, and of the world’s first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), both of which were developed along with George Siemens.
Gianna Tasha Tomasso
Gianna Tomasso is an assistant lecturer in Critical and Contextual Studies at Limerick School of Art and Design, plus a doctoral researcher in the ACADEmy Research Cluster in the Department of Fine Art. Her research focuses on theoretical and phenomenological trans-disciplinarity in art and design pedagogy. As such, Gianna’s interested in instructional design in the digital space and explores the sociology of education.
Burrhus Frederic Skinner
Burrhus Skinner was a psychologist, behaviorist, and Harvard professor of psychology for almost 20 years. His principle of reinforcement, which explored how consequences of previous actions have an impact on human behavior, has had a seminal influence on motivation in learning design. The principle of reinforcement was applied in Skinner’s ‘operant conditioning chamber,’ a box in which a rat or pigeon was placed, taught to activate levers or respond to light or sound stimuli for reward.
Burrhus Skinner won numerous awards for his academic work, including American Humanist of the Year and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Psychological Association.
Linda Lohr is a Senior Educational Academic Adviser at Johns Hopkins University. As such, she supports doctoral students in their dissertations. She also acts as a design consultant, creating effective, appealing, and efficient learning environments, with a particular focus on visual interfaces for learning.
Herbert Simon was an American political scientist whose thinking revolutionized multiple disciplines, from AI to economics and learning psychology. He is best remembered for his work on decision-making and its impact on learning. He recommended an educational approach that prioritizes the learner, emphasizes the importance of evidence over intuition and insists on the potential of computing technologies to support learning in increasingly effective ways.
Professor Henry Roediger is a psychologist and researcher in human learning and memory. He found fame through his work on memory accessibility and retrieval, and in particular the psychological aspects of false memories. This research has influenced our understanding of teaching and learning, from understanding the cognitive structures of bilingualism, to study techniques.
Rita Richey is a Professor Emeritus of Instructional Technology at Wayne State University. Before retiring, she worked at Wayne State for over 35 years, focused on program design and development. She also ran Wayne State’s Instructional Technology program for over 20 years.
Rita has authored or co-authored 11 books, and won two Outstanding Book Awards from the Association of Educational Communication and Technology (AECT) Division of Design and Development, and also two AECT Brown Publication Awards.
Shannon Tipton is a learning architect who founded the consultancy Learning Rebels. At Learning Rebels, Shannon helps businesses modernize onboarding programs and training programs through the use of blended and microlearning techniques. Shannon is one of eLearning’s Top 100 Movers and Shakers and her blog “Learning Rebels” is cited as one of the best in the industry.
Cara North is an L&D consultant, speaker, & researcher who’s passionate about helping fellow learning professionals advance their careers and practice. North has worked in higher education, corporate and consulting settings during her career, specializing in eLearning and VILT/ILT facilitation. As an ace networker and L&D community member, Cara also speaks at numerous events and facilitates a lot of instructional design workshops throughout the year. She uses her LinkedIn to share valuable L&D nuggets with her extensive network.
Jean Piaget was a psychologist whose work revolutionized the way we think about child development. His work centered around the process of the qualitative development of knowledge. He took a constructivist approach to identify four main developmental stages during infancy—the sensorimotor stage, the preoperational stage, the concrete operational stage, and the formal operational stage. This framework continues to influence how we think about child education and behavioral development.
George Siemens is a professor of psychology and the University of Texas at Arlington, as well as director of the Centre for Change and Complexity in Learning at the University of South Australia. He’s best known for his central role in the early evolution of the MOOC program format in the early 2000s, and his theory of connectivism, focusing on learning in the digital age.
Tom McDowall is the founder of Evolve Learning Design, through which he helps organizations create effective learning and development functions.
Tom has worked in a variety of verticals over the last decade, always with an eye on performance improvement through impactful learning interventions.
Jerome Bruner was a psychologist working on cognitive learning theory at institutions like Harvard University, the University of Oxford, and New York University. He is perhaps best known for his theory of childhood development, which states that children engage with learning according to the level of their cognitive development. That means that educators need to optimize the presentation mode for children rather than the content being taught.
David Wiley is the co-founder and Chief Academic Officer of Lumen Learning; a company focused on revitalizing pedagogy and making education more affordable using a combination of open educational resources, learning analytics, continuous improvement, and professional development. Alongside his work at Lumen, David is also the President of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology and adjunct faculty in Brigham Young University's graduate program in Instructional Psychology and Technology.
David has founded or co-founded several educational technology companies, including the learning platform Degreed and Mountain Heights Academy.
Betty Dannewitz is a Learning Solutions Architect at The Ken Blanchard Companies, with expertise in multimedia and augmented reality strategy. Betty also has her own freelance agency and hosts a podcast series called ifyouaskbetty.
Jonathan Hill leads international teams to deliver the digital learning strategies of large multinational organizations. He’s currently Head of Learning at Entain, and has been involved in L&D in the financial, voluntary, and FE sectors for over 10 years.
Jonathan participates in the Articulate E-Learning Heroes Challenges and was the winner of the MGA Initiative of the Year award at the Insurance Times Awards 2019.
Amy Jo Kim
Amy Jo Kim is a game designer with expertise in leadership coaching and social systems design. She helps corporate teams innovate systematically and train professionals to leverage game thinking.
Amy started out on the design teams of companies like Netflix, nytimes.com, and Happify.
Will Wright is a video game designer who uses a constructivist lens to create open-ended games. He’s behind games like SimCity and The Sims, which present "possibility spaces" where players use critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Will aims to create games that inspire creative acts and interest-driven learning and advocates for the viability of failure-based learning as a strategy for building expertise and understanding.
Benjamin Bloom was an educational psychologist best known for his work on the classification of educational objectives and mastery. His most popular taxonomies, co-created with other academics, were one of the earliest attempts to classify types of cognitive, psychomotor, and affective skills.
Matt Smith is an L&D professional and founder of Useful Stuff, a newsletter that dives deep into everything learning-related. Matt has two decades of management and professional development experience, including in internal L&D teams, as an outside consultant, and with his agency.
Donald Clark is a prominent figure in the field of online learning, with over 30 years of experience in developing cutting-edge projects in the areas of simulations, virtual reality, mobile technology, and artificial intelligence. He is widely recognized for his expertise in learning technology, learning experience design, and AI, which is reflected in the many industry-favorite books he has authored on these topics.
As the CEO of Wildfire Learning, Donald Clark continues to push the boundaries of active learning experiences by utilizing AI to create dynamic and engaging content. His focus on innovation and his ability to leverage technology to enhance the learning experience has made him a sought-after speaker and thought leader in the education industry.
Donald Clark is also known for his engaging writing style and his ability to distill complex concepts into easy-to-understand language. His popular blog, Plan B, and podcast series called Great Minds on Learning are a go-to resource for anyone interested in the world of learning and technology.
Grant Wiggins was a prominent figure in the field of education reform and curriculum design. He was the founder and President of Authentic Education, a consulting firm based in Hopewell, New Jersey that provided support and guidance to schools, districts, and state and national education departments on matters related to reform.
Grant was best known for co-authoring Understanding by Design® with Jay McTighe, a program and set of materials on curriculum design that has been widely used and successful all over the world. He was also a co-author for Pearson Publishing on more than a dozen textbook programs in which UbD™ is infused.
In addition to his work on curriculum design, Grant was a leading voice in assessment reform. He authored Educative Assessment and Assessing Student Performance and served as a consultant on many state assessment reform initiatives.
Brenda Dervin was a renowned communication researcher and professor at Ohio State University who also had a strong background in library and information science. She received her bachelor's degree from Cornell University and her master's and PhD degrees in communication research from Michigan State University. Dervin's research focused on information seeking and information use, which led to the development of the Sense-Making Methodology, a framework for understanding how people make sense of their environments.
Matt Ash is a seasoned leader in the field of Learning and Development, with over a decade of experience in helping some of the world's largest brands deliver effective learning and change programs. He has a track record of success in this area, having led one of L&D's fastest-growing and most successful learning providers before founding his own consultancy, Changeably.
Matt's passion for creating sustainable impact through Learning is evident in his work with Heads of Learning and Chief Learning Officers (CLOs), whom he advises on focusing their L&D strategies to achieve the best results. His expertise in this field has made him a sought-after consultant for companies looking to unlock hidden value from their L&D efforts or transform their learning programs entirely.
How did we construct this list?
In order to find the most influential people, we talked to hundreds of people within instructional design and L&D. We asked them to name the people who had influenced them the most. We then reached out to the people who were mentioned as influencers, and in turn asked them who they have been influenced by. This way, we built a network of influence. We collected recommendations from more than 177 people and in total collected 799 recommendations (so around 4.5 recommendations per recommender).
As an example, William Cronje from our team has drawn influence from Guy Wallace, who in turn has been influenced by Jane Bozarth (among others). With this network, we could then map out the most influential people. We analyzed who were mentioned as an influence often, but also who influenced the influential people. So if many of the influential people were influenced by the same person, then that person has influenced the whole industry even more. In order to rank people by their "network influence", we used the PageRank algorithm developed by Google to assess importance of websites - they realized that websites were important if other important websites linked to them.
Based on this analysis, we have selected the 100 people who have had the most influence on the industry. They are the people listed here.
As with any piece of research, there are of course limitations to the methods we used. Here we have tried to list some of them.
- When building a network of influence, we are for good reasons not able to talk to people who are dead. Consequently we don't get to see who influenced some of the original thinkers. One way to address this in a future update would be to use their academic citations (when available) to determine which other researchers they were inspired by.
- Given that the fields are broad and overlapping, people chose different strategies for who to recommend. Some people went back to the original thinkers (like Socrates), and some people said that their biggest inspiration was one of their current colleagues. Similarly, some people were inspired by people within their own field, and some people drew their inspiration from outside of their own field. As a consequence, the influence network contains recommendations of different types. We decided to treat them all in the same way to get as much data as possible. This also allows us to illustrate the complex network of influence that exists.
- While the PageRank is excellent in design, it does come with some arbitrary results. What is better - getting recommended by three people, or getting a recommendation by a top influencer? We used the default parameters of PageRank as recommended by Google in order to create our list - but of course changing parameters could change the order. That being said, most of the top 100 list was quite stable under different parameters.