Over the years, state-of-the-art (SoTA) image captioning methods have achieved promising results on some evaluation metrics (e.g., CIDEr). However, recent findings show that the captions generated by these methods tend to be biased toward the "average" caption that only captures the most general mode (a.k.a, language pattern) in the training corpus, i.e., the so-called mode collapse problem. Affected by it, the generated captions are limited in diversity and usually less informative than natural image descriptions made by humans. In this paper, we seek to avoid this problem by proposing a Discrete Mode Learning (DML) paradigm for image captioning. Our innovative idea is to explore the rich modes in the training caption corpus to learn a set of "mode embeddings", and further use them to control the mode of the generated captions for existing image captioning models. Specifically, the proposed DML optimizes a dual architecture that consists of an image-conditioned discrete variational autoencoder (CdVAE) branch and a mode-conditioned image captioning (MIC) branch. The CdVAE branch maps each image caption to one of the mode embeddings stored in a learned codebook, and is trained with a pure non-autoregressive generation objective to make the modes distinct and representative. The MIC branch can be simply modified from an existing image captioning model, where the mode embedding is added to the original word embeddings as the control signal. In the experiments, we apply the proposed DML to two widely used image captioning models, Transformer and AoANet. The results show that the learned mode embedding successfully facilitates these models to generate high-quality image captions with different modes, further leading to better performance for both diversity and quality on the MS COCO dataset.