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Dec 2011

Design for How People Learn | Book reviews

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Shaping the future of learning

Can you love a book on learning design? We did… Cammy Bean opens her Christmas stocking early to take a look at a great new read by Julie Dirksen.

Julie Dirksen has written a most excellent book for the beginning practitioner as well as the seasoned veteran of instructional design Design for How People Learn. Just released in November 2011, we think this little treasure will quickly become a classic for learning designers everywhere.


What’s so great about it?

If you know us, you know we’re all about writing in plain and simple English, with a bit of a sassy tone thrown in for good measure.  Dirksen’s got that sassy style down pat—she writes in a real, human voice. Imagine yourself on a Sunday afternoon, sitting in a coffee shop with a dear friend who happens to be a real learning smarty pants type. She’s talking about her passion—learning design—and you get what she’s saying and can see how to apply it to your own design challenges.

She explains theory in easy-to-understand terms, provides lots of examples and real world situations to help you see how you can apply the principles she's talking about to your elearning and traditional classroom programs.

Not only that, but she’s stuffed the book chock full of cartoons and captioned photos to bring her ideas to life and help you sort through what can be complex concepts like working memory and scaffolding.


What does it cover?

The book starts at…well, the start of the process, by helping the learning designer understand the potential gaps in a learner’s journey. These could be knowledge, skills, motivation, environment or communication gaps. Depending on the audience, the gap, and the goal, you’ll design a different experience.

The chapter on understanding memory talks about how learners “actually learn and remember stuff.” (Again, note her language—not bogged down in academic jargon, Dirksen writes for how most people actually communicate).

Her description of the mind as a closet really works: we encode new knowledge and information by storing it on “shelves” in our closet.  The more shelves you can help someone store something on, the more likely they’ll be able to remember it when they need it. This is why repetition in learning activities is so important: just be sure to provide multiple ways to access and practice the material with lots of context so that the learner can store the information on multiple shelves and not just on the “this is something I had to memorize shelf”. As Dirksen writes, “When you learn something by using it in context, you put it on multiple shelves, and learn how to use that information in multiple contexts.”

Chapter 5 focuses on the elephant. Yeah, that’s right. The elephant. It’s about getting the learners attention…and keeping it. Which we all know is more easily done when you use elephants.

Actually, the metaphor is that the elephant is the part of our brain that’s easily distracted by shiny objects. The rider is the thinking part of the brain, while the elephant represents the visceral side. And “if the elephant isn’t engaged, the learner is going to have a hell of a time paying attention.” Dirksen then shares some of her favorite strategies for engaging the elephant: share stories, surprise it, show it shiny things (but not too shiny or too often or the elephant might run and join the circus), get it connecting with other elephants.

The last chapters of the book center on design strategies for each of the four main gaps she identified early on: knowledge, skills, motivation and environment. These chapters provided more elephant pictures, but also—and more importantly—real-world examples and applications of these design skills.


Who’s it for?

Seriously, this book is a must-have for the seasoned learning designer looking to refresh and reload on some learning theory and its application, as well as the accidental instructional designer who has never heard of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

And it’s not just for elearning designers. In fact, most of Dirksen’s examples are rather medium-agnostic—she explains the concept and demonstrates how it could be applied in broad-enough-brush-strokes. Your next step is to fine-tune the detail to your own situation, be it classroom, online or blend.

We’ve been buying this book for ourselves and our colleagues, talking it up on the Social Media networks and will recommend this to clients as an essential book for their learning design libraries.

Convinced? We’ll send an elephant to your house just in case…we’re pretty sure you won’t forget it.

It’s available on Amazon now.



Shaping the future of learning

Kineo helps the world’s leading businesses improve performance through learning and technology. We’re proud of our reputation for being flexible and innovative, and of our award-winning work with clients across the world.

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