BOOK REVIEW: “Design for How People Learn” by Julie Dirksen

“Design for How People Learn” by Julie Dirksen

© Ugur Akinci

“Design for How People Learn” by Julie Dirksen is a heavy book, both literally (top-quality glossy paper) and figuratively. It’s an important reference work that I think all trainers, instructors, and e-learning designers should read.

We are lucky to have today e-learning tools like Adobe Captivate and others. Setting up slides, quizzes, links, buttons, voiceovers, inserting images, videos etc. is a breeze.

However, when it comes to designing a learning experience that would actually help the students learn, and make a difference in their lives by changing the way they ACT, I believe there is no one-click app for that.

That complex skill, which requires us to put ourselves in the shoes of our prospective audience, needs to be deconstructed first, its individual components pulled apart and laid bare, and then reconstructed for a training package that really works and changes lives.

Dirksen’s easy-to-read and well-illustrated book accomplishes that goal in 300 full-color gorgeous pages.

The author starts from the A-B-Cs of the subject like “How do we remember?” and “How do you get their attention?” and ratchets up the discussion to higher orbits by diving into different design styles and goals: designing for knowledge, for skills, for motivation, and designing for habits.

One of my favorite chapters in this lovely guide is the last chapter devoted to “Designing Evaluation” since it asks the same questions that I ask myself all the time: does it work? Are the students learning anything? Do they remember anything? Do the learners actually start DOING the right things once the training is over?

Another favorite section is “How learners are different from you?” since for me the greatest trap is to assume that my readers are more or less like me, which they rarely are. Just to realize the ways in which our readers are different from us and understand what we should do to close that perception and cognitive gap is a major design accomplishment, I believe.

The book is rich in laying out the general principles and the research that supports them. But it’s also jam-packed with examples and illustrations to drive home the message.

Chapters are divided into sections, each with its easy-on-the-eye subheader, making it a pleasure both to peruse through the volume and to stop and dive deeper by concentrating on various characters playing different roles during the design process.

For example, in the subsection “Remember, Change Is Hard,” Dirksen presents the photos of four characters, each with a “plausible” excuse not to change and keep doing everything the same old way. Such presentations make the material immediately accessible since it becomes so easy to identify with the characters. We end up saying “yeah, I do that too…” after which we have a renewed and stronger commitment to the material in front of us.

Here are some suggestive headlines from sections that might change the way you design your training materials in the future:

  • “How can you know what your learners are thinking?” (p.51)
  • “What’s pace layering?” (p.74)
  • “Storytelling & Conditioned Memory” (pp. 110, 111)
  • “Tell them less, not more” (p.185)
  • “Create friction” (p.166)
  • “Have learners consider what they already know” (p.162)
  • “How do you give directions?” (p.177)
  • “The anatomy of a habit” (p. 231)
  • “Social and informal learning” (p. 243)
  • “What are we trying to measure?” (p. 272)
  • “Are the learners actually doing the right things?” (p. 283)

Get your copy today. Highly recommended.

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