Design for How People Learn

Written by Julie Hale

My training in technical writing has made me want to learn more about the field of instructional design, so I recently read an interesting book called Design for How People Learn by Julie Dirksen (New Riders Press, 2012). The author makes good use of photographs, cartoon-like drawings, mock screenshots, and other graphics. The book’s tone is conversational, and the author uses current cultural references and her own experiences to provide context for the ideas she presents.

Dirksen does a great job of laying out the basics, which makes the book particularly valuable to anyone without an extensive background in instructional design. She discusses skill vs. knowledge, explains why some teaching methods don’t work well in time-compressed situations, and describes the difference between a motivation gap and a knowledge gap. Her observations are thoughtful and her analyses extend beyond the teaching method. Sometimes, she notes, an instructor may not be dealing with a learning problem—instead, the problem may involve another factor like leadership or style of communication. The author also believes that while learners can’t be forced into being motivated, it is possible for good instructional design to help promote and support motivation.

Dirksen’s clear and logical explanation of key concepts and her focused writing style makes the book a quick and engaging read. I recommend Design for How People Learn to anyone interested in knowing more about how to convey information effectively.