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Design for How People Learn summary

Julie Dirksen

Harness Key Principles of Learning to Enable Knowledge Retention

4.5 (146 ratings)
22 mins

Brief summary

Design for How People Learn by Julie Dirksen is a guide that helps instructional designers and teachers understand how people absorb new information and how to design learning experiences that work. It offers practical advice on creating effective learning environments.

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    Design for How People Learn
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    Chapter 1 – Great teachers know their students as well as their topic.

    Meet Sven. He’s head of graphic design at a fancy start-up and he’s about to lead a group of new hires in a typography workshop. He’s done a lot of preparation – if anything, Sven’s overprepared – and he’s excited to share what he knows. So when he gets started, he doesn’t even bother with introductions. Instead, he decides to launch right into the exciting stuff – the difference between a typeface and a font, the merits of serif vs sans serif, and exactly what kerning is.

    But therein lies the problem: Sven knows a lot about typography. However, he doesn’t know anything about his students.

    Before Sven even began teaching, he should have gauged how much his students already knew. That way, he might have found out that Juanita in the front row is a typesetting nerd with strong feelings about Helvetica – and that Liam, in the back, doesn’t know anything past the fact that he used Times New Roman for his college essays.

    Learning about your students allows you to pitch your course content to their skill levels and tailor it to their motivations. So, before you start teaching, here are a few initial steps to get to know your audience a bit better.

    First, try to establish whether you’re dealing with a skills gap or a knowledge gap – or both! Let’s say your class is on hiking the Appalachian trail. A practiced hiker already has the skills to tackle the trail. They lack knowledge: What’s the best route? What weather conditions should they prepare for? But a novice hiker will lack skills as well as knowledge. You’ll need to teach them the basics – like how to lace up their hiking boots – before you move on to anything specific. And you should lead them through a few basic short hikes, then multi-day hikes, before you let them attempt a 2,000-mile-plus route.

    Next, check in on the learners’ motivation. A motivated learner is more likely to excel than an unmotivated one. Teaching French to a Francophile? They’re already excited and engaged! But what if you’re teaching French to someone with a passion for bassoon? Well, you can always direct them to the nearest bassoon class. Then again, they might have to learn French – say, for dealing with French clients at work. Sometimes that’s motivation enough – but in case it’s not, tying your course material to your learner’s interests is a useful strategy. Sure, it might mean you stay up all night preparing a lesson about the eighteenth-century French bassoonist Adolphe Blaise – yes, he is a real person – but you’ll probably see a pay-off in the classroom.

    The point is, keep learning about your students long after the initial round of introductions. In particular, aim for a two-way flow of information throughout the course. Ask them to explain concepts and demonstrate skills – you’ll easily be able to see who’s grasped the material, who needs some more help, and who’s misunderstood and needs correction quickly!

    Finally, give your students input into the course wherever possible. Ask them to vote on how the course is paced or structured – this creates a sense of ownership. And if you have a range of experts and beginners, allow experienced students to opt out of sessions where you’ll be teaching something they already know. The best teachers aren’t the ones that know their topic inside out – they’re the ones who know their students inside out, too.

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    What is Design for How People Learn about?

    Design for How People Learn (2015) is a practical guide for teachers, workshop leaders, and managers who want to create lessons that engage and inspire. It covers the science of how we learn and then shares the design principles that underpin successful lessons – no matter what’s being taught.

    Design for How People Learn Review

    Design for How People Learn (2016) is an insightful book that delves into the principles of effective learning design. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • With its practical strategies, it helps readers create engaging learning experiences that promote better retention and application of knowledge.
    • The book presents real-life examples and case studies that illustrate the concepts, making the content relatable and applicable in various contexts.
    • Through its innovative approach and emphasis on user experience, the book keeps readers engaged and ensures that learning remains enjoyable and impactful.

    Who should read Design for How People Learn?

    • Teachers who want students to genuinely connect with their material
    • Managers who want to help their team members skill up
    • HR professionals who want to prioritize employee development

    About the Author

    Julie Dirksen is an instructional designer, learning consultant, and author. She’s designed innovative e-learning solutions for some of the world’s biggest corporations – including Google, Microsoft, and FedEx.

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    Design for How People Learn FAQs 

    What is the main message of Design for How People Learn?

    Design for How People Learn emphasizes effective instructional design principles to enhance learning outcomes.

    How long does it take to read Design for How People Learn?

    The reading time for Design for How People Learn varies, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Design for How People Learn a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Design for How People Learn is worth reading as it provides valuable insights and practical techniques for creating effective learning experiences.

    Who is the author of Design for How People Learn?

    The author of Design for How People Learn is Julie Dirksen.

    What to read after Design for How People Learn?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Design for How People Learn, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • The Learning and Development Handbook by Michelle Parry-Slater
    • Evidence-Informed Learning Design by Mirjam Neelen & Paul A. Kirschner
    • Brilliance by Design by Vicki Halsey
    • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
    • Possible by William Ury
    • Ultralearning by Scott H. Young
    • 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People by Susan M. Weinschenk
    • Map It by Cathy Moore
    • Don't Overthink It by Anne Bogel
    • Workplace Learning by Nigel Paine