Book Review: “Design for How People Learn” by Julie Dirksen

“Design for How People Learn” by Julie Dirksen is an insightful and valuable resource for anyone interested in the field of instructional design. This book stands out for its clear and approachable style, making complex learning theories understandable to a broad audience.

The book covers a wide range of topics from the basics of how people learn, including cognitive psychology aspects, to practical strategies for creating effective learning environments. It addresses common instructional design challenges and offers solutions grounded in research.


Explanations of Concepts

Dirksen breaks down concepts into digestible segments. Her explanations are clear and to the point, ensuring that readers, regardless of their background, can grasp the fundamental principles of instructional design.

Dirksen takes established theories of cognitive psychology and instructional design and breaks them down into fundamental components. For example, she explains the concept of cognitive load theory by relating it to everyday scenarios, allowing readers to quickly grasp why minimizing extraneous cognitive load is crucial in learning design.

Throughout the book, Dirksen uses analogies drawn from common experiences to explain instructional design principles. For instance, she might compare the memory process to how a computer processes and stores information, making the concept more relatable and easier to understand.

When introducing concepts like how to create engaging learning experiences, Dirksen often uses a step-by-step approach. She lays out each stage of the process in a clear, logical order, walking readers through from the initial analysis of learning needs to the final design and implementation.

The book is peppered with practical examples that illustrate the principles being discussed. For instance, when explaining learner engagement, Dirksen may present a case study of a well-designed learning module, highlighting specific features that make it effective.

Dirksen effectively uses visuals like diagrams and charts to supplement her explanations. These visuals serve as cognitive aids, making abstract concepts like information processing or the hierarchy of learning tasks more concrete and digestible.

Dirksen’s writing is approachable and engaging, which helps in demystifying complex subjects. Her tone is conversational yet informative, making the reader feel like they are being guided through the concepts rather than lectured.


Interesting Insights

Throughout the book, Dirksen provides fascinating insights into the learning process, often challenging traditional notions of instructional design. She encourages readers to think critically about how learning materials are created and how learners interact with them.

Dirksen does not shy away from questioning established instructional design practices. She invites readers to reconsider commonly held beliefs about how people learn best. For example, she might challenge the effectiveness of one-size-fits-all learning solutions, advocating instead for more personalized approaches.

The book integrates the latest findings from cognitive science and educational psychology. By presenting current research, Dirksen offers new perspectives on how learning actually occurs, which may contrast with older instructional design models.

Throughout the book, Dirksen emphasizes the importance of understanding the learner. She delves into how individual differences, such as prior knowledge, motivation, and learning preferences, can impact the learning process. This focus on the learner as an active participant in the learning process is a shift from more traditional, instructor-centered approaches.

The book itself is designed as an interactive learning experience. It includes exercises and reflection questions that encourage readers to apply critical thinking to their own design practices. This interactive approach models the kind of engaging, learner-centered design that Dirksen advocates.

Dirksen encourages experimentation in instructional design. She suggests trying out new methods and technologies, even if they deviate from traditional practices, to better engage learners and meet their diverse needs.



The use of storytelling is another aspect where this book shines. Dirksen uses engaging narratives to exemplify concepts, making the book not just educational but also enjoyable to read. This storytelling approach helps in cementing the concepts in the reader’s mind.

Dirksen incorporates stories and anecdotes that are relatable and engaging. These narratives are often woven around common challenges and scenarios in learning and instructional design. For example, she might tell a story about a learner’s journey through a training program, highlighting specific obstacles and how they were overcome.

Instructional design can involve abstract and theoretical concepts. Storytelling helps in grounding these concepts in real-world contexts. By narrating how a particular learning theory plays out in practice, Dirksen makes it easier for readers to grasp and remember these concepts.

Through storytelling, Dirksen connects the content with the reader’s own experiences. This relatability enhances engagement, as readers are more likely to be invested in content that resonates with their personal or professional experiences.

The stories often show how instructional design principles can be applied in practical settings. This is particularly useful for readers who are looking to implement these principles in their own work. The narratives act as case studies that provide insights into the application of theories.

Stories are a powerful tool for memory retention. By presenting information in a narrative format, Dirksen makes it more likely that readers will remember the key points. The narrative structure, with its beginning, middle, and end, helps in organizing information in a way that is easier to recall.

The use of storytelling also makes the book more enjoyable to read. Instead of a dry, textbook-like approach, the narratives add a layer of entertainment, keeping the reader engaged throughout.


Use of Visuals

The visuals in the book are both informative and appealing. Dirksen employs diagrams, charts, and other visual aids effectively to complement the text, making complex ideas more accessible and easier to understand.

Often, instructional design concepts can be abstract or complex. Dirksen uses visuals to break down these concepts into more understandable parts. For instance, a complex theory might be illustrated with a flowchart or diagram, making it easier for readers to grasp the key points and how they connect.

In this book, diagrams are used to illustrate processes and concepts in a simplified manner. For representing data, trends, or relationships between different elements of instructional design, charts and graphs are utilized.



How is the Book organized?

The book is well-organized, with a logical flow that builds from basic to more complex ideas. Each chapter is thoughtfully structured, making it easy to follow along and refer back to specific sections as needed.

The book starts with foundational concepts of learning and instructional design, making it suitable for beginners. As readers progress, the content gradually delves into more complex topics, allowing for a build-up of understanding without overwhelming the reader.

Each chapter is designed to flow logically into the next. This sequential presentation ensures that readers develop a comprehensive understanding of instructional design. The concepts introduced in earlier chapters are expanded upon in later sections, reinforcing learning and deepening the reader’s comprehension.

The chapters are concise and focused on specific topics. This structure makes it easy for readers to digest information in manageable segments. The clear chapter titles and headings allow readers to quickly identify the content and focus of each section. Each chapter is structured to include an introduction to the topic, detailed explanations, examples, and summaries.

The consistent format across chapters aids in comprehension and makes it easier for readers to follow the author’s line of though. The chapters include practical examples and case studies which illustrate the theoretical concepts in real-world scenarios. The examples are strategically placed to align with the relevant theoretical content, enhancing understanding.

At the end of each chapter, summaries and key takeaways are provided. This helps in reinforcing the main points and serves as a quick reference for readers.

“Design for How People Learn” by Julie Dirksen is a must-read for educators, instructional designers, and anyone interested in creating effective learning experiences. Its blend of solid research, practical advice, and engaging writing makes it a standout choice in the field of educational design.”

What do users say about the book?

We read a couple of reviews on Amazon for this book before purchasing it and this is what they said:

  • It provides thorough understanding of instructional designing, covering basic to mid-level concepts so both beginners and those looking to enhance their existing skills can read it.
  • It offers explanations provided through examples, metaphors, situations, and scenarios that break down complex concepts in relatable and understandable ways.
  • It is a highly practical book that is filled with tips that can be immediately applied in corporate training and instructional design.
  • It uses an easy-to-understand writing style, engaging tone with humor that makes it an interesting read.
  • It is well-organized and thoughtfully structured content of the book makes it easy for readers to follow and reference specific sections as needed.
  • The book uses visuals is mentioned as both informative and appealing, aiding in the understanding of instructional design concepts.
  • The information is supported by the latest research, providing valuable insights for creating meaningful learning experiences.
  • Although this book is primarily aimed at trainers and instructional designers, it can be useful to anyone involved in messaging or delivering content to learners.
  • It doesn’t use “clinical” or “academic” language, typically found in books but a friendly tone which is refreshing and enjoyable.
  • The book excels in conceptual explanations, versatility, and is serving as a useful resource for both new and experienced designers in various fields, including e-learning, hybrid learning, and face-to-face learning.
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