With 2013 just around the corner, we recently brought the GoodPractice book club year to a close by finishing our reading of Julie Dirksen’s Design for How People Learn. We were also lucky enough to spend some time talking to Julie on Skype about the key themes of the book as well as all things L&D!

Chapter 9: Design for Environment


The final chapter of Design for How People Learn examines the impact the learning environment can have on the learning experience. We were particularly struck by the following points:

The environment can lift some of the burden from the learner


In the book, Julie gives a number of examples of learning environments that have been adapted to take some of the burden off the learner. These range from pretzel kitchens, where templates of perfect pretzels have been built into the work surface...

Image of pretzel templates for kitchen counters


...to the world-famous Freedom Trail in Boston, where the route is clearly marked on the city’s pavements.

Bostom Freedom Trail route marker


These environments make it easier for learners - including complete novices - to perform the tasks at hand. This got us thinking about how we might be able to adapt the learning environment of our toolkits and other performance support tools to make them as easy as possible to use and navigate. We recently undertook some research in this area with a group of first-time users - watch this space for the results!

Job aids are an important part of the learning environment


In chapter 9, Julie points out that job aids (i.e. prompts, instructions or memory aids) can be extremely effective, particularly when they exist in close proximity to the learning environment. Julie provides the excellent example of an instruction label attached to a jump lead:

Jump leads with instruction label


When we got talking about this, we realised that there are lots of other examples of job aids being particularly effective when they are in close proximity to the learning environment, from the instructions printed on fire extinguishers, to the laminated safety cards on aeroplanes. We wondered how this principle might work within the context of our toolkits - could job aids within the learning environment enrich our users’ learning experience? Could we create opportunities for learners to develop their own job aids or prompts within our toolkits?

Computers and humans are good at doing different things!


It might sound obvious, but this point really rang true for us. When used in the right way technology can do some things far better than a human can - so how can we make best use of this? One positive step we’ve already taken is to make many of the self-assessment exercises in our toolkits interactive. Learners no longer have to print out a grid, fill it out and add up their score at the end of the exercise - the technology does this for them! Instead they can focus on answering the self-assessment questions as honestly as possible and reflecting on the tailored feedback they automatically receive. We’re always looking into new ways to make our content more interactive, so our users can expect to see more developments like this in the future.

Reflections on Design for How People Learn


After wrapping up our discussion of chapter 9, we spent some time reflecting on Design for How People Learn as a whole. What did we learn? How did it change the way we think about learning design? What can we take away from it? These were our thoughts:

  • Julie’s book reminded us of the huge challenge we face as learning designers: learners are human beings - not machines! - and we can’t assume that they will be as excited about our material as we are! As Julie points out, it is part of our role to ensure the learning solutions we design are genuinely engaging and can both capture and hold our learners’ attention throughout the learning experience.

  • One size doesn’t fit all! There are a whole host of factors that can affect people’s willingness and ability to learn. We already offer different types of content to suit people’s circumstances (top tips, checklists and templates for people who need support but are short on time; longer articles for people who want to go a bit deeper and learn more about a particular topic) but could we offer even more variety to cater for our users’ varied learning needs?

  • We all appreciated the friendly, accessible tone of Design for How People Learn as well as Julie’s frequent use of images. Is this something we should be doing more of in our toolkits?

  • The world of learning is constantly changing and evolving, particularly as technology continues to develop. We all need to stay on top of the latest thinking and practice if we want to continue to develop learning materials that really help our users, and the GoodPractice book club is a big part of this.


Our chat with Julie


At the end of November we were lucky enough to spend an hour with Julie on Skype. She was extremely generous with her time and wisdom, answering all our burgeoning questions about Design for How People Learn and the wider world of learning and development. Here are the highlights of our conversation:

 GoodPractice chat with Julie (running time approx 7 mins)

Well that’s it for Design for How People Learn and for 2012! In the New Year, we’ll be reading Clive Shepherd’s The New Learning Architect. We do hope you’ll read along with us and join in the conversation through the blog or on Twitter via the #goodpracticebookclub hashtag.

See you in 2013!

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