Book Review, education, Instructional Design and Technology

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

Instructional Design for Context: Book Review

            With the text, “The Design for How People Learn” by Julie Dirksen provides a practical framework for creating learning opportunities for all learning abilities.  The text takes the instructional designer on a journey to discover how to cater to the learning demands of their students.  Throughout the course of this paper, a deeper look into the Dirksen (2016) text will be provided as a means of understanding the author’s perspectives relating to creating high quality and effective learning design.  Following this, questions relating to the content illustrated within the text will be posed.  Also, a solution and action-based approach will be provided as a means of moving into the development and design phase of instruction. 


This framework begins with providing insight on potential limitations that are present within the minds of learners.  Dirksen (2016) identifies this as “learning gaps.”  The text states that “to meet the ever-changing learning demands of the student, the content designer must first consider any potential gaps including knowledge gaps, skill gaps, motivation gaps, habit gaps, environment gaps, and communication gaps,” (Dirksen, 2016, p. 16).  The designer is encouraged to identify which learning gap greatly influences the student as a means of creating content and learning experiences that pushes the student to the next level.  The text provides the “most practical solution to closing the learning gaps is asking questions” (Dirksen, 2016, p. 44). 

            Next, the designer is given the opportunity to get to know their learners through observation, evaluation, and scaffolding. A comparison between motivated and unmotivated learners is provided.  In context, “motivators learners are encouraged to learn regardless of the content. In retrospect, unmotivated learners can remain uninterested throughout the span of an entire unit” (Dirksen, 2016, p. 53).  The concepts of learner skill level are pulled into the conversation as the content designer is encouraged to create opportunities for learners to act as the teacher (Dirksen, 2016, p. 66).  To successfully scaffold a learning experience for students, the designer is encouraged to build upon prior and current knowledge.  Ultimately, this creates new learning experiences that are not completely foreign to the student. 

            Differentiation of instruction considers both the instructor and learners’ differences.  The designer is to create learning opportunities that supports the motivations and interests of the student while being completely aware of one’s own limitations and biases.  Checks and balances are the priority with this concept, as “the learner and the educator’s knowledge will build the overall learning experience” (Dirksen, 2016, p. 82). While in the process of creating balanced content, the designer is moves forward with creating a learning goal. There are several elements to take into consideration when defining a learning goal including identifying a problem, the destination, learning gaps, and stamina (Dirksen, 2016, p. 102). 

            Once the learning goal has been determined, the designer is to combine elements of memory and motivation to create a dynamic lesson.  Dirksen (2016) identifies this as “the rider and the elephant” (p. 192).  “The rider is identified as the impulse control part of the brain.  The elephant is identified as the part of the brain to which is attracted to attention getting events that are considered pleasurable” (Dirksen, 2016, p. 192).  The text suggests that the rider considers the long-term implications of their actions while the elephant ‘goes with the flow.’

            When considering the student’s style of learning, the instructional designer is to move into the content creation phase of course or content design.  Within this phase of the journey, the designer is to create content that is relevant to the knowledge, skills, motivation, behavior, and habits of the learner.  The knowledge phase of content creation diminishes any misconceptions while building on background knowledge.  Coaching, feedback, and practice follows within the designing based on skill phase.  The design for motivation, behavior, and habits of the learner interplay in the process as the designer creates content to which promote self-efficacy and build healthy learning habits through the learner motivation concepts.  “Improving the environment for learners is about clearing out content to which is useless within their minds” (Dirksen, 2016, p. 388).  Designers are encouraged to fill the minds of their learners with useful information to which can be applied to the real world and eliminating any misconceptions relating to the content.  Lastly, the learner is evaluated using predetermined methods set by the instructor. According to the text, “the designer evaluates the learners progress through formative and summative assessments” (Dirksen, 2016, p. 407). 

Concrete Response

            The Dirksen (2016) text relates to my own personal career journey as I have been ushered into the educational training environment within the recent years.  When I think about educational mentors to which have taken the time to relate to my ‘elephant,’ the effort has been relentless.  I started my career within early childhood education as around the age of 23.  With that being said, my attention span was incredibly short at the beginning of my career.  However, my training managers and supervisors sought out creative measures to gain and retain my attention. 

            The text allowed me to reflect over my own career and educational journey.  I have acquired 85% of my college education remotely.  Throughout my educational journey, I have experienced many of the examples listed within the text.  As an example, the environment to which a student is learning within places a critical role in their educational progress.  When I first became a new mom, the environment to which I were learning within was a tad bit stressful, given the need to juggle multiple demands at once.  While I was able to complete the required coursework, the level of difficulty was much greater in comparison to having older children now. 

            One major thing that I can appreciate from pursuing higher education online includes the fact that the learner is constantly taken into consideration.  Online educational platforms have allowed me to enroll within one course every six to eight weeks.  In all, this has created balance on the work and home front.  As mentioned within the Dirksen (2016) text, “the designer and learner are aware of their own limitations” (p. 82). 


            While the information provided within the Dirksen (2016) highlights how instructional designers can reach and teach all learners.  However, the organization of the information presented can be a bit confusing to a new instructional designer. A new instructional designer might ask the following questions: How do the gaps interplay into each identified learning strategy suggested within the text?  How can instructional designers relate the lesson to students with disabilities?

Also, the reader would benefit from the text relating to relevant educational theorists for practical application within the classroom. For practitioners seeking ways to integrate learning opportunities into the classroom, the presence of content to which acknowledges the views of educational psychology can lend itself as additional resources.  The views of Piaget, Vygotsgy and B.F. Skinner will provide additional perspective when it comes to content and course creation. 

To better understand the integration of the strategies within the text, more information pertaining to the application of the necessary tools into varying educational settings would benefit the reader greatly.  This application might include educational settings such as in the classroom and in technology settings. 

Lastly, the text mentions the construction of learning goals as “needing to identify what problem you are trying to solve, setting a destination, determining the gaps between the starting point and the destination, and deciding how far you able to go” (Dirksen, 2016, p. 102).  The construction of the learning goals fails to acknowledge how to effectively integrate different learning styles into the lesson.  The strategy provided lists details pertaining to the ‘end point’ of or the desired outcome.  However, more details will need to be provided for those of different abilities.


            To best suit my own professional journey, I will take the useful information obtained within the text and apply into the content creation phase.  Combining the Dirksen (2016) text and my own critiques of the text, the goal is to create useful content to which caters to all learning styles while keeping the same outcome in mind.  Utilizing the resources provided within the text, there is a value placed on allowing students the opportunity to “self-select” their learning opportunity.  Research shows “that students to which self-select their learning experience have a higher outcome as it relates to assessments” (Adkins and Guerreiro, 2018).

            In the mentioned, ‘self-selection’ process, a variety of educational technology resources will be provided to learners.  The presence of educational technology further diversifies the learning experience as students can engage in instruction using different web based and computer-based software applications and programs.  For adult learners, the presence of educational technology video conferencing tools such as Zoom, Go-To Meeting, Skype, and Google Hangouts diversifies the content for learners.  With providing these multiple opportunities to students, this further allows for all learners to be included in the lesson, regardless of skill level and presence of technology resources.  As an example, students might have the opportunity to engage in a learning opportunity to which requires group participation through use of a video conferencing tool.  While the instructor might not be aware of the students’ abilities with using different technology tools, the option to use multiple types of media technology addresses different learning gaps. 

Dirksen (2016) identifies several areas to which play a role into student learning including motivation and behavior.  In seeking ways to create meaningful content for adult learners, I plan to utilize the concepts provided within the text along with other research-based resources on the topic relating to simulation training opportunities.  According to research, “the presence of simulation-based trainings eliminates the potential for behavior related conflict within training environments” (Shernoff, Schalscha, and Gabbard, 2020).  “Development of simulation-based training opportunities requires an approach to which adds graphics, content, and instructional design elements that maximize learning and transfer” (Shernoff, Schalscha, and Gabbard, 2020

Lastly, to best address any present gaps in learning, the presence of a reliable assessment tool will aid in the process of content development and facilitation.   At the start of a training, students will have the opportunity to partake in an assessment to measure current knowledge.  Post the last training module, students will be re-issued the same assessment to gauge the level of knowledge acquisition to which occurred during the lesson.  This approach considers the multiple gaps listed within the Dirksen (2016) text that can cause a hinderance to student learning.


Adkins, D., & Guerreiro, M. (2018). Learning styles: Considerations for technology enhanced       

            item design: Learning styles. British Journal of Educational Technology, 49(3),


Dirksen, J. (2016). Design for how people learn (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: New Riders.

            ISBN: 9780134211527.

Shernoff, E. S., Von Schalscha, K., Gabbard, J. L., Delmarre, A., Frazier, S. L., Buche, C., &

Lisetti, C. (2020). Evaluating the usability and instructional design quality of interactive virtual training for teachers (IVT-T). Educational Technology Research and Development, 68(6). 3235-3262.