Making Teaching and Learning More Effective: Julie Dirksen’s Design For How People Learn

This wonderful book by Julie Dirksen (New Riders, 2012) manages to do something that is very difficult: it is compact yet comprehensive, and it takes some fairly difficult topics and makes them clear and memorable. It is aimed at online instructional designers, but only in the most general way. It is a book about human learning–goals, gaps, memory, attention, skills, motivation, and environmental considerations–and it organizes and explains those topics in a way that will entertain you, refresh your memory, and help you to put knowledge to effective use, whether you are going to apply that knowledge or explain it to others. It covers the basics, but I’m pretty confident in saying that it has just the right level of detail to appeal to almost any educator. Even seasoned instructional designers will find something for them in it. Different people will enjoy it for different but overlapping reasons: for it’s readability, for its “stickiness“, for its concise explanations.

I teach EFL teachers, or at least I try to, and I often find myself trying to distill research findings in such manner that our session participants can “see” it. That is, I want the teachers who come to our sessions to understand the concepts and recognize how they work in a class. Ms. Dirksen’s book does that brilliantly well. She has a genius–yes, genius–for explaining things and I am going to borrow some of her metaphors for upcoming training sessions this year. At the end of each chapter there is a Summary section, as there is with other books. But here, instead of working my way through the list trying to recall the various points, I found myself jumping from point to point–check, got it, check, check, check, got’em. I could mentally have written the points myself, that’s how well they had stuck with me. There is a lot of Kathy Sierra (Creating Passionate Users blog) in this book and in Ms. Dirksen’s approach, something that she clearly acknowledges, and that is not a criticism. (If you like her blog posts, you’re pretty likely to enjoy this book. And if you have never visited her blog, go take a look).

If I ran the circus, I would make this book mandatory for all teachers. At this point in time, I do believe there is not a better summary of current understanding of the psychology of learning as it applies to teaching situations. Do yourself a favor and get this book. I promise you won’t be sorry. Ms. Dirksen’s blog is also very good, and she is a very dependable Twitterer. In the world of educational design, she’s a good person to have in your corner.

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