Book Review: Instructional Design

instrdesignIn my undergraduate career, instead of writing endless lesson plans (that I never used), I always wanted to learn more about how people think, and how they learn, and how we should teach to that.  In my present job, I finally learned (five years later!) that there is a term for this–Instructional Design.  I just recently finished reading  Design For How People Learn (Voices That Matter), by William Horton, as my first foray into this study.  It is striking in its simplicity and most of the things are so obvious you think to yourself–now why didn’t think of that?  In a nutshell, here are my main take-aways:

Identify the learner’s “gaps”, in order to bridge them.

These “gaps” may be knowledge, skills, motivation, or environment.  As the author describes each of these types of gaps, it helps to see exactly why more than a few corporate trainings or teacher meetings are so ineffective.  The issue is not always a lack of knowledge or basic skills.  Sometimes it’s more than that.

Anticipate the learner’s journey through your course, training, etc. and provide them with the difficulty, ease, and tools necessary at strategic points along the way.

Every learner wants to feel successful, so it is important to build in “easy” parts, so that the learner feels smart, capable.  These, however, should be balanced by challenge so that the learner also feels success. In the same way, provide the learner with specific tools or resources–as they need them.  Starting the journey with all the tools one may need means the learner has to “carry” them all as they hike up the hill.  Instead, provide the learner with the extra pair of shoes or a bottle of water as they near the halfway marker–when they will be most grateful for them.

There are no “learning types”; instead, it is a matter of how best the specific knowledge or skills will be acquired.

Certain skills are best mastered by doing role plays, acting out specific situations.  Others are best learned by repeating a procedure several times in order to fix it in the memory.  It just depends what you plan to teach.  Think carefully how best learners will master the skills or knowledge you have in mind.


This book includes so much more than just these tidbits, all in a well-written style that effortlessly pulls you through its pages as the knowledge streams into your brain (that’s about how it feels, anyway!), while your eyes are engaged by the simple, yet distinctive graphics peppered throughout.

What books or articles have you found helpful as relates to Instructional Design?  What would you like to learn more about?  Please share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below.

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