The first three chapters of Julie Dirksen’s Design for How People Learn was a fairly basic introduction. The book does not promote any fallacies, which is better than a number of publications. I was somewhat worried when she raised the topic of learning styles, but she accurately indicated that catering to learning styles has little credible research to support positive educational effects. As Dirksen indicates, though, thinking about learning styles and multiple intelligences can be beneficial during lesson planning. When she indicated that learning styles are popular, that reminded me of the time when I was simultaneously reading Maryellen Weimer defending learning styles while Hattie and Yates were devoting an entire chapter in Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn to the following conclusion: “that there is not any recognized evidence suggesting that knowing or diagnosing learning styles will help you to teach your students any better than not know their learning styles” (176). Far from throwing babies out with bath water, as Weimer claims “higher education” has a tendency to do, I think there is a remarkably conservative nature to educational thinking, as Weimer demonstrates. In defense of learning styles, Weimer states that there is “one unarguable fact: People do not all learn in the same way.” Hattie and Yates call that fact “a simple and blatant truism” (176). So, other than as a general mental model that acknowledges different preferences in learning that is helpful during a design or lesson planning stage, learning styles do not appear to be a productive area of research.
The basicness of the introduction is not unwelcome. It provides a good opportunity to unpack my existing schemata around education, making the unconscious, conscious again. In many ways, my proficiency is at the level of “Unconscious competence,” and it is a useful exercise to pull that back down to the levels of “Conscious effort” and “Conscious action” to examine my existing schemata for accuracy and currency. In fact, placing sophistication and proficiency on an XY axis was the one thing that was new to me in the chapters. That appears to be a rather productive graphic to use when thinking through learning objectives.
The section in Chapter 2 of Design for How People Learn on student motivation, of course, made me mentally compare that section with John Keller’s Motivational Design for Learning and Performance: The ARCS Model Approach. Keller is one of the leading experts in learning and motivation, having been studying the topic for over 40 years. Keller’s ARCS model— dividing motivational components into Attention, Relevance, Confidence, and Satisfaction—has been around for a few decades. The part where a learning designer was disclaiming responsibility for learner motivation marks the same point that represents something that Keller added to his ARCS model in his 2010 publication. Keller expanded his ARCS model into the ARCS-V model. Keller added the concept of “Volition” to his previous model, to represent that aspect of learner motivation that the learning designer is referring to. As Dirksen says, one cannot force a learner to be motivated. For Keller, that volition is what the learner must bring to the learning situation and cannot be given. However, Keller would argue, and Dirksen would agree, that once that initial volition to learn is there, there are multiple ways that an instructor can increase motivation as well as demotivate learners.