Design Better Learning

I’m delighted to announce the first course in my new project — Design Better Learning. It’s an online course library to help people learn to create better learning experiences.

The first course available is Sticky Learning – Learning Design for Attention and Engagement! It’s a self-study course for instructional designers and anyone designing learning experiences.

Learn more here:

Image of the Sticky Learning Course Home Screen

Nerdy Shop Talk Videocast

So it’s been pretty quiet here on the blog, but that’s because we have been hard at work on several different things.

One of them is HAPPENING this Thursday March 14th at 2PM ET/11AM PT

Tracy Parish and I are starting a new videocast series in conjunction with the Elearning Guild, called Nerdy Shop Talk.

Like many of you, Tracy and I have found that some of our most valuable learning happens when they are talking to other learning designers and discussing new trends,  issues, or challenges they have. These could be hallway conversations at conferences, or email exchanges, or web calls.  We thought it might be interesting to have some of these conversations where others could listen in or ask questions.

Basically, it’s a chance to eavesdrop on experts getting nerdy 🙂

Here’s the description of our first episode:

Episode 001: The Research Rabbit Hole – How do you help people with research-based practice? With Jane Bozarth, Patti Shank and Clark Quinn.
We know that it would be better if people were using solutions that were based on the best knowledge that we have from the academic research, but that can be hard to do.  It’s not realistic for a busy practitioner with a full-time job to also keep up with all the academic journals and research studies.  So how do we help people with that?
Come join us at:

New Book: Play to Learn!

I got a present in my mailbox today — it was the paper copy of Sharon Boller and Karl Kapp’s new book, Play to Learn! I’d already agreed to be a stop on their Blog Book Tour, but it’s lovely to have the hard copy in hand.

They based the book on the workshop that Karl and Sharon teach about the topic, which is why (I suspect) the book is loaded with so many interesting activities and worksheets for designing learning games.

They pull off a really nice balance between:

  • referencing the research evidence behind games for learning
  • giving some really great examples of the mechanics of learning games
  • having activities and guidance on how to create your own game

Along with Karl’s other books on gamification, this is a really good practical entry on the topic of learning games. And they have you analyze Plants Vs. Zombies (a personal favorite).

Recommended 🙂

Quick Links

-Sharon and Karl are doing a webinar: Learn more about Play to Learn – Register for Sharon and Karl’s webinar on Tuesday 3/28/17 at 1 pm. In it, they will expand on some of the key learning game design steps covered in Play to Learn. 

You can get the book from ATD Press (there’s a promo code SPRINGBOOKS17 for 10% off) or you can get the book from Amazon

Follow along with the book tour

Date(s) Event / Blog Stop Location
March 3rd Play to Learn available from ATD and Amazon ATD / Amazon
March 3rd Bottom-Line Performance Blog Stop Lessons on Learning
March 3rd Karl Kapp Blog Stop Kapp Notes
March 3rd ATD Learning Technologies Blog Stop ATD Learning Technologies Blog
March 6th Knowledge Guru Blog Stop Knowledge Guru
March 7th eLearning Industry Blog Stop eLearning Industry
March 8th Connie Malamed Blog Stop The eLearning Coach
March 9th David Kelly Blog Stop Misadventures in Learning
March 10th Lou Russell Blog Stop Russell Martin & Associates Blog
March 13th ATD Science of Learning Blog Stop ATD Science of Learning Blog
March 14th Julie Dirksen Blog Stop Usable Learning
March 15th Zsolt Olah Blog Stop Rabbitoreg
March 16th Cammy Bean Blog Stop Cammy Bean’s Learning Visions
March 17th Melissa Milloway Blog Stop Mel’s Learning Lab
March 21st Learning Solutions Conference Orlando, FL
March 23rd-24th ATD Core4 Session Long Beach, CA
March 28th Webinar with Sharon and Karl Bottom-Line Performance
March 30th-31st Texas Distance Learning Association 2017 Conference Galveston, TX
May 3rd Lectora User Conference Cincinnati, OH
May 22nd-23rd ATD International Conference Atlanta, GA
June 20th-22nd FocusOn Learning Conference San Diego, CA

Talking about Feedback and Habits

Have participated in a few podcasts lately:

There are a few more coming up soon, including an interview with Learning Solutions Magazine to accompany winning the Elearning Guild Guildmaster award (a nice surprise at the recent DevLearn Conference):

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Book Giveaway and Other News

Hey folks,

So Bryan Jones at did a very fun interview with me for his blog.  In conjunction with the interview, he’s giving away five copies of Design For How People Learn! is a nifty resource for creating scenario based learning, and much easier than combing the stock photo sites for multiple pictures of the same model.



A few other things that are happening:

There’s an interview with me on where I talk about things like the importance of using conversational language.

I’m also teaching a few public workshops in the next few months.

I’m teaching at session of the Advanced Instructional Design for Elearning Certificate at the ATD ICE Conference on May 20-21 in Denver.

I’m also doing an elearning instructional design certificate program at the Online Learning Conference in Chicago September 19-20.


Libraries and Hyperbolic Discounting and Carrots

So I’ve been blogging, just not here:



For ASTD, I wrote about why we aren’t in the information delivery business anymore (and what we can learn from Museums and Libraries):

For Allen Interactions, I wrote a guest blog about hyperbolic discounting, and why creating a feeling of immediacy is a necessary instructional design skill:

For Inside Learning Technologies, I wrote about our responsibilities for motivating learners (and why it’s not just about carrot-like rewards):

(The last one is based pretty heavily on a blog post that was posted here a while back)

And, as a bonus link, I was reminded of Cathy Moore’s L&D manifesto the other day, and I think I should just link to it weekly because it’s that great. I can take no credit for this one, other than to say “Yeah! That!! YEAH!”:

Why I don’t like WIIFM

This is excerpted and expanded from a post that I wrote for the Tin Can blog 

We’ve talked about WIIFM (What’s in it for me?) for years – it’s one of those things you always hear that you need to include in learning experiences to persuade your learners to pay attention.


I’ve started to think that’s a really unsatisfactory view of the world – most of the people I know don’t need a sales pitch to do their jobs, or to learn something to help them do that. Instead, they need to know that the thing they are learning is actually useful and necessary.

One of my favorite studies is this one from Dan Ariely called Man’s search for meaning: The case of Legos.

The paper starts with a discussion of meaning and work:

“Most children think of their potential future occupations in terms of what they will be (firemen, doctors, etc.), not merely what they will do for a living. Many adults also think of their job as an integral part of their identity. At least in the United States, “What do you do?” has become as common a component of an introduction as the anachronistic “How do you do?” once was, yet identity, pride, and meaning are all left out from standard models of labor supply.”

The paper goes on to explain “we view labor as meaningful to the extent that (a) it is recognized and/or (b) has some point or purpose.”

They did two actual experiments — one where they had participants do a word problem exercise, and a second where participants were constructing figures with legos.


All the participants were paid money for their efforts, but some of the participants had their papers shredded as soon as they were done (without anyone even looking at the page), or their lego figures immediately broken back up in front of them (I particularly love that they labeled this last instance as the “Sisyphean” condition).


You can read the details here, but essential, people worked significantly longer or for less money in the condition where their work wasn’t meaningless. That shouldn’t be the case if people where primarily motivated by what they could get out of the situation (i.e. $$$). Dan Pink talks about several similar studies in his book Drive, when he talks about the importance of autonomy, mastery and purpose.

So, my issue with WIIFM is that, while it probably doesn’t hurt to let people know about the benefits of something, it’s not really a complete answer.

How about WCIDWT?

I think we should talk about WCIDWT (What can I do with that?).  If I have the knowledge or skill that you are trying to teach me, what will I be able to do that I couldn’t before?

Kathy Sierra talks about this when she compares old school marketing (“Buy this because we kick ass”) vs a focus on the user (“Buy this because we want you to kick ass”). What can *you* (the end-user) do to be more awesome, to know more and to do more.

I’ve been playing around with the idea of accomplishment-based learning — using accomplishments as the fundamental organization of content and learning experiences, so that the very structure of the course is about learners accomplishing thing (*real* accomplishments – not finish-the-lesson or pass-the-test accomplishments).  For example which photoshop course would you rather take?


So, my issue with WIIFM is that it feels transactional — I’m trying to *buy* your attention by waving shiny things, when instead it should be about your goals, and what you can do. WIIFM also feels disrespectful of learners for those same reasons.

Thoughts? Opinions? Examples? Violent disagreement? Would love to hear about it in the comments below.

Learning on Demand

So, I just finished Reuben Tozman’s Learning On Demand, and it’s great stuff. It’s particular great because I’m working on some of the exact issues he describes right now.

Specifically, we are just starting to create content for a new system, and I’m wrestling with questions like:

  • What kind of structure should we use for the content?
  • How do we make the content searchable?
  • How do we make the content adaptable?
  • How do we use the same content in multiple places without having duplicate content?
  • How do we make intelligent content that can be recommended to users when they need it?

Reuben addresses all those questions, in a really accessible way – the book is fast and very readable, despite the fact that Reuben is talking about some fairly complex stuff.

I’ve been talking a lot lately about how we aren’t in the content delivery business any more, and if nice content delivery is the only tool in our instructional design toolbox, then that should be a worry.  The tools are just starting to appear to support doing something beyond pure content delivery in elearning, and Reuben’s book is a great place to start to understand that perspective.

As an aside, I’m working with these folks for the next several months as their Director of Instructional Design:

Altius Education

It’s been *really* interesting work so far, and it gets me out of Minnesota for the winter. So if anybody is in the Bay Area and wants to get together for nerdy shop talk, just let me know 🙂

Going to be in North Carolina – June 22

Hey folks,

I’m cooking up some new blog posts for this highly neglected blog (turns out publishing book makes you busy – huh, who knew?).  In the mean time, I have a new article over on the Peachpit site — an expanded version of The Inspiration Bookshelf.

Also – super excited about a workshop I’m teaching in North Carolina on June 22nd.  I’m doing a day-long Design For How People Learn seminar for the ASTD-RTA (Research Triangle Area) group.

Really pleased because this is the first opportunity to have a whole class based on the book material, and it’s been really fun to figure out how to use the book principles in the design of the workshop itself.

Early bird registration goes until this Friday (June 8th), and it’s a bargain at $149 (Regular rate $179 / Late $219).  You can get more information here.

Here’s the class description:

Julie Dirksen ASTD-ICE presenter will be facilitating her newest workshop which is based on her book Design for How People Learn on June 22, 2012. This interactive full-day workshop will dive into designing instruction that will illicit behavior change. Julie has blended her background in instructional design, game-based learning, UX design and behavior change to develop a designing and implementing processes for usable learning.  Her book and lunch are included in the workshop pricing.

Learning and development shouldn’t be about helping people know more; it should be about helping people do more. In particular, certain behaviors are more challenging to change than others, and we need a new toolbox for helping people make those changes.  

 That means, as learning and development professionals, we need to know all we can about designing for behavior change.

 Learn how to:

  • Match the right intervention up with your learning need
  • Use principles of neuroscience and cognitive psychology attract and maintain attention and engagement
  • Create a learning path that actually develops learners’ skills and abilities, rather than just deliver knowledge
  • Create environments that make behavior change sustainable

Design For Behavior Change

So, last week I did a keynote at the Humana Learning Consortium conference, which is a  great little internal conference for Humana’s learning and development folks, and I thoroughly enjoyed my experience there.

The topic I spoke on was Design for Behavior Change, which is something I’m pretty passionate about. While I was presenting, the delightful Kelly Young, one of the organizers, tweeted this:

I’m quoting her tweet because I like her summation of what I was saying better than the words I actually used.

“when (lack of) knowledge is not the problem, more information is not the answer”

I think this is going to be really, really, really important for learning and development folks, and I’ll tell you why.

Last weekend, I was having a conversation with the wicked-smaht Elliot Felix about the design of libraries and museums.  He was telling me that museums are waking up to what libraries have already started to figure out — they aren’t in the information supply business any more.  There’s more information available online than anybody knows what to do with.  Libraries and museums need to be about services and experiences if they expect to stay relevant.

Learning and development folks who are currently in the information presentation business are going to have the same problem.  When everyone is walking around with smart phones in their pockets (which is pretty much now), then who really needs information purveyors? (btw — it’s this mistaken view of the job of learning professionals that leads to the messed up idea that Khan Academy can replace good teachers).

So I think that information-deliverers are going to need to add to their skill set pretty quickly, or they’ll find themselves obsolete.  I think we need to think of ourselves as business consultants, experience designers and change facilitators (which means we need to be learning about what the business, UX and change management folks do).  This goes back to some of conversations I’ve been having with Reuben Tozman, and I’ll have lots more to say on this in future posts.

Anyway, the topic I was speaking on was Design for Behavior Change (which I hit on in Chapter 8 of the book).  Here are the slides from the talk: