Book review: Evidence-informed learning design


The number one goal of our learning designers here at Acolad is to design experiences that ensure learners develop the skills their organization needs to succeed. One way we do that is to follow the learning sciences.

Evidence-Informed Learning Design by Mirjam Neelen and Paul Kirschner is our go-to book for ensuring the techniques we use in our learning solutions are based on evidence, not fads or myths. 


Dispelling learning myths with a critical mind 

Myths in learning are everywhere. Basing learning solutions on these myths is a waste of time, money, and effort. Worse, they send us in the wrong direction, meaning learners aren’t getting the best experience they could. This book attempts to dispel these learning myths and guide us towards critical examination of the techniques we use when designing learning.  

Take learning styles or multiple intelligences, for example. How many times have we all heard someone say something like: “we should make sure this lesson allows for different learning styles”, or “there should be more options that people can choose, based on their preferred learning style”. 

This particular myth has been around for decades and refuses to go away. Not only is there no evidence to support the claim, there is an awful lot of evidence to refute it. Neelen and Kirschner give three reasons for this:  

  1. People aren’t usually the best judges of how they learn best 
  2. The cognitive differences between people are gradual rather than nominal, and 
  3. The categories that we are pigeonholed into (visual learners, kinaesthetic, pragmatists, etc.) aren’t universally agreed upon by those that promote the learning styles theory. 

Making a measurable difference on learning success 

The book is packed full of tips, tools, and techniques for how to identify myths about learning, and more importantly, how to incorporate evidence-informed strategies into learning solutions. The authors show us how to interpret scientific literature and learning science research, allowing us to make measurable improvements to what we design.  

As elearning designers, we find the chapter on self-directed learning particularly interesting. Elearning is usually studied alone, but we can support the learner through the course by scaffolding and using just-in-time feedback.

The authors also stress the need for a symbiotic relationship between the goals of the learners and the organization: the learning must help both. This is why at Acolad we agree clear, measurable goals with our customers for every lesson we design.  

In summary, this book is an essential reference guide to make sure that learning experiences are (to borrow the authors’ words) effective, efficient, and enjoyable.  

Our verdict? If you work in learning and development, this book is a must read.