Re: Frameworks for Learning and Pace Layering

Responses to
Chapter 2, “Who Are Your Learners?”
& Chapter 3, “What’s the Goal?”
in Design for How People Learn.

From Chapter 2: It is important to not just hand your learners information, but instead to help them construct and organize their framework for that information. What are some strategies you could implement to aid learners in the construction and organization of these frameworks?  Why would you choose these strategies?  What theories are these strategies based on?

“Learning is defined as ‘a persisting change in human performance or performance potential’” (Driscoll, 2017, p. 52). Instructional designer, educators, and workplace trainers all desire to make that impact, to orchestrate instruction so as to create a persisting, desired change in the learner’s performance. Often the question is, “How?”

Cognitive information processing theory explains that learning begins when the learner experiences information in the form of sensory input. As the learner experiences this information, it enters the working memory. Potentially, the information can and may be transferred into long-term memory, where it can be accessed at a later time or drawn upon regularly. “In addition to stages through which information passes [sensory memory, short-term memory, long-term memory], processes such as attention, encoding, and retrieval are hypothesized to act upon information as it is received, transformed, and stored for later recall” (Driscoll, 2017, 54).

Instructional Designers can play a pivotal role in helping learners to acquire, assimilate and use the information they are learning. Use of the proper strategies can aid in organizing incoming information into coherent verbal and visual representations (Clark & Mayer, 2016, p. 261). For instance, designers can provide high-level organizers to help learners to categorize information and attend to relationships between items of information; they can also provide graphics or diagrams to summarize ideas in the visual sense (Dirksen, 2016, p. 50; Driscoll, 2017, p. 54). Both of these learning strategies agree with cognitive information processing theory, which says, “attention must often be directed so that learners heed specific aspects of the information they are being asked to learn” (Driscoll, 2017, p. 54). Sometimes a metaphor or analogy will be helpful because comparing new knowledge with existing understanding encourages encoding, where learners “make personally meaningful connections between new information and their prior knowledge” (Dirksen, 2016, p. 50; Driscoll, 2017, p. 54). “Finally, retrieval enables learners to recall information from memory so that it can be applied in the proper context” (Driscoll, 2017, p. 54).

Active learning principle explains that “meaningful learning occurs when the learner engages in appropriate cognitive processing during learning, including attending to relevant aspects of incoming information, mentally organizing the material into a coherent cognitive representation and mentally integrating it with existing knowledge activated from long term memory” (Clark & Mayer, 2016, p. 261). Retrieval of learned information is only possible because we have mentally organized knowledge we have learned.

Schema theory explains that long-term memory contains knowledge in “packets” of information, or schemas, which “organize information in categories that are related in systematic and predictable ways” (Driscoll, 2017, p. 54). New knowledge is more easily encoded when attached to existing schemas. Novice learners are missing these existing schemas and so encoding knowledge (moving from working to long-term memory) is more difficult; they are more susceptible to cognitive overload, where working memory is overwhelmed and knowledge is not encoded (Clark & Mayer, 2016, p. 261). In Dirksen’s closet metaphor, allowing novices to make their own connections is called “designing shelves,” where novice learners participate in the process of building their own meaning—finding significant ways to process, engage with, and integrate new information (Dirksen, 2016, p. 50; Clark & Mayer, 2016, p. 261). In this process, novices are learning how to learn, which is metacognition, an invaluable skill (Clark & Mayer, 2016, p. 261).

From Chapter 3: Compare and contrast fast, slow, moderate, and foundational skills.  Include strategies that are used to teach these skills.  What different real-world settings would you expect to encounter designing for these skills as an instructional designer.

Author Stewart Brand describes a process he calls, “pace layering” in civilizations where “the fast parts learn, propose, and absorb shocks; the slow parts remember, integrate, and constrain. The fast parts get all the attention. The slow parts have all the power” (Dirksen, 2016, p. 74). When pace layering is applied to learning, Dirksen says,  we see that some things are learned faster than others. For example, knowledge—like specific tools techniques, concepts, and principles—can change quickly. Other changes—like skills and attitudes and foundations, like cultural and core values or personality traits—come more slowly (p. 74). In other words, some learning is limited and outside the control of both the learner and the educator. On the other hand, employing specific strategies targets learning goals based on whether they are slow, moderate, or foundational skills, meaning that learning may be limited, but can be optimized.

“Fast skills typically have more explicit rule sets…things where you can make a list of the right answers. Slower skills tend to be things that have more tacit rule sets—it’s hard to say what ‘right’ is, but you might know it when you see it” (Dirksen, 2016, p. 77). If a learning point is fast, instruction can proceed more quickly, too. Learners need more time to grow or change in terms with slow items; so one topic—like problem solving—might take multiple lessons and much practice on the part of the learner (p. 76). Dirksen expands the concept of pace layering from simply fast and slow to very fast, moderate, slow, and foundation in order to tailor suggestions to each category. Very fast learning is best served/taught/acquired/practiced by using tools, checklists, and specific procedures. Moderate learning requires skills, practice, and proficiency development. Slow learning demands higher-level conceptual and strategic skills, expert coaching and extensive practice. Finally, growth in a learner’s foundation necessitates evaluation, self-assessment, and awareness.

In the workplace and in the classroom, tools, checklists, and specific procedures (job aids and performance supports) can be expected to make an observable impact in the short-term. Managers and teachers would have to look more closely to see gains in skills, practice and proficiency; these changes might come over the course of a unit, semester, quarter, or by year’s end. These “moderate skills” are encouraged through exercises such as role-playing and practice scenarios. As for slow and foundation learning—like improvement in strategic skills, which can be seen after extensive practice and expert coaching, or intentional self-assessment—it might take years to see change, and change might be difficult to discern (Dirksen, 2016, p. 78). The foundation skills of evaluation and awareness might be reckoned as “stealth skills,” being internal processes, which are almost impossible to observe. Stealth skills are really the personal property of the individual and are often hidden away from the rest of us. However, if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, it would indeed make a sound. In the same way, growth in stealth skills, as well as in slow and foundation learning, does indeed create impact for the learner, whether they are observed or not. In fact, it is very difficult to make changes in foundation skills—Dirksen says it is unlikely (2016, p. 78). Still, many of us can look back ten or twenty years and see some great differences in our personality or cultural biases. What is difficult is not necessarily impossible.


Clark, R.C. & Mayer, R. E. (2017). Using rich media wisely. In Reiser & Dempsey (Eds.), Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology (pp. 259-268). New York, NY: Pearson.

Dirksen, J. (2016). Design for how people learn. San Francisco: New Riders.

Driscoll, M.P. (2017). Psychological foundations of instructional design. In Reiser & Dempsey (Eds.), Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology (pp. 52-60). New York, NY: Pearson.

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