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.

Re: Using Rich Media Wisely

A response to Chapter 31, “Using Rich Media Wisely,” in Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology


Suppose you wish to help people learn how to carry out a fitness exercise routine using workout equipment.  Would it be better to use a series of still diagrams, an animation, or a video?  Would it be better to use printed text or spoken text or no text?  Justify your answer in terms of research evidence and a cognitive theory of learning.


In order to select the best options for training, in terms of rich media, it is best to begin with a learner-centered approach, asking, “How can we adapt rich media to aid human learning?” rather than beginning with the technology-centered question, “How can we use rich media to design instruction” (Clark & Mayer, 2017, pp. 259-260). Using the learner-centered approach means focusing on the facilitation of the learners’ natural learning process in order to gain the most ground in terms of instruction and knowledge construction (p. 260). “Rich media should be used (or not used) in ways that are consistent with what we know about how people learn and with research evidence concerning instructional effectiveness” (p. 260).

In this case, the overall objective is to help people learn how to carry out a fitness exercise routine using workout equipment. Utilizing evidence from research in cognitive theory, a learner-centered plan for effective instruction can be developed. According to cognitive information processing theory, proposed by Atkinson and Shriffin in 1968, there are three types of memory: sensory, working, and long-term (Driscoll, 2017, p. 54; Clark & Mayer, 2017, p. 261). Sensory memory receives external input though audio and visual channels. Next, the information is processed by the working memory, the center of all conscious thinking. Working memory is very limited and susceptible to cognitive overload, when overtaxed. Storage in long-term memory is the goal of learning, where knowledge is retained and can be accessed and built upon. Meaningful learning occurs when selecting, organizing, and integrating of information occurs, which moves that information from working memory into long-term memory (Clark & Mayer, 2017, p. 261).

The amount of mental work imposed on working memory is the cognitive load. “Novice learners with little related knowledge in long-term memory are much more susceptible to cognitive overload” (Clark & Mayer, 2017, p. 261). What differentiates novice learners from experts is how they construct knowledge and their ability to solves problems.” Novices lack “schemas.” These are chunks of information that have been encoded into long-term memory and are used by learners to “interpret events and solve problems” (Driscoll, 2017, p. 54). In fact, “differences in relevant prior knowledge” are recognized as “perhaps the single most important feature to be considered when designing instruction” (Clark & Mayer, 2017, p. 261).

Therefore the first question to ask when developing training for the workout program is, “Are the learners novices or experts?” For the purpose of this discussion, we will assume that the learners targeted by the workout program are novices.

“The major challenge of instructional design is to promote selecting, organizing, and integrating information (cognitive processing), in order to develop or build upon schemas in long-term memory without overloading the working memory” (Clark & Mayer, 2017, p. 261). There are three research-based principles that must be considered to prevent cognitive overload, and promote cognitive processing, during instruction: limited capacity principle, dual-channels principle, and active learning principle (p. 261).

Limited capacity principle

The limited capacity principle says, “People can only process a small amount of information in each channel at any one time” (Clark & Mayer, 2017, p. 261). Supporting research demonstrates that novices benefit from visuals but experts experience the reverse effect. Visuals may depress learning in experts (p. 263). Since our learners are novices, it is important to remember that explanations that use visuals, rather than text only, are better. In terms of visuals, although animated graphics can illustrate processes that cannot be otherwise illustrated, a series of still frames can result in learning as good or better than animated version, usually at a lower cost (p. 263).

Since it is also proven that simple line diagrams more effective than more elaborate ones, especially for novices, the major component moves of each exercise, and the mechanisms of the workout equipment, will be represented by simple line drawings (p. 263). Still drawings are helpful in allowing learners to compare one phase of movement to the next (pp. 263-264). However, since research has shown that physical tasks, particularly those using the hands, are best represented by animation rather than still graphics, our learners will be given several simple animations to bring together the component exercise moves that were illustrated by still visuals (p. 264).

Dual-channels principle

The dual-channels principle says that, “People have separate channels for processing visual/pictorial and auditory/verbal information” (Clark & Mayer, 2017, p. 261). The dual-channels principle is true for both sensory and working memory, so if information delivery is divided between auditory and visual channels, cognitive overload (which occurs in working memory) is reduced (p. 266). For the same reason, it is not ideal to use written (text) graphics along with other visual input since that is accessing the same visual channel. Augmenting visuals with verbal or audio instructions is more beneficial. Research shows that, whenever audio is used, it is best for learners to have access to replay or stop/start buttons. (p. 266).

So, when animations are used for our learners, audio narration will be added, though learners will have the ability to stop and start the lesson, as needed.

Active learning principle

The active learning principle explains that people must engage in cognitive processing in order for meaningful learning to occur—attending to relevant information, categorizing/organizing the material, and integrating it with knowledge schemas stored in long-term memory (Clark & Mayer, 2017, pp. 261-262). Utilizing research that supports active learning principle means helping learners to better attend to information, so it can be categorized and integrated with existing knowledge. Studies have shown that there is better learning when a reading precedes a video—learners are more apt to attend to the details in the video that were covered in the reading. In addition, information is better attended when extraneous footage and distracting visuals are eliminated (p. 265). Finally, animations that employ cueing devices—such as arrows on the line drawings and color flows and audio on the animations—draw attention to relevant aspects of the animation (p. 264).

So, our learners will read the directions for each exercise before seeing any animation (Clark & Mayer, 2017, p. 265). Animations will be focused on the exercise moves to eliminate extraneous distractions (p. 265). Finally, cues will be added to the stills, in the forms of arrows, and to the animation in the form of color flows and audio cues (p. 264). Learners will have individual controls that allow stopping and starting as deemed necessary, by the learner (pp. 264-265).

By drawing on cognitive processing research, the design for workout instruction, using machine, aims to provide learner-centered instruction, in order to “accommodate the learner’s limits on information processing and leverage the strengths of the human memory” (Clark & Mayer, 2017, p. 260).

Clark, R.C. & Mayer, R. E. (2017). Using Rich Media Wisely. In Reiser & Dempsey (Eds.), Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology (pp. 259-228). New York, NY: Pearson.

Driscoll, M. P. (2017). Psychological Foundations of Instructional Design. In Reiser & Dempsey (Eds.), Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology (pp. 259-228). New York, NY: Pearson.