Book Review: Evidence-Informed Learning Design

Book Review: Evidence-Informed Learning Design
Michail Petrov/
Summary: Today, anybody can be an expert, thought leader, guru or ninja spreading opinion-based misinformation about how we should design learning experiences. What should you do instead? Read this book.

Goodnight Moon By Mirjam Neelen And Paul A. Kirschner

Evidence-Informed Learning Design will allow learning professionals to make a measurable difference in employee performance. But what, exactly, is it?

"When Goodnight Moon was published, it was deemed too 'sentimental,' and so it didn’t sell at first. Today, 800,000 copies are sold annually. There’s anecdotal evidence that after reading the book, 2 in 5 learning professionals believe that spaced learning is about neurocows jumping over the moon." – Wikiquackia

The piece of the news above is an example of non-evidence-informed, almost nonsensical information with some truth in it. This is how we often feel in today’s world of Learning and Development. Myths, misconceptions, assumptions, and over-generalizations are giving a bad name to our profession.

What Should We Do Instead?

Calling out these misinformed blogs, articles, and presentations is the first step. However, without providing evidence-informed practical methods, tools, and real-world examples to replace current practices, it would be unfair to expect learning professionals to abandon all of these ineffective techniques and long-held beliefs. That’s why I recommend the real book, Evidence-Informed Learning Design by Mirjam Neelen and Paul A. Kirschner. [1] There are already great, "normal" reviews and recommendations out there, so this one is going to be slightly different. [2][3]

I hope Mirjam and Paul will forgive me.

Evidence-Informed Learning Design And The Cow That Jumped Over The Moon

Imagine for a second that this book has an AI-driven bot answering your questions before purchasing. This is an imaginary conversation between me—a busy practitioner in the field of learning design under time pressure and resource constraints—and an AI-driven bot called MIRPA.

MIRPA: "Hi, my name is MIRPA. How can I help you today?"

ME: "I’m looking at this book called Evidence-Informed Learning Design. I like the subtitle, 'Creating training to improve performance.' This is what I’m after."

MIRPA: "Great! This book is for you, then!"

ME: "But this evidence-informed thing sounds like I need to dig deep into learning science research. I don’t have time for deciphering that abstract language. Don’t get me wrong, I do read articles online, but I often get confused because they’re so contradicting."

MIRPA: "You don’t necessarily have to dive into scientific research! This book actually provides you with practical steps in order to put on your researcher hat and figure out whether what you’re reading, seeing, or hearing might be true or not."

ME: "Wow! That would be helpful. Do you know what would be even better? If it helped me cut out some of the eLearning content I’m working on. And maybe if it gave me some ideas about how to make it more engaging."

MIRPA: "Sounds like you want the learning experience to be effective, efficient, and enjoyable at the same time."

ME: "Now you’re talking!"

MIRPA: "Check out the chapter on the holistic learning experience design! You’ll find it extremely useful."

ME: "Nice! Speaking of holistic, I just read this article from an expert on holistic learning for including all learning styles on [bleep].com." [4]

MIRPA: "Well, there’s a chapter for that. Unfortunately, in today’s world, everyone can be a self-proclaimed expert. The book Evidence-Informed Learning Design calls these people 'quacksperts.' Reading this chapter, you’ll be surprised how easy it is to wrap learning myths in shiny paper with a bow to sell. So shiny we need to close our eyes!"

ME: "Ha?"

MIRPA: "What I’m saying is that we often close our eyes to evidence when it comes to our beliefs about learning. We must look beyond the shiny wrapping."

ME: "Yes, my nightmare is that I put all my time and effort into a shiny, innovative solution for my boss and it turns out I should have known better from the beginning. I mean it’s easy to say, 'don’t do this' or 'don’t do that' but what should I do instead?"

MIRPA: "This book does a good job of balancing research and practice. It provides you with case studies, interviews, and real-world examples."

ME: "Hmm… While this sounds good, I also have to convince my boss that reading a book in 2020 is valuable for our department. My boss says we need to innovate. You know, AR/VR and all?"

MIRPA: "That’s not uncommon in the field. Again, new, shiny things and tech are always considered innovative. If this is a concern, you’ll appreciate the topic on how to address these issues in conversations with your leadership or Subject Matter Experts."

ME: "Okay, here’s one thing I’m sure you don’t have the answer to. I made a bet with a colleague that I can memorize 100 items in a list. I know I can do it because I’m using a mnemonic system, but my question is whether brain-training like that improves my brain skills. I tried to google it but there are so many contradicting opinions."

MIRPA: "The answer to this, and many other learning strategies out there, is somewhat nuanced. Let’s leave some mystery to the book to reveal in the 'Nuanced Learning' chapter."

ME: "Oh, fine! Last question. Anything you would challenge in the book?"

MIRPA: "I’m just a bot so I wouldn’t say challenge, but two things I would mention. I understand the difference and effort behind explaining evidence-based vs. evidence-informed learning design. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if this wouldn’t stick in our every-day language. Because you know, based on my experience, you can call a spade a spoon until the cows come home. That said, whether it’s based or informed, evidence is the place to start. The other thing is about using the word 'learner.' I understand the point the authors make that it is okay to refer to the people who go through the learning experience as learners since this is our focus after all. My reservation is that using the word 'learner' with Subject Matter Experts and stakeholders often narrows their thinking down to a course. We shouldn’t forget that 'learners' have a life before, during, and after any training event. Not to mention that learning is often a barrier, a means to get somewhere, rather than the desired destination."

ME: "I think I’m going to buy the book! Let me sleep on it."

MIRPA: "Excellent! People who slept on this decision also bought another great book, called Goodnight Moon! Would you like to chat about that too?"


Seriously, I strongly recommend this book for any learning professionals who want to avoid fads and hot trends and replace them with evidence-informed—or based—best practices. I suggest reading the book end-to-end first, and then use it as reference material for two purposes: designing learning experiences that are effective, efficient, and enjoyable/engaging, and having evidence-informed—or based—conversations with your colleagues where you can back up your opinions by the book. If nothing else, you can explain to them why it is not a good idea to read the PowerPoint presentation slides out loud. Or is it?


[1] Evidence-Informed Learning Design by Mirjam Neelen and Paul A. Kirschner

[2] Great Book by Neelen and Kirschner

[3] What Lies Ahead For eLearning: What Can You Do Now To Prepare?