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Talk to the Elephant: Design Learning for Behavior Change with Julie Dirksen — DT101 E131

Julie Dirksen is the author of the books Design for How People Learn and Talk to the Elephant: Design Learning for Behavior Change. She is a learning strategy consultant with a focus on incorporating behavioral science into learning interventions. Julie was my guest for episode 42 of the show. In this episode, we talk about her latest book, ways to motivate learners and workshop participants, designing learning experiences for skill development, and more.

Listen to Learn About

  • Julie’s latest book, Talk to the Elephant: Design Learning for Behavior Change
  • Behavior change challenges
  • The biggest challenge when creating virtual learning experiences
  • Motivating and engaging learners
  • AI in education

Portrait of Julie Dirksen

Our Guest

Julie Dirksen is the author of the books Design For How People Learn and Talk to the Elephant: Design Learning for Behavior Change. She is a learning strategy consultant with a focus on incorporating behavioral science into learning interventions. Her MS degree is in Instructional Systems Technology from Indiana University. She’s been an adjunct faculty member at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and is a Learning Guild Guildmaster.

She is happiest when she gets to learn something new, and you can find her at

Show Highlights

[02:02] Julie gives a quick summary of her first book and how Talk to the Elephant is its natural sequel.
[02:42] The new book tackles the challenges in actually changing behavior.
[04:26] On learning experiences.
[05:21] Julie is starting to organize a third book, which will be on skill acquisition.
[05:34] The evolution of behavioral design.
[06:21] The COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest behavior change experiment in the history of the world.
[07:06] The book’s audience are those in the learning and development field — people who design learning experiences.
[08:00] The Change Ladder.
[08:54] Julie offers one case study she uses in the book to demonstrate the challenges around behavior change.
[14:17] The importance of communicating and working with the people you serve when it comes to changing behaviors.
[14:58] Julie tells a story illustrating the importance of talking to and understanding the people you serve and their needs.
[17:57] It’s important for people to participate in their own behavioral design.
[20:15] Creating the conditions for learners to motivate themselves.
[21:22] Making things as easy as possible for someone to do.
[22:42] A Miro Moment.
[25:27] Creating learning experiences that engage learners.
[26:14] The biggest challenge in designing virtual workshops.
[27:55] Why Julie is interested in Virtual Reality.
[29:34] The top two challenges Julie sees in almost every behavior change.
[34:55] Immediate impact and immediate rewards help learners stay motivated.
[37:21] Helping learners see what they will be able to do with this new skill or new knowledge.
[42:53] Julie shows appreciation for how video games onboard players as a great example of guiding people along the learning curve.
[45:11] Designing learning experiences to make your learner feel smart and capable as they acquire new skills and knowledge.
[48:42] Julie talks about research on self-directed learning by Catherine Lombardozzi.
[49:20] Julie and Catherine will be doing a webinar on the key behaviors seen in good self-directed learners.
[52:05] Julie ponders how systems thinking and design fits into behavior change.
[52:54] Dawan and Julie talk about AI and its role in education.


Julie on LinkedIn
Usable Learning
Designing for how people learn

Book Recommendations

Design for How People Learn, by Julie Dirksen
Talk to the Elephant: Design Learning for Behavior Change, by Julie Dirksen
Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman
Nudge: The Final Edition, by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein
How Change Happens, by Cass Sunstein
Misbelief: What Makes Rational People Believe Irrational Things, by Dan Ariely
Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, by Dan Ariely

Design Thinking 101 Episodes You Might Like

Learning Design + Designing for How People Learn with Julie Dirksen — DT101 E42
Learning Design with Yianna Vovides — DT101 E58
Adding System Awareness to System Design to Your Innovation Stack with Julie Guinn — DT101 E43

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