Evidence-Informed Learning Design

Mirjam Neelen and Stella Collins discuss the best ways to change behaviour, improve performance and increase return on investment to make learning more effective and enjoyable.

Evidence-Informed Learning Design
November 24, 2022
Evidence-Informed Learning Design

There’s nothing I like more than batting around ideas on how to make learning more effective and enjoyable. A lively discussion on the best ways to change behaviours, boost performance, and increase return on investment? Count me in!

Luckily, Mirjam Neelen, Head of Global Learning Design and Learning Sciences at Novartis, is equally keen. So when I broached the subject of evidence-informed learning design, Mirjam jumped straight to the good stuff.

Here are five key insights from our conversation:

Dive into the research

For Learning Designers to work in an evidence-informed manner, Mirjam tells me, they need to delve into scientific research.

“If you make decisions based on what you believe, or what you prefer, then something is missing. This is not a professional practice,” she says. “Instead, you should use what you have the strongest scientific evidence for, because that allows you to make better-informed decisions with confidence – you’ll have done your due diligence.”

Remember your context

In her book Evidence-Informed Learning Design, Mirjam takes a deep-dive into the subject with co-author Paul A. Kirschner. The pair also have a blog, in which they discuss the importance of using scientific evidence in learning design – with one important proviso. The need to evaluate the evidence in your particular context.

“We deal with so many variables that are extremely hard to control,” Mirjam cautions in the blog. “What worked with a class today at 9am won’t necessarily have the same effect on a different class at 3pm. ‘Disruptive’ Johnny’s absence will lead to a completely different situation than when Johnny is present. Hence, when we use evidence, we need to acknowledge that what works in one context doesn’t necessarily work in another.”

Avoid getting drowned in data

What else does Mirjam find challenging about adopting an evidence-informed approach? “It eats up a lot of my energy,” she tells me, candidly. “You need to read a lot and compare a lot, and be open to being challenged, which is exhausting sometimes. There is a lot of research out there and you can’t read it all. So you have to make that selection and find some focus.”

It’s a discipline we’re very familiar with here at Stellar Labs. The key is to identify the elements that will make a measurable difference to employee performance and overall business success.

Aim for ripples

So how is Mirjam able to influence evidence-informed learning across such a huge global company as Novartis? “It’s a ‘pebble in the pond’ type thing,” she says, describing the ripple effect of her work.

“Stand on the shoulders of giants”

And while Mirjam’s methods aim to equip workers with the skills they need for the future, she is also keen to learn from the past. “There are methodologies that have been around since the fifties,” she says. “We need to stand on the shoulders of giants.”

I agree; and whilst we’re up there enjoying the view, we must look for evidence their theories work to solve the problems facing businesses today.

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