Those who know me may be surprised to hear that I have a longstanding interest in assistive technologies and “people first” approaches: my first training job was in the staff development department of a 750-bed facility for adults with severe and profound developmental disabilities. So I was especially interested in this title when it came my way. I assumed this was a “usability” guide and was surprised that it was so much more.

image of keyboard and fingersLet’s get a few things out of the way. First, it’s important to note that Putting People First is a textbook. Nothing wrong with that — just be warned. As such, much of the introductory content offers a fairly standard overview of “instructional design”, including basics of things like Bloom’s taxonomy and theories of learning styles. The material is fine, and thorough, but as with other textbooks, this sort of content is offered as uncontested last-word. I’d like to see a textbook provide some critique of longstanding ID traditions, at least enough to encourage students to consider alternate viewpoints.

Trekles similarly discusses Learning Management Systems (LMS) with an implicit message that an LMS is a Good Thing, a point with which I’ve taken issue for nigh on ten years now. And some information, such as that on learning styles, could benefit from a caveat that there’s no research to support the idea that more “learning” occurs when design is adjusted for different styles. Too – and this isn’t the author’s fault ; I struggle with it in my own work – books go out of date before they can be distributed. So, generalizations from 2005 data on the ‘older’ generation’s willingness to use technology – before Facebook existed – are just less credible.

Those concerns aside, though, the book overall offers a readable, solid, extensive, exhaustive, approachable work tightly focused on the position and needs of the learner in the learning experience. Much content focuses on accessibility as it relates to assorted permanent or temporary impairments (“Imagine surfing the web without using your hands or sending an email without seeing the screen”), but a good deal more of the book is germane to the user-first perspective of any learner. I don’t think I’ve ever seen as much on planning and setup of physical learning space, and applaud Trekles’ emphasis on common sense. Like, for instance, the importance of meeting basic human needs: someday I’m going to do a train-the-trainer workshop called, “Fix the Damn Thermostat Already.” Here her subject expertise shines, and she begins to issue some of the challenges I felt were missing earlier. My favorite: “Why is it assumed that every classroom has a front?” Importantly for those of us outside academia and K-12 education, the author lives in an academic world but does work to give better than lip service to issues relevant to those concerned with workplace training efforts.

Some other highlights include in-depth looks at standards and security, and emphasis on the importance of evaluation skills for the online learner. Addressing needs I view as dire among some of my colleagues, Putting People First offers in-depth coverage of accessibility issues, with useful, conversational discussion of ADA and Section 508 requirements. There is also lengthy information on matters of copyright and fair use. Trekles includes nice end-of-chapter questions inviting application and reflective thought, useful for both an instructor and a lone reader. It’s important to note that throughout the book Trekles avoids a prescriptive stance, asking readers to think through subtleties of issues rather than offer do-this-not-that advice.

In a bit of irony: The review copy was delivered to me as a pdf file with links (no page numbers) to the content. The links didn’t work, making this perhaps the most un-user-friendly document I’ve worked with in years. As the book will find its way to most readers via Kindle or Kindle-related technologies, I assume this problem will not exist and I will forgive it, but the irony was inescapable. Overall, the book is an excellent resource for anyone engaged in the design and delivery of instruction, the administration and implementation of learning-related technologies, and holds true to its promise of offering a human-focused view of learning.

Trekles, A.M. Putting People First: Human Issues in Instructional Technology. Zelda 23 Publishing, 2009: Available for Amazon Kindle, Kindle Reader for PC, and Kindle App $19.99