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Book Review: 'Michael Allen's e-Learning Annual 2012'

By Cammy Bean / December 2011

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27 essays. All about e-learning. I've been lugging this weighty 290 page hardcover around with me for the past month, dipping in and out as time, interest and energy permit. Should you do the same? Maybe. But first, let's see what it's all about and then I'll let you decide.

Since 2008 Dr. Michael Allen—noted founder of Authorware, author of a number of excellent books on elearning design and development, and chairman and CEO of Allen Interactions—has been editing the occasional e-Learning Annual for Pfeiffer (three editions so far: 2008, 2009, and now 2012)

This year's Annual includes a wide range of topics and authors with opposing viewpoints. Allen looked for balance and controversy-not homogenous views, but rather ones that would stir each other up a bit and provide point and counterpoint. As he says in the preface, "I continue to strive for greater levels of controversy in each subsequent Annual."

Topics include tools, a dip into the ever-raging PowerPoint for eLearning debate, mobile, social media, simulation, instructional design, and eLearning strategy. And the author list reads like a veritable who's who of names in the learning industry including Tom Kuhlmann, Reuben Tozman, Thomas Toth, David Metcalf, Tony Bingham, Frank Nguyen, Clark Aldrich, Clive Shepherd, Patti Shank.


Rather than give you a blow by blow review of each and every article, I'll share with you some of my favorites (keeping in mind that I'm an instructional designer by trade, so that's where my interest tends to gravitate…)

Frank Nguyen ("e-Learning Isn't Everything: Adapting Instructional Design to a Web 2.0 World") provides a rundown of Gagne's "Nine Events of Instruction"—a great model when designing for simple learning events. He puts out a call to instructional designers everywhere to start thinking beyond this box, calling for a shift to design for more comprehensive learning experiences.

Clive Shepherd ("Rethinking the Scope and Nature of Instructional Design") urges us to "match your production values to the requirement." He makes the case for SME created content, when to create performance support tools or when to design learning interactions. Shepherd reminds us "structured instruction is only one of a number of strategies for learning—and not always the most appropriate."

Ken Spero ("Experience Design: A Practical Methodology for Capturing, Delivering, and Deploying Experience") tells us the design of instruction does not equal the design of experiences. Experience design requires we capture compelling stories in order to create programs that are more subjective and "less rigorous." He also turned me on to what Will Thalheimer calls an "experience portfolio"—that is, by creating behavioral and branching simulations, we're helping people populate their mind's database of experiences—which is what we pull from when faced with novel situations. Through building up that experience portfolio through simulations, we help learners create new "muscle memory" to better develop critical thinking skills.


The biggest theme that stood out to me: instructional design is changing. To stay relevant, instructional designers need to adapt and grow. We need to move from designing singular events to designing experiences—it's a much broader approach to learning than we've traditionally taken as a field.

There are lots of tools and approaches out there—know what you have access to and choose the right approach or tool that's fit for purpose rather than letting tools drive your design. Allan Henderson's chapter reminds us not to get trapped by our tools, while Anita Rosen points us to a big problem—course creators makes decisions on what approach to take simply because the tool they use is easy and they don't want to learn another one.

My Take

Lots of authors, lots of topics, lots of viewpoints. But at roughly $62 a pop ($55 for Kindle edition), I wonder who's buying this book and how many copies of it has actually sold. Seems a bit of a shame to keep so many good voices and arguments locked up under such a high price tag.

Many of the authors speak regularly at conferences, blog, or play an active role on social networks like Twitter. So you may be able to seek them out directly at their source. The biggest benefit to me was the exposure to some new voices—always good to push the edges of what ones reads!

For organizations getting started in eLearning or just trying to stay current with latest trends and industry ideas, then this book may indeed be worth its value.

So now—what do you think? Worth your time and money?

About the Author

Cammy Bean is the VP of Learning Design for Kineo, a global organization specializing in elearning solutions. Bean has worked as an eLearning instructional designer since the mid-'90s (way back in the olden days, before we even called it elearning!) In addition to the occasional novel, she likes to read books on instructional design and learning theory. Mom to three kids, five fish and one lizard, she lives in Massachusetts . You can contact her on Twitter @cammybean or through her blog, Learning Visions.


  • Sat, 10 Dec 2011
    Post by Haitham El-Ghareeb

    Thank you for the nice review. Pricing always stands against me being able to buy this book. I have been following this annual review since 2008, and it is really useful. Hope you can take some time later to review the rest of the articles.