I stumbled upon Kathy Sierra’s blog, Creating Passionate Users, a couple of months ago, and I was hooked. She discusses management, marketing, and technology, but her biggest contribution is learning theory. She is the driving force behind O’Rielly’s “Head First” series of computer books, taking on the dry and often boring task of teaching computer programming.
I picked up Head First Design Patterns last month, more to see the application of her learning theory than for the content of the book. Had I not been intrigued by her blog, I likely would have never even looked twice at it—although somewhat relevant to my work, it’s not an area that I felt I had time to study.
I love the book. Not only is it providing a good breadth of software design knowledge, but I’ve learned more about learning theory than I had hoped. I believe Kathy’s method of instructing has helped me plant the material more firmly in my mind. I can recall it better than I otherwise might, and I could explain most of it to someone else (although not as deftly as the author).
Calling it “learning theory” connotes a narrow field; it’s much broader than one might first expect. The principles apply to business presentations, marketing, and, well, every type of communication where we expect some sort of knowledge transfer. (As an aside, see a related article at Presentational Zen for a comparison of presentations by Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Apple’s Steve Jobs.)
At the beginning of the Design Patterns is a brief section on some of the teaching tools the book employs. One of biggest differences with the “Head First” books (that is, the most visually obvious difference) is the prolific use of pictures incorporated with text. Not just pictures with a caption, but words in the block of space we visually associate with the picture. It’s something you almost have to see to understand. (Pun only mildly intended.)
More than computer books, what I really want to see out of Kathy is a “Head First” book devoted entirely to learning theory.
Thanks, Kathy, not only for your breath of fresh air on computer texts, but for sharing your insights on teaching and learning. I know I am better for it.