What is learning experience design?
How do we create great learning experiences?
Well Sam, I say to myself, you’ve chosen a clearly massive topic, to squeeze into a relatively tiny blog post, but thought I’d give a bit of a snapshot of my view of what learning experience design is, and more importantly how it pertains to the wider human experience of learning.
My definition of Learning Experience Design is the process of creating engaging, meaningful and relevant learning experiences in order to help an individual or group with a learning need. This is not however a fully-agreed-upon topic, but hopefully some will find it of use.
But how are learning experiences created?
If you’re in the learning trade, you might have heard a lot of buzz around ‘learning experience design’ at the moment, but there are seemingly contrary interpretations of what that means. In many ways it builds on, and is interchangeable with, more familiar terms like ‘instructional design’ and ‘training design’. One reason I’ve moved away from this term is that the work ‘instruction’ sort of implies a didactic learning event, which I don’t think encapsulates what the modern process of designing effective learning experiences looks (or should look) like.
To start, I thought it valuable to discard the term ‘learning’ for a moment and just focus on ‘experience design’, as this will aid in our definitions. There are two different models, that I understand what one may call ‘experience design’.
The first definition is a view of experience design as a ‘user’ interaction, most particularly with a system or product.
We typically may think of this as design in the context of a UX/UI/Web/Graphics etc., generally focussed on a digital space (though could also be potentially with physical products, such as packaging design for example).
“[UX is]… something individual (instead of social) that emerges from interacting with a product, system, service or an object.” (Lai-Chong-Law.E., 2018)
It is this term I find that is most often conflated with ‘learning experience design’ as it’s better understood and easier to understand, as we’ve all seen learning systems, we know what they look and feel like.
Experiences of this kind are objective. ie: They examine certain predominantly visible physical phenomena.
This article covers UX quite nicely, with the following consideration factors.
The second is the view of experience design is as a more holistic and arguably complex thing. When we talk about ‘experience’ in this context it covers everything that a human may experience within a socio-cultural landscape. Examples of this may cover things such as a customer experience or an employee experience, which we would ‘design’ or develop. We may think of this activity as coming under the organisational design, marketing, service refinement sub-headings, amongst others.
Most recently a Deloitte article mentioned ‘Human Experiences’ as a sort of all encompassing term. Indeed they even came up with a formula to express it, which I’m personally still trying to unpick and make use of!
Experiences of this kind are subjective. ie: They examine predominantly invisible socio-cultural and psychological phenomena.
Clearly these two types of ‘experience design’ are radically different in approach, one focuses on product, the other on organisational level concerns but have some common themes, namely:
- Both aim to foster a beneficial outcome (bit obvious but thought it worth mentioning!)
- People are at the center of the respective design process, though both have different outputs
- Design is a holistic undertaking with multiple input factors
Taking these two definitions, we’ve established that we can frame learning experience design through either of these lenses, one through the ‘Product’ lens’ and the other through the ‘Human’ lens, now let’s get into what learning experience design is.
This is where my personal view of things will come in, I’ve seen a number of interpretations, but the vast majority of them, looking at the recent Learning Technologies conference, are based upon the former definition and answer questions similiar to the following:
How do we design effective learning/performance improvements by using technology?
How do we make a product ‘slick’ and usable at point of need?
How do we capture attention and hold it utilising media-driven approaches?
How do we get our learning onto a given platform through a certain tool in the best possible way?
That’s a perfectly fine set of questions, but I view them inherently limited. Techology is a tool, by designing around a tool you’re perhaps missing something! As the saying goes, with a hammer in hand, everything begins to look like a nail!
In the wider second definition, the questions we may be asking could be:
How do we build holistic learning experiences using the widest possible toolkit/s?
How do we account for how or why a learner may/may not wish to access or participate in the learning?
What is the landscape (not just the computer system) that the learning sits within? What happens before/after the learner sits down at a device?
How can we improve the personal experience of work, and notably, learning/performance at work to embed and transfer learning to the workplace more effectively?
Drawing a simple diagram, we can compare and summarize the two approaches as follows:
learner as a user of a system
technology is always the answer
learner as a participant in a landscape
technology isn’t always the answer
Let me say though that both need to go hand-in-hand. Effective learning experience design in the modern world needs both of these!
I’d argue however, that we’ve perhaps become a bit too preoccupied with the first, and by taking a ‘tools first’ approach we immediately begin to frame the discussion around ‘what things look like’, ‘what platform we’ll be using’ without necessarily getting to the brass tacks of the wider context/environment, which of course cannot be ignored!
It’s also fair to say that in some instances the two may inform each other, I’m in the middle of reading the excellent book Evidence Informed Learning Design at the moment and they come up with a good definition by looking at two ‘holy trinities’ (M. Neelen, P. Kirschner 2020) , which somewhat complements and reinforces the above view, but with a different slant, the two trinities are:
Trinity 1 – Effective, Efficient and Enjoyable learning experiences
Trinity 2 – Techniques, Tools and Ingredients of designing learning experiences
Above images recreated from Evidence Informed Learning Design.
We can loosely see that the effective, enjoyable and efficient factors can only really be addressed by looking at a wider human experience, a product design approach doesn’t tell us about effectivity or efficacy when it comes to learning because learning is wider than just the system, though it may have some connection to enjoyability when talking about a seamless/easy experience. Here I believe ‘enjoyable’ is of a wider definition that ties to things like relevance and usefulness, you can have an amazing looking product using the full spectrum of UX design approaches, but if that doesn’t get to the core of why the learning exists, then it’s just nice ‘fluff’. But taken together a really engaging and meaningful product will work wonders.
I’d love to hear from you on the above!
Get in touch – firstname.lastname@example.org
M. Neelsen, P Kircschner: Evidence Informed Learning Design, Kogan Page Publishers, 2020.
Lai Chong Law.E Understanding, scoping and defining user experience: a survey approach- https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.1145/1518701.1518813
Gube.J – What is User Experience Design? https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2010/10/what-is-user-experience-design-overview-tools-and-resources/