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Learning experience design

Learning experience design

Table of Contents

For too long, instructional designers have prioritized the content without thinking too much about the learners. But the tides are turning.

Thanks to learning experience design (LXD), this is becoming a thing of the past. Now, successful organizations are designing learning experiences that put the learner front and center.  

So, what exactly is LXD? How is it different from other design principles? And how can you start to design these powerful, people-first experiences in your organization? 

You’ve got questions. We’ve got answers. So let’s get started.


What is a learning experience?

A learning experience is any learning activity (like a university lecture, a corporate training session, an online course, or even a how-to video on YouTube) that helps you  learn something or acquire a new skill. 

For the purposes of learning experience design (LXD), it’s important to define the learning experience as broadly as possible. This is due, in large part, to the fact that new and emerging technologies have changed the way learners are approaching learning material and the learning process. 

These days, most learning experiences blend elements of synchronous learning and asynchronous learning. 

For example,  real-time learning activities (such as in-person lectures or virtual training sessions) are complemented by email, online chat, pre-recorded videos and on-demand content, and self-directed study delivered via learning management systems (LMSs).

Onboarding is a great example of a blended learning experience. Companies often combine in-person training with videos, graphics, quizzes, and other self-directed resources, all made available through an LMS.

Now that we know what a learning experience is, it’s time to define learning experience design.


What is learning experience design (LXD)?

Learning experience design (LXD) is a way of creating learning experiences that achieve the desired learning outcome in a way that is human-centered and goal-oriented. 

In essence, LXD asks those who design any kind of learning experience to think like designers. And so, the key principles come from a diverse set of design disciplines, such as interaction design, user experience, graphic, and game design.

This focus on design is combined with insights from educational sciences, training and development, experiential learning, pedagogy, neuroscience, and other fields. 

So, it’s fair to say that learning experience design lies at the intersection of design and science. It takes the best of both worlds to create an approach aimed at bettering learning outcomes.

Phases of learning experience design

Learning experience design is, first and foremost, a creative process. As such, it includes most of the same phases as any other creative design undertaking, namely: ideation, research, conceptualization, prototyping, testing, iteration, and launch.  

The outcome might not be very clear in the beginning,  but by the end, it’s crystal clear.


Principles of learning experience design

While LXD is still a relatively new discipline, most experts in the field agree that a number of best practices drive good LX design. 

Here are some key elements of LXD:

  • Human-centered 
  • Goal-oriented 
  • Recognizes that training is not always the best solution 
  • Insists on inclusive design 
  • Seeks to create a positive user experience
  • Emphasizes that learning is a journey 
  • Relies on research-based data to drive design decisions
  • Solicits input from participants and end-users 
  • Uses real-world metrics to measure the effectiveness
  • Knows the value of social engagement and sharing
  • Innovative and flexible

Among these, the two most important LXD principles are a human-centered approach and goal orientation. 

Human-centered design is all about making learning meaningful and relatable for the learner, while goal orientation is about fulfilling the users’ needs. In this case, one of those needs is achieving the desired learning outcome.

While LXD borrows from many disciplines, it’s still distinct from them. In the next section, we’ll see how LXD differs from instructional design (ID).


Learning experience design vs. instructional design

LXD. ID. What’s the diff? Well, the main difference between learning experience design and instructional design is that LXD is a bottom-up creative process that results in a learning experience. 

On the other hand, instructional design is a scientific top-down discipline that produces courses and other academic forms of instruction.

Simply put, LXD and ID differ both in the methods and the goals they’re trying to achieve. ID comes from the field of learning and pedagogy, while LXD comes from the field of design. 

This is not to say that one is superior to the other. Both of these approaches have their place and purpose.

Instructional design

Instructional design was born out of the need to quickly provide skills training for soldiers during the Second World War. Since then, however, ID has grown into a formidable and in-demand discipline used wherever instructions need to be given. 

There are many benefits of instructional design. 

For starters,  rather than applying cookie-cutter solutions, it uses customized programs intended to solve unique problems. It also encourages learner participation through a variety of interactive strategies.

And, because it’s a theory-driven scientific approach, it can also simplify learning (which is cost-effective), create consistency, and set clear and measurable goals.

This theory-driven approach can be seen in some of the most popular ID models, such as Bloom’s taxonomy and ADDIE (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation). 

These models help designers produce high-quality learning tools by serving as a guideline. Each phase feeds into the next, allowing instructional designers to evaluate the effectiveness of their tools each step of the way.

Another field that is very similar to LXD is user experience (UX) design.  We’ll go over the key differences between the two in the next section.


Learning experience design vs. user experience

The main difference between LXD and UX is that learners have different needs than users. (And  yes, this can be a little confusing since learners are also users…but stick with us.)

In UX design, the main goal is to put the needs of users first. This design thinking follows what the users want—to be able to quickly and easily do what they set out to do, like watch a TV show on Hulu or send a message on LinkedIn.

But experiences such as e-learning are much more complex than sending out emails or watching TV. Learning is a challenging, multifaceted process. Learning experience (LX) designers need to manage this, so the scope of their objectives is larger than UX design.

In short: users need things to be easy, and learners need things to be meaningful, relatable, and enriching. 

User experience

UX design is concerned primarily with the user. It’s all about creating experiences (such as an app, a website, or a video game) that are as frictionless and as easy to use as possible.

To achieve this, designers focus on the needs of the end-user by creating user personas and thinking about their desires and expectations. For example, designing websites that are easy and intuitive for prospective customers to navigate or creating learning and resource portals that make it easy for customers to find the information they’re looking for.   

We’ve covered a lot of theories related to LXD now, but now it’s time to explore why LXD matters so much. Head over to the next section to find out more.


3 reasons why learning experience design matters

Learning experience design is still a relatively new field that started gaining traction in 2007. Since then, more and more organizations have adopted it to fulfill the learning needs of their customers, partners, employees, and other stakeholders.

LXD offers some definite benefits compared to other ways of creating learning experiences. Here are the top three:

Benefit #1: It places the learner (and their needs) at the center of attention

As we mentioned previously, good learning experience design is always human-centered. This core value lets LX designers put the learner and their needs front and center. This contrasts with other methods of teaching and design that focus on what the creator wants the end-user to learn.

By placing learners first, organizations can create learning experiences that connect and resonate with learners. And when learners connect with the content, it boosts the learning outcomes.

Simply put, it’s a more humane way of teaching that takes into account how the learners feel, their expectations, previous experiences, and diversity and inclusion.


Benefit #2: It helps create purposeful training and learning experiences that open up better opportunities

Another core tenet of LXD is goal orientation. Together with human-centered design, these principles create training and learning that can open better opportunities for learners. 

In a traditional top-down approach, with courses and materials being created without thinking about the needs of those who are learning, how many people just give up the material because they feel it’s too challenging? 

When learners’ needs are put front and center, they’re more open to new learning experiences. 

This doesn’t mean LXD is about “dumbing down” the material that needs to be taught. But it does mean considering how those being taught think and feel about the subject and how it resonates with them.

LXD can address all these issues because it borrows from such a wide range of disciplines: from user experience design to pedagogy and neuroscience.


Benefit #3: It addresses knowledge gaps and helps with challenges in learning and teaching

Knowledge gaps are problematic for any business. They occur when there’s a mismatch between what employees know and what their employers need them to know. Needless to say, identifying knowledge gaps is important. LXD takes feedback from learners seriously, which helps detect things they aren’t learning but should be.

LXD addresses the complex landscape in which learning takes place—from individual knowledge gaps to new technology to the challenges of creating learning environments that respect diversity and are inclusive.—through design that is purposeful and meaningful.


How to design a learning experience in 7 simple steps

Learning experience design is as much an art as a science, and it’s the combination of these two that makes it so powerful. 

While LX designers do have to use their imaginations and inspiration to create learning experiences, there are a number of steps they typically follow.

We’ll guide you through seven essential steps to help you design your own effective and engaging learning experiences. 


Step #1: Start with a question, an issue, or a problem you want to solve

Starting with a question is a great way to get a feel for the priorities of your learning experience. “How can employees learn to use their time effectively?” or “How do we teach our customers to use our online platform?”

While the question may not be totally clear from the get-go, it does help establish the main objectives. 

Follow-up questions are helpful too. It’s often through these that the most relevant question can be formed, which can jump-start the entire design process.


Step #2: Do your research

What good are questions if you never answer them? 

Before a learning experience can be designed, you need to research the learner and the desired learning outcome. 

One of the best ways to research the people who will take on your budding learning experience is to talk to them. Conversations, interviews, and surveys are the methods that help put the learner’s needs in the focus. 

If your organization uses an LMS, you can deliver learner surveys directly from the platform and analyze the data.

In addition, designers often use tools such as empathy maps to help them pin down exactly what the learner needs from a course. 

Once you know about the learner, you can start researching the learning outcome. A learning outcome describes how the learning experience will impact and resonate with the learner. The goal of any learning is to make life easier in some way. 

When you’re confident that you know what the outcome of the process should be, you can start identifying the learning objectives and how to achieve them in your course or training.


Step #3: Design your learning experience

Here’s where the creative part of LXD comes into play.

The first step of design is ideation. Traditional methods such as brainstorming work great, especially if you invite relevant and diverse people to the session. That way, different perspectives can come together to generate great ideas.

Great ideas become great concepts in the next step of your design process. For proper conceptualization, you need to think about the type of learner experience you’re creating. If it’s a website, then UX design will play a big role. If you’re looking to gamify the learning, you’ll be drawing from game design.


Step #4: Develop a prototype

This is arguably the most important part of designing any learning experience. Here’s where you need to take the concept of your digital learning course or training (or anything else you’re developing) and turn it into a workable prototype.

There are a lot of different ways to do this depending on the scope and complexity of your project and whether you’re creating synchronous or asynchronous learning modules or a mixture of both (a.k.a. blended learning).

A quick and effective way to do this is with a simple method known as ‘paper prototyping’. As its name implies, all it takes is some paper (and a marker, of course) to mock up a learner experience. 

Once you’ve got the prototype, then you can share it with a test group. Even if the prototype design ends up failing, the feedback and findings can be used and applied to the next iteration of the design. 

The prototyping method you choose will depend on the learners’ needs and the type of learning experience you’re designing. So, while paper prototyping may work in some cases, a fully functional tech prototype might be needed in others.


Step #5: Test your prototype

In this stage, the prototype needs to be tested. Here’s where you’ll learn a lot about how your learning experience stacks up. 

Good LX design appeals to the learner and connects with them on a personal level. So you’ll need to ask yourself, does the experience you’ve designed adequately address the learner’s needs? And are you designing for the right type of learner?

These are just some of the questions you should be asking. It helps to have them prepared ahead of your test session. 


Step #6: Optimize your design

LXD is, by nature, an iterative design process. Working with learner feedback is a big part of the process. 

The feedback you get from your learners during your test session will likely reveal many challenges. (Don’t worry. This is a good thing!) Depending on the feedback, you may need to do additional research, rethink your design concepts, or upgrade your prototype. 

In some cases, you may need to start asking questions again and repeat the design cycle in its entirety. This is normal. The point of this whole design process is to repeat it until you can have an optimized training program or other learning experience that satisfies both the needs of your business and the learner’s needs.


Step #7: Launch your design 

So you’ve gone through all these steps, and your prototype has received good learner feedback and satisfies the necessary learning outcomes. It’s now time to launch it.

Just because your program has launched, it doesn’t mean you can rest on your laurels. The best LX designers maintain a constant focus on humans and learning outcomes. So, even after launching, you’ll need to be mindful of feedback, as there may be things that need to be tweaked to ensure the experience continues to be great. This ongoing refinement is what makes LXD such a powerful tool when it comes to creating effective online learning, training, and learning experiences. 

Those were the fundamental steps to creating a learning experience. Next, we’ll go over the seven best practices to make your learning design purposeful and effective.


7 best practices of purposeful learning experience design

The word ‘purposeful’ gets used a lot in LXD. And it’s hardly surprising. After all, one of the key principles of LXD is that it’s goal-oriented. (In other words, it keeps a very specific purpose in mind.) 

So, if you need to teach someone something, and you’re wondering how you can do it in a way that’s (for lack of a better word) purposeful, keep these best practices in mind:

Create a detailed LXD plan

Like most smart journeys, LXD begins with a plan. A good LX designer will make a detailed plan that addresses what the desired learning outcome is and sketches how they’ll achieve it. 

Study and understand your learners

Human-centered design means that studying and understanding the learners is a must.  Drawing insight from the fields of psychology and user design can help massively here. 

Make sure your design motivates learners

This principle also follows that whatever design is settled on must motivate the learners. Learners are motivated when they feel their needs are respected and the material being taught relates to their experiences and goals.

Keep usability in mind 

Usability is an important consideration when using tools like online learning platforms. Today’s learners expect a certain level of ease and functionality. If users have to wrestle with a bad interface, the experience won’t be worth it for them. 

Consider design limitations

Let’s say, for example, that you can’t fit all the information you want to convey into a single graphic. Don’t let the design format limit you (or ruin the learning experience). Consider another design that’s better suited to the content, like an explainer video. 

Keep track of and analyze feedback 

Listening to feedback is an important part of the LXD process. It lets designers create effective learning experiences by honing in on the true needs of learners. 

Constantly observe the learner’s attention, behavior, and progress

And finally, to evaluate that effectiveness, you must continually observe the learner’s attention, behavior, and progress. 

If you’re delivering training via an LMS, reporting will give you deep insights into how learners are interacting with the learning content.

Insights gained from this can help optimize any modules that are proving to be troublesome for learners. 


Wrapping up

Learning experience design is a powerful way of approaching the transmission of knowledge and skills. It puts humans first, is goal-oriented, and uses a wide range of disciplines to craft experiences that resonate with and relate to the learners. 

By synthesizing all these principles from design and learning sciences, LXD offers organizations a better way to teach, upskill, and onboard their employees, as well as educate their customers and partners. 

Head over to our glossary for more L&D-related content and resources.