The practice of user experience (UX) design overlaps nicely with learning experience (LX) design. Both fields are interested in the perceptions, mental models, motivations, needs and behaviors of people. Whereas the focus of UX design is on how customers respond to and interact with a product or service, LX design in the workplace is concerned with improving performance and building long-term capacity by enhancing knowledge, skills and attitudes.
Although both fields share some of the same techniques, UX design tends to be more research and discovery focused. It is more interested in the impact that design has on end users. This is one place where learning experience design can improve. That’s why I wanted to introduce five UX research methods that will serve our field well. Perhaps you will find one or two new ones to adopt. I’d love to hear about your experiences using UX methods in the Comments section below.
1. A/B Testing
How it’s used in UX Design: The purpose of A/B testing—also known as split testing—is to determine which of two or more designs is most effective for a particular audience. The designs might differ in their copy, types of interactions, visual design or user interface. UX designers use A/B testing on websites with sufficient traffic to collect meaningful data on which approach is most effective for reaching their goal, such as ease of use or getting new customers. The best approach is to start with a hypothesis, such as, “creating a shorter survey will increase the number of completions.”
A/B testing is automated through software designed for this purpose. It typically tests a current website approach (the control) to an alternative. One positive aspect of A/B testing is that it allows designers to test out hypotheses rather than get involved in useless disagreements.
How to use in LX Design: You can use A/B testing software on learning portals, mobile apps and other online web resources if there is a good deal of traffic. Otherwise, consider altering the approach into a manual A/B test, which would be more like typical usability testing but for alternative designs.
For example, you could observe a good sampling of audience members using two different prototype designs. Check to see if the participants understand the instructions, respond to the design or are able to work through a game interaction. Collect data and compare the results of each design.
Where to learn more:
- Using A/B Testing to Drive Constructive Conflict with Stakeholders
- 5 Steps to Quick-Start A/B Testing
- How Netflix does A/B Testing
2. Card Sorting
How it’s used in UX Design: Card sorting provides insights into how people organize information. This helps information architects label content (like menus), design navigation and organize the structure of a website so it is aligned with how audience members think.
For example, imagine trying to organize the structure of a large government website that provides access to services, public information and regulations. With no understanding of how users think about this information, the website could fail miserably.
There are several types of card sorting methods. During open card sorting, members of the target audience are given the names of topics and asked to organize them into meaningful categories. Researchers use online apps for card sorting or physical aids like index cards and sticky notes.
How to use it for LX Design: Consider card sorting to understand how audience members relate to instructional content. How they organize and label information can lead to a better understanding of their mental models. This can provide insights for how to structure and organize learning portals, eLearning courses and mobile apps.
Where to learn more:
- Card Sorting from Usability.gov
- Design Games–Card Sorting by UX Mastery
- Card Sorting by Interaction Design Foundation
3. Contextual Inquiry
How it’s used in UX design: When user research takes place in a lab, you might question whether the artificial environment provides the best data. That’s where contextual interviews come in. They refer to interviews and observations that take place in the user’s natural environment. The results can be more realistic and accurate.
The official definition of contextual inquiry refers to a semi-structured interview where you first ask users some questions and then observe them using the product and completing tasks in their environment. You may also ask them questions during this observation stage.
How to use it for LX Design: Frequently in our field, we create a learning experience without sufficient audience observation. Designers quickly move on to the next project without closing the feedback loop and knowing whether the experience is successful. (See Julie Dirksen’s discussion on this.) We can use contextual inquiry to observe target audience members navigate and interact with any online prototype of a product or course while in their work environment. Asking questions will provide insights into its usability and effectiveness for learning.
Where to learn more:
- Contextual Interview from Usability.gov
- Contextual Interviews and How to Handle Them
- Why are contextual interviews so difficult?
4. Journey Maps
How it’s used in UX design: User or customer journey maps come under the general heading of experience maps. They are usually based on one or more personas or fictitious audience profiles. See more on Personas next.
Journey maps capture the key touchpoints and associated feelings of an experience as a user interacts with a product or service. For example, to map the experience an employee signing up for benefits, the key touchpoints might be accessing the website, searching for the form, reading the instructions, filling out the form and submitting it.
There is no one right way to create a journey map, but it should visually represent the experience over time. See the first link below for examples. Journey maps help designers and stakeholders understand how people experience their products and services.
How to use it for LX Design: We often hear employees complain about learning management systems, bulky eLearning courses and the like. Why not create journey maps to better understand the experience that users have with these systems. In addition, we can map the experience of employees using our potential solutions that are in prototype form. I think our roles will expand to finding solutions to many workplace problems. User journey maps are a good way to understand what people experience.
Where to learn more:
- The Anatomy of an Experience Map
- Mapping Experiences by Jim Kalbach
- Mapping Experiences to Improve Design (podcast and transcript)
- All You Need to Know About Customer Journey Mapping
How it’s used in UX design: Personas may be the most well-known UX technique in the world of design. They refer to writing a fictitious profile of an ideal user of a product or service. Every persona represents a user type with common traits or goals.
Personas are a way to help designers focus on the human-centered aspect of design. It is easier to build empathy by imagining an actual person rather than thinking in terms of a large group or simply data. Personas are not a research technique as much as a practice that grows out of doing audience research.
When writing personas, UX designers might add attitudes, behaviors and characteristics of to the ideal user persona. Often, the person is given a name and perhaps a photograph. The person may be discussed as a real person during the design process making it easier to imagine real-life scenarios.
Those who criticize the use of personas advise making sure they are based on research rather than intuition. They also warn that personas can lead to stereotyping.
How to use in LX design: Similar to UX designers, LX designers can use user or learner personas during the design and development process. The practice may help teams to build empathy for users and to create solutions that are better aligned to user goals and characteristics.
Where to learn more:
- Learner personas for eLearning
- Creating Personas
- Avoiding Half-baked Personas
- Personas from Usability.gov
If you are one of the learning experience designers who feel that something is missing from your current approaches, perhaps adding UX research methods to your repertoire will fill in the gaps. There are an array of good options in UX design: A/B Testing, Card Sorting, Contextual Inquiry, Journey Maps, Personas and so many more. Try one out and see what it does for your next solution.