How did the term learning experience design (LXD) originate and what does it mean? In a search through academic databases, I found a mention of the phrase in an Educational Technology article from 2002 (McLellan, 2002). The author, Hillary McLelllan, explains how to apply the art of designing experiences to education and training. She discusses the importance of intentionally shaping the experience so that the learner leaves with something to remember.
Nearly two decades later, we are still exploring how to best shape experiences that help people learn. In the midst of this era of discovery, some principles have solidified and are now considered best practices. Perhaps learning experience design is the embodiment of what is best and most effective from the merging of instructional design and the many disciplines in its Venn diagram. This is not a new label to be pasted on old methods, but a new definition for an evolved mindset, improved practices and a broader perspective.
What are the important principles of learning experience design? I’ll list the principles that stand out to me. If you blog or care to comment, please take this as a starting point and share the principles that embody learning experience design to you. Many of these principles are aspirational, in the sense that we may not have the opportunity to apply them in every situation. But, they serve as crucial guideposts for how we want to practice now and in the future.
1. LXD recognizes that training is not always the solution.
In the world of workplace training and education, there are many problems that cannot be solved with learning interventions. For example, a demotivating work environment, inadequate communication, or poorly designed software require changes that need more than a training solution. It is important to recognize the root cause of a problem and to communicate it to stakeholders. Although we may not be able to offer a solution, we should be able to refer the stakeholder to the proper channels. That’s one of many reason it is important for learning experience designers to build relationships throughout an organization.
2. LXD is human-centered.
Rather than focusing on content development, human-centered design has a deep focus on the people they will serve. A human-centered design practice:
- Builds empathy with participants, users and learners
- Gets immersed in their world to learn from them
- Understands the challenges, needs, feelings and pain points of the audience
- Acknowledges their intelligence, talents and experiences
3. LXD insists on inclusive design.
As a discipline that embodies our best practices, inclusive design must have a place here. Inclusive design is a mindset and a practice that considers the diversity of human ability, age, race, culture, language and gender when making design decisions. For more on this, check out Getting Started with Inclusive Design (listen or read the transcript).
4. LXD seeks to create a positive and meaningful user experience.
The learner’s experience is the totality of interactions a person has with every aspect of their intentional learning journey. This takes into consideration a person’s motivation for gaining competence (internal or external), the context in which they learn, the ease of accessing what they need, the support they receive and the quality of their interactions with other learners, mentors and subject-matter experts. These are the touch points we can shape to create a positive and meaningful experience.
5. LXD emphasizes that learning is a journey.
Although learning professionals have referenced the forgetting curve since the beginning of time, we haven’t done much about it. We continue to provide one-off courses with little support, long workshops, and sleep-inducing videos of corporate leaders.
Although the forgetting curve is not a strict progression and is dependent on the learners, their cognitive experience and motivation (Thalheimer, 2017), we know that one learning intervention is rarely sufficient for building long-term capabilities.
In the book, Design Thinking for Training and Development, authors Boller and Fletcher write, “Learning is a journey, but it’s treated like an event.” They describe a learning journey model that is based on sound instructional science. By adopting a long-term mindset, we can help people plan and pursue their own learning journey. See my book review.
6. LXD relies on research-based findings to make design decisions.
We’ve reached a point in our industry where learning research is well-disseminated. Proven methods like spaced learning, retrieval practice, scaffolding and worked examples are familiar to many practitioners. Learning experience design relies on instructional science and cognitive psychology to understand learning and to design and develop experiences. For more on this, listen to How to Practice Evidence-Informed Learning Design or download the transcript.
7. LXD seeks input from users and participants.
A key aspect of learning experience design is the ability to rid oneself of assumptions and biases. Getting input from audience members is one of the best ways to ensure our solution will support participants on their learning journey. We borrow tools from UX design, like personas and empathy maps to gain insight to participants. We can then combine their input with our understanding of how people learn, to craft an effective solution.
8. LXD uses real-world metrics to measure performance improvement.
As a performance-based practice, our field will advance when we consistently demonstrate that our work is making a difference. This means that training, support and other interventions must be in alignment with the organization’s mission and goals. Then we can use available metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of our approach.
When the data we need is available, we will need to collect it, when possible. As we analyze changes over time, we can show our competence by reporting on what we’ve achieved and what we have not. Then dig in and figure out how to do it better.
9. LXD recognizes the value of sharing and social engagement.
We know that when people collaborate and communicate about what they are learning, it personalizes and strengthens their network of knowledge. A forward-looking practice offers opportunities for people to socially engage. By creating, promoting or encouraging communities of practice, learning through social media and interest groups, we can help transform insecure learners into self-directed participatory learners. This is a gift that will never end.
10. LXD is innovative and flexible.
LXD practitioners can be change agents affecting the core of an organization. A change agent has a vision for how things can be. A change agent will break down silos to collaborate, work with and learn from people in other fields. We will innovate to generate the best solution to a given problem, even if it is a completely new solution. We will try to instill a culture of learning wherever we work. And when constrained, as we often are, we will try to make small inroads, even when it’s difficult to be patient.
- McLellan, H. Staging Experiences: A Proposed Framework for Designing Learning Experiences. Educational Technology, v42 n6 p30-37 Nov-Dec 2002. (Republished in Narrative in Instructional Design.)
- Thalheimer, W. How Much Do People Forget? 2010. https://www.worklearning.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/How-much-do-people-forget-v12-14-2010.pdf.