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.
Rey S. Medenilla says
Thanks for this succinct explanation of the principles of LXD. I have been enlightened and it’s a good primer for a starter like me. I saved it to use as reference.
Connie Malamed says
Nice. Love your topic!
Mario Joyo Aguja says
Connie, thanks a lot. Very helpful article. I am a newbie and still exploring this one for peace education. all the best.
Connie Malamed says
Thanks for your comment, Stanley. Sounds like you are working for a very forward-thinking organization.
Connie Malamed says
Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Silvia.
SILVIA BAUML says
Hi Connie, always so interesting your articles and references to continue expanding the topic. I´m a newbie in this field and your guidance through the different topics is helping me to accelerate the learning process with quality.
What to expect from a training process in companies during the quarantine? I believe that more than ever, any course given should be a learning experience for the participant.
I agree with point 1. However, today, virtual courses human-centered designed, with scenarios that reflect real situations, are one of the best ways to close the gap, during the quarantine, from the performance gap to the performance goal.
Nowadays in a large number of countries are not in position to: go to the place of the problem; be able to attend a classroom; train new staff urgently. I consider that in the current situation the design of learning experience will solve in a real way most of the problems that are going to appear unlike the instructional design that was specially oriented to the content of the courses. Thank you again Connie for your motivation
G. G. Hall says
I agree with Connie that these 10 principles are succinct, important, and capture the essence of great LXD. However, while learning experience design (LXD) may appear to be an expression of a “new” definition for an evolved mindset, improved practices and a broader perspective, these 10 principles are not “new. In fact, the evolved mindset you describe, while not widely understood as a coordinated and integrated set of design principles by many people, has been recognized by some innovative educators for decades. In particular, some highly creative pioneers have been incorporating these design principles into their extremely well-designed courses since the late 1950’s.
In the 1980’s, I stumbled upon a perfectly designed course, introductory psychology, as an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. This course leveraged these 10 principles and elevated them. Clearly, someone was a master designer and clearly ahead of their time. What had I stumbled upon?
I began to research my Professor and our Program Director – Dr. McKeachie. Well, apparently, in 1945, following service in WWII as a radar and communications officer on a destroyer in the Pacific, Wilbert J. McKeachie enrolled in graduate school at the University of Michigan to study psychology. At Michigan, McKeachie participated in a crucial formative experience as a teaching fellow in an introductory psychology course led by Dr. Harold Guetzkow. Guetzkow, who had also earned his doctorate at the University of Michigan, was fascinated by the fields of psychology, sociology, and political science. In the 1950’s, as a professor at Northwestern University, Guetzkow built simulations, which incorporated the learning experience design (LXD) principles we are now focused on as “new”. He studied the pedagogy involved in designing such simulations and designed new simulations, most famously the InterNation Simulation.
McKeachie, a longtime faculty member at Michigan, was innovative and a true force at Michigan’s famous School of Education – https://soe.umich.edu/. He published McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers, in 1951. It was more recently published in its 14th edition in 2013. McKeachie was later involved in the collaborative founding of the Combined Program in Education and Psychology and establishment of the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching at Michigan – see https://crlt.umich.edu/. If we fast-forward 32 years from 1951, I humbly enter this picture at the tender age 18. In that year, I enrolled in an introductory psychology class called Project Outreach – see https://sites.lsa.umich.edu/projectoutreach/. The McKeachie-led section I took was a crucial formative experience for me – just as Harold Guetzkow’s section was for McKeachie. This class involved volunteering as a Crisis Counselor at a shelter for runaway teenagers called Ozone House and then reflecting on both the experience itself, guided readings, and then the pedagogy behind this designed learning experience.
This immersive class had it all and more – it was human-centered, inclusive, provided positive and meaningful learning experiences, emphasized that learning is a journey, relied on research-based findings to make design decisions, sought input from students and participants, used real-world metrics to measure performance improvement, emphasized sharing and social engagement, and was innovative and flexible. Ozone House, the non-profit working with University of Michigan students, was a special place as well. It has won numerous awards, 1960-present, and now has innovative training programs and a leadership institute – see https://ozonehouse.org/how-we-help/job-training-leadership/.
McKeachie is a seminal figure – but just one of many amazing faculty at Michigan. Research by leading educators on these topics did not suddenly stop in the 1980s. In fact, these academics have been hard at work innovating, designing, and researching best practices in instructional design. After graduating from Michigan, I went on to focus on a career as an instructional designer, consultant, and later adjunct professor of HR and MIS. Most recently, I returned to Michigan, 33 years after my enrollment in Project Outreach but still affected by it, to learn about Educational Technology and Learning Experience Design. Not surprisingly, I found a vibrant intellectual community. I was drawn to the evolved mindsets evidenced in educational simulations designed by SOE students and faculty. To celebrate these 10 principles, and others, I have written about the pedagogy of serious game design – see https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/learning-game-design-george-hall/.
In summary, then, these 10 principles, which I deeply admire, are very powerful concepts, advanced frameworks, no doubt, but they are not new.
Stanley Yip says
Thanks Connie. This an excellent blog post that I will definitely be sharing with my colleagues. I align with all your ideas in it. At my workplace we are on an oganisational journey to be a learning organisation (Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline).
Connie Malamed says
Thanks for your comment. It’s nice to have some perspective on the field as you do. It let’s you know what’s important.
KATHLEEN A. YORK says
I learned Learning Design back in the old days when it was called Instructional Design, and this is exactly what we were taught. Then technology and elearning came along and the industry started calling programmers and elearning authors as “instructional designers” and the confusion began. Now an Instructional Designer is expected to be able to develop elearning as well as be a graphics designer and all around techie. Glad people are finally realizing the importance of good Learning Design to the success of the learner. I always say that if you have good Learning Design the learner gets to the end of the course and thinks it was easy. Without good Learning Design they are usually just confused. Thanks Connie.
Connie Malamed says
I agree. It’s so important to let people know that everyone is included. It demonstrates respect and dignity for all people and helps to raise awareness to those who are not yet aware of its importance. Thanks for your comment. (BTW, we have a course/presentation from Brian in our Mastering Instructional Design community. It’s a good complement to the podcast.)
I enjoyed the podcast with Bryan talking about designing for inclusivity. I like the idea of designing for the broader audience opposed to just focusing on the current design. His podcast validated my way of thinking. I appreciate the nuggets he shared.
Connie Malamed says
Sorry I didn’t respond, Peter. The software industry is a good parallel. Everything is moving in this direction.
Peter K. Johnson says
Connie, This is a great summary. I look forward to reading the entire series and plugging in those podcasts for future listening.
LXD has a parallel in the software industry. When the smartphones took the world by storm all the sudden software developers had to change their focus. All that internet “stuff” had to fit on those tiny screens and the user became central instead of the software. The focus shifted to UX – User Experience.
I think LXD is showing a similar shift which almost of your points highlight. I see this all as a positive evolution, much as the software industry has evolved into a more user-centered and inclusive approach.
Connie Malamed says
You sound like an amazing designer, Jimena. Glad this is how you approach learning design.
Hello Connie, it’s Jimena, from Peru. Thanks for clarifying this controversial issue. I am often asked about this difference and didn’t have solid research to back my answers, however everything you’ve described is exactly how I approach every learning problem. Amazing!!! Such clarity! I am now moving forward to your reading recommendations, but just wanted to thank you on those insights!!!
Connie Malamed says
Great minds think alike, Corrine 🙂
Corinne Roy Lagarde says
A little correction 😉
Thank you very much Connie, these principles represent very much my vision of LXD.
Connie Malamed says
Do you see somewhere that this article is older? I saw 2020, or was that just when it was published at Research Gate?
Greg Williams says
What a great summary! Thanks for sharing this. I recently came across this article and it is awesome to see one way back when https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Colin_Gray3/publication/339662557_Paradigms_of_Knowledge_Production_in_Human-Computer_Interaction_Towards_a_Framing_for_Learner_Experience_LX_Design/links/5e5ea4c14585152ce804d50f/Paradigms-of-Knowledge-Production-in-Human-Computer-Interaction-Towards-a-Framing-for-Learner-Experience-LX-Design.pdf
Connie Malamed says
Thank you, Prakhar, for sharing the principles that are important to you.
Connie — thank you for articulating these points in such a succinct in readable manner. I couldn’t agree more, especially with the focus on human-centred design, reliance on evidence-based practices and real-world feedback, the fact that learning is a journey, and perhaps most importantly, the recognition that training isn’t always the solution.