It's About The Journey

Designing Enriching Learner Experiences
Six Dun/
Summary: It’s time to break boundaries, explore new worlds, find joy again, and bring that joy into the content we create, and the learner journeys we design.

Designing Enriching Learner Experiences

The wind is rising!…We must try to live! ” – Paul Valéry's 1922 poem, “Le Cimetière Marin” or “The Graveyard by the Sea”

This soft, yet resounding message is powerfully conveyed in the master artiste and storyteller Hayao Miyazaki’s [1] animated movie, "The Wind Rises." Penned nearly a hundred years ago, these lines carry great meaning today.

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In these last few months, many of us have fought more than an invisible virus. We have fought fear, anxiety, isolation, and loneliness. Wherever you may be, there would have been dark moments when you felt vulnerable, weak, lost, disconnected. Many of us would have gone into denial. Many of us would have lost our spark, that vital sense of meaning and purpose so essential to carry on. And many of us continue to just hang on, living in the moment, afraid to think about what lies ahead.

But we must try to live.

By that I mean we must find ways to enrich our existence within the confines of what we do and how we live and engage with the people within our reach. It’s time to break boundaries, explore new worlds, find joy again, and bring that joy into the content we create, and the learner journeys we design.

Learner Comfort, Engagement, And Motivation

The year 2020 has seen eLearning and digital content take a quantum leap as an enabling force in a locked-down world. In any creative domain, there is always a need to write new stories, and bring in new colors. More so now, there is a responsibility to recognize that learners will have spent and may continue to spend many hours fighting claustrophobia in constrained settings. The overall increased screen time on a day-to-day basis will have repercussions on their ability and willingness to sit through tedious learning journeys. Learner well-being is paramount, and learning designers must recognize that design must reflect the increasing focus on learner well-being, comfort (psychological and physical), and learner engagement and motivation. It means learning designers must come up with creative ideas to enhance the learner journey.

Creativity is closely linked to community and connection. The road to creative insight involves coming out of your bubble, observing, engaging, talking, exploring, researching, listening, watching, reflecting, contemplating, arguing, and solving problems.

Learn about how chance favors the connected mind in Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson [2]. And read about how trees foster community in The Hidden Life of Trees What They Feel, How They Communicate by Peter Wohlleben [3]. Or, for the simple joys of life and animation, you could step into the world of the Studio Ghibli gems available on Netflix [4], and connect with your inner child.

Now more than ever, you must mentor yourself, build resilience, reach out, expand your horizons, step out into the digital savannas and mingle with the wildlife. Take a few tips from Talking to Strangers from Malcolm Gladwell. Most important, don’t isolate alone. Stay connected in whatever way you can.

eLearning Design And Learner Well-Being

So how does all of this translate into design for eLearning? Well, just as we must enrich our lives by connecting, we must also enrich learner journeys in the digital space in the same way.

This is what my journeys have taught me. Here’s a quick list of what I’ve gained from my explorations:

  1. Learners feel lost
    Help them get anchored by establishing context and share a visual roadmap at the outset. Provide milestones, and let them know the success criteria they can use to evaluate their own progress in the real world.
  2. Learners feel lonely
    Connect at a human level by affirming some universal truth that they can identify with and offer relevant human insights that inspire, encourage, and motivate.
  3. Learners feel disconnected
    Illustrate ideas using stories they can connect with and balance the expository content with small vignettes.
  4. Learners don’t see the big picture
    Focus on providing insight over information and help them connect the dots. Why does it matter, and where will this lead them?
  5. Learners feel disengaged
    Break the monotony by building in surprises and diversions, bring in elements of humor, and don't kill the fun.
  6. Learners can‘t see where it takes them
    Provide a clear Call-To-Action.

Remember above all, “The wind is rising!…We must try to live!”


[1] 10 Years with Hayao Miyazaki

[2] Steven Johnson on Where Good Ideas Come From

[3] The Secret Life of Trees: The Astonishing Science of What Trees Feel and How They Communicate