9 Insights From Learning Experience Designers
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What Do Learning Experience Designers Do All Day?

This is a question that is often asked about learning experience designers. In the fast-moving, tech-driven world of modern business, theory is often playing catch-up as practice races ahead. For this article, we talked to a diverse group of people whose day job is designing learning experiences at Learning Pool to gather insights from their daily practice.

eBook Release: eXperience: A Learning Pool Whitepaper
eBook Release
eXperience: A Learning Pool Whitepaper
Download the eBook eXperience: A Learning Pool Whitepaper and discover the power of learning experiences.

What do they think a learning experience is? How does being a learning experience designer differ from being a bog-standard learning designer? And what guiding principles do they use in designing learning experiences?

Practical Insights From The Coalface

A few things leaped out from talking to these people, younger by a generation or so than most of the experts in learning theory.

The Term Is Loose

They are relaxed about the idea that the term is so loose almost anything could qualify as a learning experience (the objection made by Craig Weiss).

"That’s really the point," said one. But when pressed to define what a learning experience is, their answers indicated that some intentionality has to be present, at least in the context in which they are designing. A learning experience is "anything that helps you learn," said one; "anything that is designed to prompt a change of perspective or behavior," said another; while a third went a bit further in the direction of specificity, suggesting that it is about, "getting people to do something in the real world, not just content consumption."

There Is A Difference

The difference between learning design and learning experience design is very clear for them, and they tend to characterize the former negatively in relation to "conventional" learning design, which for many years has been perhaps too focused on producing standalone units of content according to a formulaic model. Learning experience design is what takes them beyond the 30-minute learning module. In that sense, it is viewed as something of a liberation. The youngest of our designers, who is in the process of transforming herself from a learning designer into a learning experience designer, clearly saw it as a step-up to properly designing learning: "It’s just what LDs have been wanting to do the whole time. Not just providing one little piece of the puzzle, but the whole jigsaw."

The 3-Level Model

Relating this last comment to our 3-level model of how learning experience operates at different levels of granularity, we could say that the transition this young designer is making is from designing experiences at the event level to designing experiences at the program level. Further comments from more senior designers confirmed this observation, seeming to locate learning experience design as straddling these two levels.

Transformation Also Happens At Event Level

However, in this process of change, there is also a transformation that happens at the event level. In contrast to the mono-culture of eLearning module production, learning experience design celebrates and even luxuriates in the abundance and diversity of possible learning experiences. These could be long or short, online or offline, snappy or immersive, unintrusive or disruptive, content-based, or entirely contentless, as a prompt to start a conversation or shadow a colleague might do.

It's All About Finding The Perfect Mix

Program-level experiences can vary widely in the degree to which they are structured. At one extreme they might be chained together to form something we would recognize as a fairly conventional blended learning course, while at the other they could be more or less wholly learner-directed. And options exist at all points along this spectrum.

One of our more senior designers advises against giving no guidance at all: "The learner needs some direction...It is part of the experience designer’s role to provide a framework," she says, "and to adjust the fuel mix of assigned and learner-selected activities. For instance, I might assign 6 or 7 experiences, but then have up to 30 others which can be a matter of personal choice. Getting the mixture of those two things is a really important capability for learning experience designers."

Content Curation

Learning experience design for this group of designers also adds curation to the toolkit. You don’t necessarily need to provide all the information, there are tons there online, so show me how that is going to help me. The designer should work with the internet, not in competition with it. One designer gave these 3 steps for gathering content, and in this order:

  1. Reuse
  2. Revamp/reframe
  3. Create

The Importance Of Little Doors

Learning in the flow of work—a popular concept on the conference circuit—also gets roped into the learning experience designer’s corral. Give them something that fits into their day. Learning should not be a separate activity from work, existing in some hermetically sealed-off panic room, but a matter of "little doors opening up all the time."

The Supporting Theories

When it came to theoretical guide rails used in designing learning experiences, there was a significant lack of familiar names from the instructional literature of the last century such as Gagné and Bloom. The dominant influence seems to be cognitive psychology, with many mentions—both explicitly and implicitly—of practices such as active retrieval, interleaving, and spaced practice. Cathy Moore’s action mapping got a mention, and Nick Shackleton-Jones seems universally popular for his resources-not-courses approach and affective context theory. Some cynicism was in evidence concerning much of the theory that the industry pedals, which was felt to lean too heavily on pop psychology, to the point that it doesn’t really apply.

A Genuine Change

So is this a real change of direction for learning design? It seems so. One of our designers contrasted it with the change that swept through learning design with the rise of gamification. That was just about a changed content experience. This is a more genuine change.

In Conclusion

Download the eBook eXperience: A Learning Pool Whitepaper and find out more about the definition of a learning experience, the Learning Experience Platforms, and their possible applications to your organization.

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