Why Learning Experience Is An Evolution Of eLearning
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Learning Experience: An Evolution Of eLearning In Detail

When Don Norman, then VP of 'Advanced Technology' at Apple argued that technology must evolve to put user needs first, it was the mid-90s. 'UX', that stands for User Experience, just wasn't at the forefront of great software priorities.

Great software was the priority. Never mind how it looked or felt — how did it work?

But then Steve Jobs came along and helped an entire industry open its mind a little more: '[Design is] not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.'

That was 2003. In 2005, the sale of 42 million iPods brought Jobs' conviction and words to life. Couple this with the fact that, not long after 2005, software engineers were not as competitive (for several reasons—one of them being the accessibility of new programming languages), and you had the perfect storm for the rise of the UX designer.

And from this storm cloud grew several mushrooms, which were divergences from the field of UX design to new fields.

Instructional Design was definitely a part of it because, at the same time as technologies were opening up and software expectations were shifting, MOOCs, otherwise known as Massive Open Online Courses, were making their presence felt, following the trends in gaming (also of MMORPGs).

From hosted courses from top universities like Harvard and MIT to more commoditised, and accessible, online courses across the internet, Instructional Design became less an experiment and more a dedication to crafting a certain kind of learning experience.

The history of the convergences between UX, LX, eLearning and digital behaviours and expectations is much more complex. But if you're wondering why exactly LX even matters, or what role it has to play in eLearning, let's just say; 'It matters. A lot.'

The Great Driver: 'Design Thinking Principles'

Learning Experience, like User Experience, allows Instructional Designers to bring that most fundamental type of systems thinking, 'design thinking,' to the fore as a tool and a baseline with which to evaluate just how effective online courses are.

eLearning opportunities, as any student can tell you, are not all created equal. Students might not be able to pinpoint, for example, exactly why they didn't finish that course or what, in particular, made it so hard to parse knowledge from a module's delivery style.

But what they can tell you is what it felt like when it worked, and what it felt like, and what the consequences were, when it didn't work.

Without applying design thinking principles to the question that every Instructional Designer will ask themselves—'But why didn't this work?'—we'd have nothing to go on. Improvement of solutions, courses, and learning opportunities would never occur because Learning Experience would not be a priority.

Digital courses and eLearning's evolution would simply lag without design thinking because, as we've seen, it is at the heart of how things work. It has come time to ask of our courses and LMS platforms: 'Is this working?'. And design thinking principles give us a tool with which to sift out the answers.

Making Things Greater Than The Sum Of Their Parts

Focusing on Learning Experience, like User Experience, calls for a cross-functional, multi-disciplinary team.

LMS, course coders, and developers cannot be sidelined. Designers cannot be siloed. Creative and marketing must be brought into the fold. Teams must not only communicate, but they must also work with each other in the active development and delivery of eLearning courses and opportunities.

Focusing on delivering a specific Learning Experience necessarily calls for a focus on moving beyond the LMS platform or, indeed, any function. It requires all of these equally and in their own ways. It's method-agnostic and learner-centric.

LX 'designers', as we'll call them, bring together whatever skills, tools, and techniques they have at their disposal, including graphic and web design, multimedia production, research-based standards and methods, and social media—to name a few.

Unpacking the student experience is all that matters. The aim is to use these insights to drive future improvements so that the 'sum', which is the experience of learning, drives the parts, which are the specific functions that come together to create this experience.

Successful LX designers are evolving the eLearning experience through:

  • Creating and delivering content that is flexible and open enough to bring in 'outside' influences (like social networks) to help guide engagement.
  • Effectively using technology to create connections that go from instructor to students, students to their peers, and students to outside, real-world experiences.
  • Creating learning opportunities that give students more control through multiple moments of learning via new forms of courseware, adaptive learning tools, choose-your-own-adventure models of course design, customised assignments, and assessments or activities that require that students own previous knowledge and real-world experience to be brought to the task at hand.

LX Is Trackable

Since we've now entered an era where eLearning options are various, an increasing number of LMS creators and developers are implementing analytics for tracking. This allows cross-functional teams to see which of their implementations are working and which need further refinement, improvement, and focus. Learning experiences are the next level of eLearning because they come from a learner-centric approach to course design and development.

Essentially, learners leave footprints, and when these footprints - i.e. data - can be tracked and then pulled together to form a fuller picture of the Learning Experience, these meaningful conclusions can then help either guide the next design or help designers return to the drawing board, applying design thinking to the problems they're trying to solve.

So... What's Next?

As we move forward with a focus on Learning Experience, data will certainly continue to lead the way forward as far as decision-making goes. But it's going to be design-led experiences that make an impact in eLearning. Design is the process and the tool that has the power to continually refine and realign the learning curve so that it's more and more attuned with students.

If this sounds like the way that learning works in the human brain, that's because it is. A focus on learning experiences means that Instructional Designers are not just crafting premade learning 'experiences' for students. They're actively learning about learning experiences that resonate the most.

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