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ATD Blog

Learning Experience Management


Fri Mar 10 2023

Learning Experience Management

There’s been increasing buzz the past few years about employee experience—how it is the key to recruiting and retaining talent in a historically competitive labor market. As talent development professionals, we have always understood that delivering excellent learning resources is part of a comprehensive employee experience. But beyond that, how does an employee-experience approach affect how we design, deliver, and evaluate workforce development programs for organizations? The answer is in three interlocking components of employee experience management.

Experiences Determine Outcomes

Over the past 40 years since Kolb published his breakthrough experiential learning cycle theory, scholars and practitioners have developed ample evidence that acquiring knowledge and skills starts with an experience. Yet, while instructional designers and faculty alike have incorporated experiential learning into their pedagogy, few learning evaluation strategies have sought to pinpoint how these experiences lead to specific learning outcomes.


If adults truly learn from the experiences we design for them, then it behooves us to examine more closely how and why certain experiences work, why they fail, and how we can improve them. This means going beyond descriptive assessments of satisfaction and learning application to analyze the root causes of learners’ positive and negative experiences. Learning experience evaluation can uncover unexpected drivers like:

  • Off-putting language or imagery due to cultural differences

  • Problems with learning pace or design due to cognitive differences

  • Uncertainty about job security or career progression

  • Disruptive events in home or community environments

  • Ongoing friction with supervisors or team members

We may not always consider these as we work in our talent development siloes.

Employees Experience Journeys

Once we recognize this gap in our current evaluation methods, we must start to design for the human learning experience. Following best practice of employee experience, we must start with mapping the learning journey. Proven techniques from human centered design (HCD) when applied to the adult learner will uncover the insight that the adult’s learning journey experience starts before entering the classroom or digital learning environment.

The first step of the learning journey is some trigger pushing or pulling the learner to seek learning—whether it’s a poor performance rating, a recognition that career progression requires upskilling in a certain area, or curiosity sparked by a work- or life-related event. The journey continues with searching for appropriate learning, identifying and registering for a course, aligning required resources (tuition, time, location), and conducting any required preparatory work (readings, reflection). All these experiences directly influence the adult’s mindset and ability to absorb the learning—yet rarely do we consider how they impact learning outcomes, let alone design a complete journey that leads to better performance.

Manage Each Touchpoint Along the Journey

Once we recognize that adult learning is a journey, we must identify the key touchpoints—moments that matter—that we must understand and design. Learning program administrators, partnering with HR and other organizational leaders, can address the operational steps before the learning starts. And learning designers and faculty can create mechanisms to closely monitor adults’ experience of learning activities as they unfold. In digital environments, this is only more imperative to prevent “abandonment” of learning, which is easier for the learner to do in digital than in analog environments (think rage click-throughs as a form of learning abandonment).


The good news is that monitoring the learning experience is also more feasible with current technologies, such continual listening and digital intercepts that assess what’s happening with adult learners. Building this digital capability also empowers faculty and instructional designers to coach and course-correct content in real time, further enhancing the adult’s learning experience while increasing retention of learning content.

The bottom line is that designing the learning experience requires moving past traditional approaches to learning measurement to address the “why” behind adult learning outcomes. For example, what experiences elicit better learning transfer? How do digital and blended interactions affect employee engagement with learning? What constraints do employees have that prevent the investment from producing results? Answering these questions is the key to delivering improved learning outcomes—and requires listening to learners, their supervisors, and organizational leaders along their respective journeys.

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