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The Evolution to Learning Experience Design

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Mon Jun 14 2021

The Evolution to Learning Experience Design
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Veronica, who works in human resources, was reading through the resumes that a recruiter sent for a new opening in the learning and development group. She noticed several candidates referred to themselves as learning experience designers_._ After reviewing the lists of accomplishments, Veronica figured this must be a new synonym for instructional designer. Did Veronica come to the correct conclusion?

The name of a business, the title of a career, or even a nickname can be arbitrary, or it can be revealing. Learning experience design is a great example of this paradox. As with much terminology in our industry, learning experience design has multiple meanings, depending on your perspective.

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Same Old, Same Old

As Veronica assumed, some people use the term learning experience design as a substitute for instructional design. Perhaps they think the title has more flair or that it sounds more important. Maybe the new title will bring a higher salary. From this perspective, learning experience design is a new moniker for the same old skills, the same old practices, and the same old solutions.

Enter User Experience

Instructional design has a history of being focused on materials. After decades of research, it became evident that this was not the most effective approach. Something needed to change.

As a result, our industry adopted many of the relevant practices and tools from the user experience (UX) community. For example, developing personas, using empathy maps, and creating learning journey maps come from the UX world. This gave instructional designers a new toolkit and somewhat of a new approach. From this perspective, learning experience design is instructional design merged with user experience design. Think of a Venn diagram.

A Transformational Evolution

Rather than point out the limitations of the two previous viewpoints, let me offer a third perspective. We can choose for learning experience design to be a revealing name. It can stand for a practice that is richer and more meaningful than traditional instructional design. Learning experience design can embody the design of relevant and holistic experiences—beyond mere materials and content. This is an evolution of instructional design.

What’s Changed?

If we look at the positive transformation of instructional design over the years, we can begin to piece together a new definition of learning experience design. We can draw a circle around what we’ve learned from evidence-based research as well as practices that bring success into the workplace. If we are willing to embrace this optimistic perspective, here are five ways that learning experience design can encompass what’s best in instructional design.

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  • Human-centered mindset. We now know that learning designers need to have empathy for the learner, understand the learner, and immerse themselves in the learner’s world. We need to know what the target audience is thinking, feeling, and doing in their work environment. With this context, our solutions are likely to be more effective.

  • Learning is a journey. More than 100 years ago, we learned about the forgetting curve. Yet, we still present people with long and bloated training events. Because we know that one learning intervention is insufficient to build complex skills, learning experience design gives us permission to design learning journeys. These holistic experiences provide varied opportunities for learning, practice, discussion, support, and self-directed options. Conversely, this also gives us permission to reject training and recommend looking up information in the flow of work when that is most effective.

  • Evidence-based research. Learning experience design must rely on proven strategies backed by research evidence and successful practices. We can now apply methods like spaced learning, retrieval practice, scaffolding, and worked examples to our solutions while knowing they are proven strategies.

  • Inclusive design. Embracing what is best in instructional design means designing for all. 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.

  • Social learning. When people learn, explore, and converse, it energizes and strengthens their learning experience. As a best practice, we can promote and encourage learning with and from each other in our future designs.

The evolved learning experience designer will be better equipped to solve the messy and complex challenges introduced by rapid technological change, constant disruption, global communities, inclusion strategies, flattening of organizational hierarchies, and new workforce models.

I’m advocating for the term learning experience design to be a meaningful change, not an arbitrary one—one that gives us greater leverage and authority to solve the right problems with the right solutions. One that allows us to say that training won’t solve every problem. Most importantly, it will give us a role where we transition from order taker to solution builder and change agent.

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