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ATD Blog

Learner Experience Design: The Core of Active Deep Learning

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The business world is increasingly moving to an experience economy—shifting from commodity, to product, to service, and now to experience. This evolution started with user experience science, and further evolved into creating positive customer experiences. In L&D, this shift is taking shape in the move to create a complete and effective learner experiences.

The learner experience refers to any course, program, or other interaction where learning takes place. It can occur in academic or business settings, and can include traditional (face-to-face classroom) and nontraditional (online, social, and mobile) interactions. Please note use of the word learner, not learning. For modern learning to be effective, designers and facilitators need to pay attention to each learner, designing for individual needs and interactions. This means the main emphasis of instructional design is on the human, not the learning content or curriculum. The key is that the learner experience design incorporates the learners’ needs, reactions, thoughts, and attitudes.

No doubt, the “learner experience” will occur anyway. Our objective, as L&D professionals, is to make that experience a positive, planned experience with an impact and outcomes that last longer than the duration of training.

Enter Active Deep Learning

Active learning is experiential, mindful, and engaging. It is a process whereby learners engage in activities—such as reading, discussion, or role play—with the goal of promoting the analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of learning content. It is cooperative and problem-based learning.

Unfortunately, for some designers, active learning translates simply to the addition of a few educational games and incorporating movement within the training room, without real purpose. Some sessions turn out to be superficial, forgetting to balance activity with the other factor of the equation: depth.

In other words, it is not enough for the learning to be active. Learning has to be active AND deep. Deep learning includes following tenets of brain-based learning, metacognition, reflective learning, and so forth. It relies heavily on motivation, which is intrinsic, socially rooted, and promotes autonomy and self-esteem. Bottom line: depth is the gap that designers need to bridge.

Create a Complete Journey

Learner experience design considers all the potential touch points L&D has with the learner. A full experience cannot be passive or centered on a one-time event; it needs to be a journey.


The learning journey as a whole requires its own designed experience and objectives. The depth and experience of the journey should vary according to the length of the engagement and the desired learning outcomes. The point for developers is that this journey starts before the training event (with readiness activities) and continues after the event (with practice, follow up, and coaching or mentoring).

The learning trip, however, is the actual training event—when learners are in direct contact with the facilitator or courseware. A learning journey could contain more than one trip, depending on the complexity of learning outcomes and length of the journey.

Meanwhile, each trip is comprised of a certain number of adventures. Each adventure represents an individual learning activity, and each activity is a complete unit by itself. To be a true adventure, the learner needs to fully engage with the activity. Consequently, each adventure needs elements of exploration, suspense, observation, and learning. This is why it is called “experiential learning”—learners explore and deeply reflect so they can build on new ideas.

Keep in mind: even though each of the three elements—journey, trip, adventure—of the learning experience is distinctly designed, they also are fully connected to each other. In fact, adventures (activities) and trips (training events and courseware) must integrate and work together to create a total journey (learner experience)—and for learning transfer to transpire.


Design Maps Show the Way

Connecting the worlds of art and science, learner experience design brings together numerous disciplines. In addition to traditional learning and cognitive sciences, design thinking plays a critical role. To equip learning developers with the design thinking mindset and methodologies, I suggest using design maps. In fact, design mapping is a core foundation in many design disciplines.

At SeGa Group, we follow the First Framework for creating the learner experience design map. The framework is comprised of four individual maps that enable developers to view the experience design from multiple layers. This helps them get a holistic picture of the flow and integration of all elements of the learning journey, allowing them to structure ideas and content to individual touchpoints and pay close attention to learner’s emotional, behavioral, and cognitive status. Here are the four maps our designers use:

  • Holistic Design Map. This is concerned with the context of learners and outcomes of the design. In other words, what experience should the learners encounter in order to achieve desired outcomes? It considers who the learners are, how the design empathizes with them, and any necessary actions.
  • Learner Journey Map. This is concerned with the overall learner journey and takes into account all of the interactions and touchpoints with the learner. It also defines the learning outcomes for each phase—before, during, and after learning.
  • Trip Design Map. The trip map is concerned with the genuine engagement of the learner. It provides sequencing for content and interaction, and considers the learners’ statuses during each activity.
  • Adventure Design Map. This is concerned with mapping out individual learning activities. This map designs each activity as its own experience, and it monitors the status of the learner before and after each adventure (status-in/status-out), aligning each activity and status to the desired learning outcomes.

These design maps have proven efficiency with different designers in various learning design contexts. They help developers evolve their traditional perspective and dive into the deep details of a learning program, ensuring multiple opportunities for learner engagement and guaranteeing deep, sustainable transfer of learning.

Want to Learn More?

Join me at the ATD 2018 International Conference & EXPO for the session: LXD (Learner eXperience Design): Using Design Maps for Active, Deep Learner Experiences. Discover the holistic design of learner experience. Learn about the learner experience cycle and how to empathize with learners' needs and sequence learning activities.

About the Author

Mohamed is the founder of SeGa Group enterprise with a mission to develop the talent development professionals in active learning and performance coaching.  For over 15 years, Mohamed has delivered learning and development solutions for a variety of regional and multinational organizations such as  Schlumberger, Maersk, Coca Cola, Pepsi, Mars, Heinz, Kraft, Vodafone, MobiNil, Etisalat, Oracle, Ericsson,EL-ARABY Group, Olympic Group , AbuDawood  and Nahdi Pharmacies. These organizations have exposed him to over a dozen different nationalities within the MENA region, allowing him to design and facilitate diverse and effective learning solutions.  Mohamed’s passion is for coaching and helping individuals reach their full potential. He is a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach and member in ICF (International Coach Federation) . He is an accredited coach from the Mind Gym Academy in the United Kingdom which has a highly stringent accreditation process.  He also holds multiple certifications including being a certified trainer from Huthwaite UK, qualified to deliver the SPIN Selling Course, SPIN Coaching and Account Strategy for Major Sales courses, NASAGA education game design certificate and SENTENCIA gamification certificate for talent development. He is also certified to deliver John Maxwell trainings as well as the Wilson Learning Leadership and Management Track.. he is also certified from SimDustry in Germany for business simulation Finally, he is a Thiagi group certified  facilitator.  Originally a Cairo University Systems Engineering graduate, Mohamed also studied Business Management and pre-Masters in Education and Psychology.

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Great ATD ICE presentation. I wish we had more time; one hour was too short to go through the content.
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wonderful one Mo
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wonderful one Mo
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