Learning Leaps Part 5: Incorporating learning strategy while building products

Welcome to another edition of Learning Leaps, where I’ll be sharing lessons learned from my first 16 months as a product manager at Pluralsight. 

Since transitioning into Product Management, one of the biggest lessons I’ve had to learn was about the difference between learning strategy and product strategy. Thats why for this final edition of Learning Leaps, I’ll be taking a deeper look into the need for learning strategy to be incorporated in technology products.

Whats in a strategy anyway?

Many organizations, especially those in the technology space, focus on the importance of product strategies to help drive their decision making. For those unfamiliar, a product strategy can be defined as a set of decisions and priorities that a company focuses on in order to achieve a shared vision that wins with the users of its products (thanks to my good friend Jess Kadar for this concise definition!).

During my time in the industry, I’ve sat through my fair share of product strategy sessions. These meetings would usually include some sort of discussion about the company mission and vision, OKRs, and even product roadmaps. These sessions were great exercises for the company to illustrate why they were focusing on specific areas of investment. The outcome of the meetings would often empower product teams to drive the specific areas that they oversaw. Despite this, the more I sat in on these discussions, the more I noticed learning strategy not being considered during the creation of technology products (even when creating learning products).

For those unfamiliar, learning strategy can be defined as a set of decisions, techniques, procedures, and processes that learning creators can use to promote desired learning outcomes. As a learning strategist, I’m often thinking about the learning outcomes I’m looking to drive and the best way to deliver them. In other words, I consider things like learner goals and objectives so that I can determine the types of content or activities to help influence a learners knowledge, skills, and behavior.

Learning and product strategy are different yet intertwined

Over the years, the general theme I noticed in the industry is that product strategy and design are often driven by market and customer needs while learning strategy is driven by theory and research (Note: this is an oversimplification and I’m happy to dive deeper with anyone who may be discussing more of the intricacies).

Theres a few problems with this approach. First, as Clark Quinn mentions in Where is the Learning Science in Technology Products?, there is a documented disconnect between what learners think is good for their learning and what actually works. This is the same way that customers will ask for things that they think they want but it still may not get to the root cause of what they actually need.

Second, this approach leads me to think about the ancient qualitative vs. quantitative research debate that happens in product and UX communities. It should not be one or the other but rather a blending of the two or a mixed-methods approach.

What i’m recommending is that learning strategy should be considered an equally as important apart of a business as product strategy. If you look into the market, the best learning and educational products have a solid foundation of learning strategy. To put it succinctly, if you’re building a product to help people learn, you have to know how they learn.

Balancing customer needs with learning science

So whats the best way to balance your customer needs with learning strategy? Heres a few tips to get you started:

Connect with people who have learning expertise

If you don’t have a background in learning, thats okay! You can connect with folks who already have some inside of your organization. These individuals might be sitting on your learning and development, UX, or even product teams. They’ll be familiar with learning theories and models that could help to influence the success of your learning product. Use them!

Incorporate learning research while making product decisions

As a PM with a background in learning, I often lead and conduct my own learning research alongside the product discovery process. This often means leading mixed method research which include surveys, conducting user interviews, or prototype testing. At the same time if I have a specific research question in mind, I’ll look at existing learning research to see what it was says. I’ll incorporate this research into any synthesis and consider it when making any product decisions with my team.

Build out a center of learning research

Depending upon the size of your learning product and organization, it might be worth investing in a center of learning research. Many of the larger learning companies in the industry such as Pearson, edX, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt have done just this. These centers often focus on staying up to date with the latest learning research and techniques in addition to conducting efficacy studies among customers to prove that learning outcomes are indeed happening.

Do you have any tips on how technology platforms can incorporate more learning science into the experiences they’re building? Post them in the comments below!

Learning Leaps Part 3: Using data to make informed training decisions

Welcome to another edition of Learning Leaps, where I’ll be sharing lessons learned from my first 16 months as a product manager at Pluralsight. Since transitioning into Product Management, one of the biggest lessons I’ve had to learn was about how to use data to make decisions related to learning products. Thats why for this week’s Learning Leaps, I’ll be taking a deeper look into how data can be used to make informed training decisions.

Data in learning (a curious past)

After spending the past 9 years designing and delivering learning experiences, I was no stranger to using data to improve learning. When I first started out in the industry, this data came in the form of “smile sheets” or feedback forms that was presented to learners at the end of a training program. This form would asks learners about their perception and reaction to the learning program that they just attended.

In general, these sheets are a great way to let learners know that we respected their opinions and wanted to know about their overall satisfaction with the learning experience. As my time in the industry went on, I found myself getting more and more frustrated with these forms because satisfaction with learning does not equal learning.

Over time, some of the companies I worked for moved beyond the simple collection of satisfaction scores and measured things like assessment scores or behavioral change. But overall, this was few and far between.

At the same time, there was an increased growth in technology platforms entering the learning industry. These platforms housed digital learning experiences and began to provide practitioners with more insights into how audiences were interacting with their experiences. It was an exciting time to be in learning!

My relationship with learning data underwent another change when I moved into learning experience design, and more recently my PM role at Pluralsight. So I decided to put together a few tips that I’ve learned over the past year that I hope will inspire others while they’re thinking about how data can help inform their learning interventions.

Tips on how to use data to make informed training decisions

Learning interventions are experiments

First and foremost, at their very core, learning interventions are experiments.

Whether it’s instructor led training, elearning, or another solution; a learning intervention is a proposed solution to help solve a performance problem inside of an organization. Ideally, it’s been proposed because there is some type of current behavior taking place that is not aligning with the desired behavior of the organization. After some type of analysis, a practitioner has determined that learning might be a potential solution to help encourage the outcomes the organization is looking for.

As learning practitioners, this means we cannot guarantee that learning will indeed be successful to deliver those outcomes. However, if we take an experimental approach to designing learning experiences we may be able to increase the likelihood that it might succeed. Taking an experimental approach means taking the time to identify the outcomes you’re hoping to implement, clarifying our hypothesis and assumptions, and determining how you’ll measure success. If you don’t determine these things from the outset, you will never be able to identify whether you’ve been successful or not.

Measure enough data to make a decision

Once you have a better idea of the outcomes you’re looking to drive, you’ll then be able to use data to help guide any decisions related to your interventions.

You can use data while you’re in discovery or identifying the problems you’re looking to solve for customers. Typically this type of data might include qualitative research like conducting surveys or observations.

You can also collect evaluative data after your solution has been released into the wild to help you assess how well it’s solving the audiences problem. Based on your overall goals, these could mean measuring things like drop-off rate, learning impact, retention rates, and more.

Whatever your reasons for measurement are, it’s important to remember that the goal of measurement in learning is to gather enough data to make a decision. It is not to collect ALL of the data you possibly can to be absolutely certain of something. If you’ve gathered enough data to make a decision and you keep collecting data, then you’ve gone too far.

Storytelling with data is a skill

Once you’ve collected some type of data is where the fun part comes in. Storytelling! Take the time to think about the story you’re looking to tell to your stakeholders. Ask yourself things like:

  • What were my expectations going into this?
  • Am I surprised by what the data is telling me?
  • What do my stakeholders care about?
  • What decisions am I trying to influence?
  • Whats the best way to convey this to others?

Have this information feed into the way that you craft your story and any decisions you make based off of the data you’ve collected. Remember that anyone can collect metrics and simply report them but it takes skills to turn that data into a story that truly resonates with others.

Do you have any tips for others on how to use data to make informed training decisions? Post them in the comments below!

Be sure to check out next week’s Learning Leaps where I’ll be diving into how to use empathy to uncover the needs of your learners.

Introducing Learning Leaps: Lessons learned while creating learning products

A little over a year ago, I decided to take a huge leap in my career. After spending nearly 7 years in the learning industry, I decided to make the transition into a formal Product Management role.

The decision to move into Product Management was strategic on my part. I had spent the past 8 years designing and delivering learning experiences that were offered as a product or service for the audiences I serving. As time went on, I found myself adopting an iterative approach to learning that was rooted in learning experience design and research. I identified the overlap between the instructional design and product development processes and how they were both focused on identifying and solving problems. Over time, I desired more and found myself inching towards the world of user experience and product management.

So during August 2018, I decided to finally take the leap and switch roles. With the transition, I knew I wanted to focus on gaining the skills and expertise that wouldn’t have been afforded to me in a traditional learning role. These included:

  • deeper knowledge and experience with the inner workings of the business
  • setting the vision and strategic direction of a learning product
  • making data-informed decisions including conducting discovery research and creating hypothesis tests for experimentation
  • and inspiring and leading others

I’ve been in Product Management for 16 months now and I can say that it’s been one of the most difficult and rewarding experiences of my life. I’ve learned a ton personally and professionally and my overall approach to learning has changed.

With the transition, I’ve discovered that one of my favorite parts of the role is speaking directly with technology and learning leaders, in addition to learners themselves. I’ve conducted hundreds of research interviews and have heard stories from organizations about their desire to create a culture of learning, how they’re preparing employees for their roles, and promoting ongoing skill development. I’ve also heard learners talk about their motivations for continuous life long learning including their need to provide for their families and their desires to move up in their careers.

All in all, these conversations have reinvigorated my passion for learning. They have also exposed to me the opportunities we have as practitioners, learning providers, and the industry as a whole.

So I’ve decided to take the leap once again and bundle some of the lessons I’ve learned over the past 16 months into a series called Learning Leaps. Each week, I’ll be sharing about a topic I’ve encountered during my transition. My goal is to give back to the community that has given me this opportunity in the first place. Thank you for coming along this journey with me and I hope you find the lessons shared both inspiring and helpful.

With gratitude,

Roberta

Lessons Learned from DevLearn 2019

Last week I attended The eLearning Guild’s DevLearn conference in Las Vegas, NV. It was my second time attending the event (my previous visit was in 2016). For those who haven’t attended a DevLearn conference before, it is a 3 day event where practitioners in the industry gather to discuss industry trends, best practices, and tips and tricks. On top of all of that, the guild also offers 2 days of pre-conference workshops for those looking to expand their skills even more.

Overall, I’m a big fan of the guild events. They’re actually my favorite in the industry to attend. It’s a great opportunity to connect with others, see what their working on, and share stories. I always come back with key nuggets that I cant wait to share with my team. This trip was no exception, below are a few highlights from the trip:

I LOVE my learning network!

First and foremost it must be said. I love my learning network! At this years DevLearn, I was able to meet some amazing people that I’ve been chatting with online for years now (like Tim Slade, Cara North, and Nick Floro).

Spending time with Matthew Pierce & Cara North at Demo Fest

I spent time with some of my former teammates at The Predictive Index. I also met others who are creating learning experiences for industries completely different than mine, such as emergency response and law. It is an amazing experience when you’re connect with others who share the same passion as you. You’re able to learn from their each others experiences, discuss differences, and challenges. It just goes to show how much of a common thread learning and education truly is.

Industry Trends

Overall, I attended about 15+ sessions over a span of 3 days and noticed some trends occurring in the industry:

AI is coming and as learning professionals we need to adapt.

There was a-lot of talk about whether AI is going to take over the future of work or not. This was definitely highlighted by the fact that one of the main keynoters was Sophia, the Robot. The key takeaway from these discussions is that AI will absolutely transform the way we do our work. It has the potential to automate many of the manual processes we do in our work , like capturing screenshots, creating step by step instructions for job-aids, helping write assessment questions, and curating learning content. As practitioners, this will leave us with time to do more of the creative work we love – YAY!

The rise of Learning Data is here!

With the rise of xAPI over the past few years, many in the industry are beginning to think more critically of their learning data. In total, there were over 13 sessions focused solely on data and measurement! I actually attended a pre-conference workshop with Sam Rogers of SnapSynapse about How to Make Better Training Decisions with Your Learning Data.

One of the major takeaways I got from Sam’s session is that in order to truly track the impact of our learning interventions, we need to take time from the outset to identify the outcomes and behaviors were looking to change. If we don’t know this, how will we know if were successful?

Additionally, one major area is the collection of data but what happens next? This is where the beauty of storytelling comes in. As practitioners, we need to think about the what our stakeholders care about, what decisions are we trying to influence with our data, and what is the best way to convey this to them?

There is a difference between learning strategy and product strategy

By far, the biggest takeaway for me came during Frank Nguyen’s guided panel discussion on Transforming from Learning Professional to Learning Leader. Frank and the panel highlighted the importance that as learning leaders we need to force others to think about the instructional strategy rather than immediately jumping to solutioning. This means identifying the true performance problems taking place, advocating for the learners and their needs, and determining an instructional strategy and experiences that support that. Learning is not simply defined by one up learning events but rather an entire ecosystem and all of their parts working together.

Overall, DevLearn was such a great experience. I’m so grateful to meet many of my friends in person. I can also say, i’m really happy to be home in my introvert cave with my cats. I look forward to seeing everyone at Learning Solutions in March 2020!

Lessons Learned from Learning 2018

This week, I attended Elliott Masie’s Learning 2018 in Orlando, FL. It was my first time attending the event and to top it off I was apart of the 30 under 30 group. Overall, it was a great experience. For those that haven’t attended Elliott Masie’s Learning conference before, it is 2.5 days long and jammed packed with all things learning. I was definitely nervous to travel over 1,200 miles with my knee scooter (I’m still recovering from my fractured ankle!). Looking back, i’m so happy I decided to get over my fear and make the trek to Florida. It was a great opportunity to connect with others in the industry and hear about some of their experiences. Below are some highlights from the trip:

30 under 30 

The day before the official start to the conference was an entire day dedicated to professional development for the 30 under 30 group. We heard insights from some industry greats including: Elliott Masie, Bob Mosher, Richard Culatta, Bruce Wilkinson, Nigel Eyre, and Jayzen Patria. We even had a CLO panel including Tara Deakin (TD Bank), Rob Lauber (McDonalds), and Martha Soehren (Comcast).

Two things really resonated with me during these sessions, focused on career transitions and continuous learning. At one point Elliott actually said, “Really good people leave Learning and Development for sales or other departments because they’re so good at what they do”. Meanwhile, during the CLO Panel, each learning executive mentioned the importance of continuously challenging yourself when you meet your goals. It is not enough to set a goal and then settle, you much keep stretching yourself outside the box to see how far you can push yourself. Each of them also detailed a major change they made in their career by jumping either industries, roles, or locations.

These are EXACTLY the things that have been ruminating over in my mind when deciding to make the leap to Product Management. Hearing about the importance of challenge and career transitions really made me more confident and happy about all of the changes I’ve been making over the past few months.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BpyNeJSnYIL/

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Learning 2018 – 30 under 30 

Industry Trends

I was able to attend over 8 sessions during the conference and noticed some trends occurring in the industry:

Frustration about being order takers

This is definitely nothing new but a common theme I noticed was the frustration among L+D Practitioners had about being order takers from stakeholders within their businesses. Many described hearing things such as “We need a 5 day course in X”, “We need 3 e-learning modules in Y”. I think this really emphasizes the importance of needs assessment by practitioners. It is our duty to partner not only with our stakeholders but learners and really dig down and identify the problems that are taking place so that we can create the best solutions possible to truly impact performance. We need to educate our partners and let them know that training is only one piece of the puzzle and there are many different tools at our disposal. At the end of the day, as learning practitioners we are responsible for helping our learners and ensuring that they’re performing.

 

Analytics aren’t whats coming soon – they’re already here

I attended 2 sessions on learning analytics, metrics, and measurement. I found these sessions particularly interesting because I just released a beta feature for my product which included an analytics dashboard for companies to track metrics on their employees skills assessments. It seemed that many at the conference had no idea where to start with data or were completely overwhelmed with the amount of data they had to shift through.

It really emphasized the importance of being thoughtful about the type of data that we’re collecting to improve performance improvement. Through identifying the KPIs and metrics from the outset of a project, we can make ensure that were continuously tracking progress and determining whether were meeting the goals of our learners and organization. I mean, how else are we going to be able to prove we’re having an impact? I really encourage all practitioners to add metrics as another tool in their toolbox.

 

The Importance of Adopting a Business Mindset

What truly terrified me was the lack of alignment among practitioners whether they consider their learning solutions to be an actual product. I might be biased because of my recent move to product management. However, during the CLO panel I actually posed the question to the executives if they considered the solutions their organizations are creating as being learning products. Each one of them, one by one said no. I couldn’t believe it!  Just sessions earlier, Elliott Masie mentioned the importance of adopting a business mindset within the learning industry.

A product can be considered something that helps a user fulfill a need. As Practitioners, we’re creating learning products whether it’s in the form of elearning, instructor led training, performance support, or something else. We’re trying to help our learners perform better or have some type of performance improvement outcome. I truly cannot stress enough the importance of adopting this mindset. As practitioners, if we consider ourselves as delivering products I think we will think more holistically about the solutions we’re providing. It will also change the way that were creating solutions at a very foundational level.

Overall, Learning 2018 was such a wonderful experience. As always the best part was being able to connect with like minds in the industry. I am so grateful for the connections and conversations that I made over the past few days and I look forward for continuing them for years to come!

Moving from Instructional Design to Learning Experience Design

Last week I was fortunate to participate in the Transitioning from ID to Learning Experience Design session that was part of the Training, Learning, and Development Community Playlist. Matt Sustatia and I spoke about the growing use of the term Learning Experience Design and how Instructional Designers can make the jump to LXD.

The session was absolutely amazing and I couldn’t wait to share some of the insights learned throughout the session!

 

What is Learning Experience Design?

I would define Learning Experience Design as the practice of creating learning experiences that enables learners to achieve a desired performance outcome. Learning Experience Design uses an iterative approach that focuses on understanding the users challenges and experiences to design iterative solutions to help solve their needs.

This doesn’t mean limiting learning experiences to formal learning that take place in a school or classroom. Quite the opposite, learning experiences can take place anywhere; at home, while working, or on the go.

Learning Experience Designers focus on the holistic learning experience and what the learner is going through. This means that rather than simply focusing on designing curriculum or instruction, the learning experience designer will consider the learner and everything they’re experiencing. They’ll then use that information to create solutions such as:

  • content (what does the learner need to do in order to perform a task)
  • the look and feel of the learning experience
  • materials
  • communication about the content
  • how the learner interacts with the content

 

What skills can IDers grow to move into LXD?

With any job, the actual responsibilities that someone carries out can truly vary from company to company. Learning Experience Design is no different!

I made the jump to Learning Experience Design roughly a year ago after moving to the User Experience team within my organization. The move made me responsible for designing in-product learning experiences for users of our software platform. With the transition, I’ve been able to work on some pretty exciting projects like designing in-software user onboarding for our beta software, designing wireframes, and user flows for new features, low fidelity prototypes of product features, and UX Content.

I’ve talked to many other learning experience designers who design all different types of learning experiences including elearning and instructor led training. Regardless of your background, I’ve noticed a few skills that can come in handy with making the transition to learning experience.

 

Practice Design Thinking

Most instructional Designers are very familiar with using the traditional ADDIE model to create learning experiences. Design Thinking is actually an almost identical process – you can see this by simply comparing the ADDIE and Design Thinking graphics below.

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Instructional Design ADDIE Model

 

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Traditional UX Model: Design Thinking (Source)

 

Popularized by Tim Brown, David M Kelly, and Roger Martin; design thinking focuses on using a human-centered approach to solving problems. It’s helpful to take the holistic view of a problem to truly understand all the different aspects that a learner is going through and then determine a solution. Since moving I’ve started using design thinking to craft learning experiences, I’ve been able to iterate quicker and have started developing things like user personas, empathy maps, and journey maps.

 

Brush up on those design skills

I definitely see e-learning design as a huge jumping point into learning experience design. Brushing up on graphic design skills like how to incorporate color, typography, layout into designs will make a huge impact on your work. Interaction design will also have a huge impact on your work. I challenge those looking to make the transition to LXD to begin by thinking about the types of elearning interactions you want to provide your learners with. You may want to consider questions such as:

  • Whats the overall goal of this learning interaction?
  • How is the learner going to move through these screens in my lesson?
  • What happens if they click this button?
  • How will they see the results of this interaction?
  • What types of graphics should I include in this interaction?

 

Change is hard

Everyone knows that change is hard! I can tell you first hand that my transition to our UX team did not come easy. My way of thinking and working completely shifted. It taught me how to incorporate design thinking, user centered design, prototyping and iteration to my approach. I was forced to think more strategically about getting to the root of a users problem and identify their pain points. But with the change also came tons of insecurities, battling perfectionism, and cognitive load. I was fortunate enough to reach out to others in the industry, have supportive coworkers, and read tons of books that helped ease the transition. If you’re feeling hesitant about making the move to learning experience design, don’t be! Feel free to reach out for any tips and tricks as you embark on your journey.

 

Sources

Design Thinking 101. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nngroup.com/articles/design-thinking/

Dombrowski, R. (2018, April 15). Using Design Thinking to Craft Learning Experiences. Retrieved from https://robertamedia.com/2018/04/14/using-design-thinking-to-craft-learning-experiences/

The Training Learning and Development Community (2018, August). Instructional Design Playlist. Retrieved from https://www.crowdcast.io/e/id-playlist/4

Uncovering the power of the journey map

The farther I get into my masters program, the more I realize how quickly 10 weeks can go by. This past semester was an absolute whirlwind – now that I’m more than two weeks out of it, I feel like I finally have some time to share all the cool tidbits that I learned.

This past semester, I took an Advanced Instructional Design course that specifically focused on how to incorporate design thinking into the instructional design process. As expected, it was an absolute dream come true! It made me so much more confident in the skills that I’ve been learning in my LXD role over the past year. It also allowed me to connect with Learning Practitioners who were new to design thinking (queue flash backs to me 9 months ago).

One of my favorite parts of the class was learning more about journey maps. I was pretty much a novice to journey maps before the course. I had assisted our UX Researcher, Zoya, at times when she was constructing an epic journey map for The Predictive Index. Despite that, I had never built a journey map from scratch. The course changed all that and they’re now my go to at work when thinking about designing new user flows or even thinking about client journeys with our product.

 

What is a journey map?

Nielsen Norman Group describes a journey map as a “visualization of the process that a person goes through in order to accomplish a goal. It’s used for understanding and addressing customer needs and pain points”. My favorite part about a journey map is that it truly combines storytelling with visualization.

Journey maps can be a really helpful tool to put things back into perspective of what the user, customer, or learner is going through. In other words, journey maps are great to use during the empathy stage of design thinking. Overall, they can be used to review the existing state of an experience or when envisioning a future state. Once a journey map is created you’ll be able to identify pain points or areas of opportunity for building better experiences for customers.

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Example Customer Journey Map for Online Travel Agency (Source)

 

Elements of a journey map

The truth is no journey map is the same however, they will include some similar elements:

  • Persona – this will provide insight about who the journey map is about. It may include elements such as a picture and goals/expectations of the person
  • Scenario – the experience you’re going to map. For example, is it an existing process or experience or are you going to be envisioning the future state of something?
  • Phases  – these are touch points that client/user interacts with your product or service.
  • Actions/Mindsets/Emotions – for each touch point, determine the action the user takes, their thoughts, emotional experience and potential opportunities.

 

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Job Applicant Journey Map (Source)

 

Basing the journey on data

Now before you run off and start creating journey maps for all the experiences your customers are going through, you’ll want to ensure that you’re basing them off of data and research. This means getting as close to your user or customer as possible through things like user interviews and surveys. This will help to ensure that the experience you’re mapping is grounded and based on the actual experience your clients are going through.

During the Advanced Instructional Design Course, my teammates and I worked on designing a learning experience for volunteers at a Cat Shelter. We parsed through nearly 200 pages of existing documentation and conducted our own user interviews. Talk about a lot of data! As part of our design solution, we created a journey map for a potential learning experience. This helped our group to envision all of the emotions, goals, motivations, and actions that the learner would potentially go through with our solution. Once we had more insight into the learner, we used all of the information to help us identify potential learning opportunities that would help them along their journey.

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Journey Map for Cat Shelter Volunteers

Overall, I ended up falling in love with journey maps throughout the course of the past semester. They’re another tool, I’m happy to add into my toolbox. I could see them being used by learning designers to gain more insight into learners.

So go on, what’re you waiting for? I hope you give journey maps a try and end up loving them as much as I do!

 

NOTE: If you’re a learning practitioner looking to incorporate design thinking into your process feel free to give me a shout 🙂

 

 

 

 

Lost without a paddle: My journey into the uncharted waters of learning experience design

Anyone looking for L&D jobs over the past few years may have noticed a growing trend – the move away from the label Instructional Designer and move towards Learning Experience Designer.

I experienced this shift first hand after being promoted to Learning Experience Designer within my organization 9 months ago. The move uprooted me from our learning team and placed me right in the middle of our small but mighty cross-functional user experience team.

To say the transition was a challenge is a complete understatement! I very quickly had to begin applying concepts I never encountered before like design thinking, prototyping, and iteration within my content creation process. Despite the initial growing pains, I have now settled firmly into my role in Learning Experience Designer and understand the need for instructional designers to shift to a learning experience design mindset.

What is learning experience design?

I would define Learning Experience Design as the practice of creating learning experiences that enables learners to achieve a desired performance outcome. Learning Experience Design uses an iterative approach that focuses on understanding the users challenges and experiences to design iterative solutions to help solve their needs.

This doesn’t mean limiting learning experiences to formal learning that take place in a school or classroom. Quite the opposite, learning experiences can take place anywhere; at home, while working, or on the go.

Learning Experience Designers focus on the holistic learning experience and what the learner is going through. This means that rather than simply focusing on designing curriculum or instruction, the learning experience designer will consider the learner and everything they’re experiencing. They’ll then use that information to create solutions such as:

  • content (what does the learner need to do in order to perform a task)
  • the look and feel of the learning experience
  • materials
  • communication about the content
  • how the learner interacts with the content

Incorporating learning experience into digital products

If you’re like me, you may not immediately think about learning experience when thinking of the design of digital products. Digital products actually offer a number of learning experiences to customers, ranging from:

  • onboarding
  • learning the interface
  • learning how to interact with the product
  • help & support

Before my jump to LXD, I spent nearly 3 years creating software support content for clients. This ranged from creating help videos, how to articles, getting started guides, and more. During this time, I was often brought in after the software was built to explain to users how to use the system.

My move into learning experience actually transplanted me to the beginning of the design process. Now i’m working on our UX team where we handle designing product concepts that could potentially go within our software platform. This means establishing empathy with our users, gaining an understanding of their problems, and designing solutions to help solve the challenge. My deliverables usually range from creating wireframes, user flows, low fidelity prototypes of product features, and UX content.

I’m very fortunate that my organization is a test bed for new ideas. Since the transition, I’ve been able to work on some pretty exciting projects like designing in-software user onboarding for our beta software, designing wireframes and user flows for new features, and creating support materials for a new beta product.

Overall, the past 9 months have been quite the learning experience. The change taught me how to incorporate design-thinking, user centered design, prototyping, and iteration to my approach. I’ve been forced to think more strategically about getting to the root of a users problem and identify their pain points. This has improved the speed of my design  and allowed me solve our users problems quicker. In a world that is moving faster at every moment, a more strategic and agile design process will be what sets learning design apart from the pack.

Interested in learning more about learning experience? Check out these helpful resources:

Using information mapping to write clearer content

Last month, I sat down with some of my coworkers to officially hand off knowledge base responsibilities. Since transitioning more fully into my LXD role, I haven’t had the bandwidth to manage them anymore. It was a little bitter sweet, but it’s so exciting to see others step up to the plate and expand their skills.

I ended up reviewing some information mapping best practices to get the team more familiar with creating learning content. The session was so energizing! It reminded me of how much I love getting in front of people to share best practices and how much information mapping has helped to craft my content creation process.

What is information mapping?

Information Mapping is a researched based method that helps enable the creation of clear, concise, and focused writing. It allows content creators to put users needs at the forfont of the creation process.

I got trained in the information mapping methodology roughly 2 years ago and it’s helped every type of content I create. Everything from emails, presentations, documentation, help content, knowledge base articles, the sky’s the limit!

Below is an example before and after it went through the information mapping process. As you can see, information mapping can help to make the content more readable and bring important details to the front of the messages you’re crafting.

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Information Mapping – Before and After Example

Getting Started with Information Mapping

You don’t have to go through an information mapping training course to start using it! Here’s some guiding principles to help get you started:

Identify audience needs 

Whenever you’re creating content of any type of content, the first thing you’ll want to do is find out as much as you can about your audience. Ask yourself questions such as:

  • Who is the audience?
  • Are there multiple audiences?
  • What do they need to do?
  • What do they need to KNOW in order to do the task?
  • How will they access the information?

audience

Knowing this will help guide the information you present to your users and make sure that it truly resonates with them.

 

Organize information from the user’s perspective

Once you have a better idea of the content the users will need to know,  it’s time to focus on how you’ll actually present it to your audience.

Screen Shot 2018-05-26 at 1.25.56 PMBe sure to present the content in the order the users will need to use it. This often means introducing high level conceptual information first, then drilling down into more detailed content or steps later.Take a book for example; they’re often composed of multiple short chapters, rather than one long chapter of content. Each chunk of content should represent a new idea or topic.

 

Help users find what they need

Now that you’ve got your content down, it’s time to make some improvements to ensure that users can find the content they need.

Whenever I’m writing instructions or documents, I’ll add subheaders or descriptors to the content chunks in my document. The subheading should accurately convey what appears in it’s corresponding section. If the user is looking for something specific in your document, they’ll be able to quickly find what they’re looking for within the content.

Another best practice that i’ll do when writing directions is begin all sentences or steps with action verbs. For example, this means starting software how to’s with words such as “Click”, “Enter”, or “Select”. This puts the action that the user needs perform, front and center, ensuring theres absolutely no guess work on their end.

I’ll also emphasize words of importance by using italics, bold, or using all caps. In some cases, I’ll actually insert tips if something is really important to the user (ex: TIP: Changing this field will change all of your admin settings).

Finally, I’ll add supportive graphics throughout the document to help ensure that I get my point across. This means including pictures of software screens, machinery, or tools, you’re expecting the users to assemble or use.

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Example Instructions from The Predictive Index Knowledge Base

 

Putting it in action 

And that’s it! The next time you sit down to craft content, begin to incorporate some of these best practices to start getting your messages across to your users quicker.  So go on, and get your information mapping on!