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 Design Thinking to Craft Learning Experiences

Last month I was fortunate to attend a Design Thinking workshop with the eLearning guru Connie Malamed. After reading Connie’s blog for over 8 years  I was beyond psyched for the opportunity to meet her in person!

The workshop was absolutely wonderful (as expected) and really helped cement many of the ideas I have been implementing over the past 6 months in my new learning experience role. It opened my eyes to how important design thinking is and where some of the crossovers between Learning Experience and User Experience are as a whole.

What is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking is a strategy that became popularized by Tim Brown, David M Kelly, and Roger Martin. It focuses on using a structured human-centered approach to solving problems. It’s gained popularity over the years as businesses began adopting it to respond to growing trends, gain a better understanding of consumers and try to differentiate themselves from competitors.

Using Design Thinking in your Learning Practice

Over the years many variations of Design Thinking that have emerged. This became even more apparent when looking for a graphic to represent the framework. If you simply do a quick google search of Design Thinking you’ll find thousands of graphics showing different steps and processes.

For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to focus on the variation of Design Thinking that Connie emphasized in her workshop. I think it’s a great fit for anyone who is looking to use design thinking in their learning practice.

Screen Shot 2018-04-14 at 9.57.50 AM

EMPATHY

The design process should always start with empathy. This means trying to gain insight and perspective of your target audience. For learning practitioners, this might mean the learners who attend your instructor led training courses, virtual trainings, or watching your eLearning videos. This stage is similar to your traditional audience analysis. Whoever your audience is, try to gain a deeper understanding of their world by putting yourself in their shoes. The best way to gain empathy is to connect with learners directly. You can do this by performing user research in the form of interviews, observations, creating user personas or empathy maps.

 

DEFINE

The next step in the design thinking process is to define the problem your learner is having. You’ll want to look at your findings from your research and see if any patterns begin to emerge. For example, are all of your learners encountering the same problem? Are they feeling a specific way about something?

Once you’ve identified common trends you’ll want to distill all of your findings down into a problem statement or performance goal. You’ll use this to focus on when designing an effective solution.

 

IDEATE

Once you’ve defined the learners problem is when the fun starts to happen! Ideation is when you start to generate possible solutions for your learners performance problem. As an introvert, I tend to do some some of my best thinking alone first then i’ll gather a group of my coworkers and guide a brainstorm session.

While brainstorming, I’ll usually ask others to write their ideas down on post it notes and put them on a white board. Once everyones done writing their ideas we’ll create an affinity diagram and group solutions with common themes together. From there we’ll discuss all of the ideas and pick one or two to create a prototype from.

 

PROTOTYPE

Next, you’ll want to take your the final ideas that you generated with your team and create a prototype. A prototype is a simple and inexpensive model of the ideas you selected.  Prototypes are awesome for testing out your ideas with your users without investing tons of money and resources before you’ve determined whether the solution is successful or not! In other words, it’s a great way to fail quickly.

Depending upon your solution, your prototype could be a paper sketch, exercise, case study, storyboard, wireframe, or interaction concept.

 

TEST

Once you have a prototype, you’ll want to return to your users to solicit feedback. Test out your prototypes and observe how they respond, interact, and their overall experience with it. Be sure to test your prototypes on more than one person.

Don’t worry if your prototype absolutely failed – you’re not meant to get it right on the first try! It’s highly likely that you’ll have to do a few cycles of iterating your prototype and refining your ideas. Once you’ve refined the prototype and you’re confident with how your users are responding to it is when you’ll want to start bringing it to life!

 

Putting it Together

Since leaving the workshop – I realized that I’ve been using Design Thinking in my new role without even realizing it. I feel more confident than ever applying the new methodology to my projects. I actually think i’m actually going through ideation and prototyping faster because of attending the workshop.

For those in the world of learning incorporating Design Thinking into your practice can help eliminate costly development efforts and increase the likelihood that your learning solutions will meet the needs of your users. I definitely recommend trying it out when working on your next project.