By Brian Salerno
If you’ve been paying attention to the world of instructional design, learning and development, and educational technology, there’s no doubt that you’ve heard a lot of new terminology over the last five or so years. Learning architecture, learning engineering, and learning experience design are just a few of the newest word combinations being used to describe the field of practice that was once primarily encapsulated by the term instructional design.
These are not just buzzwords, but a sign that the field is rapidly changing in ways that are transforming the way learners experience education and training, and the impact that learning has on their careers, personal lives, and pursuit of lifelong learning.
So, what does it all mean?
If you consider how education and professional training have evolved over the last decade and a half, it’s clear that learning has undergone (and continues to undergo) a massive digital transformation. Technology and mobile connectivity have given life to a whole new way of learning – on demand, on-the-go, and wrapped around and between all the other aspects of our busy lives – this digital transformation has also transformed the way educators approach the design of trainings, courses, and academic programs.
With the rise of online learning and other digitally-enabled approaches, providers of education and training are increasingly coming to the realization that effective and impactful learning isn’t simply a transactional experience that starts and ends with a final grade or with a student’s successful completion of a certification test, but instead is a holistic and integrated approach that considers the entire learning experience.
This is where the field of Learning Experience Design comes into the picture. Learning Experience Design (also known as LX or LxD) is an interdisciplinary approach to the design of learning and training that is grounded in human-centered approaches adapted from user-experience design (UX), user-interface design (UI), design thinking, cognitive psychology, learning science, and instructional systems design with the goal of creating learning experiences that converge curriculum and technology in a manner that creates powerful, contextualized, and transformative education and training experiences.
Learning Experience Designers don’t simply design educational resources and assessments, but instead they use learner research techniques to understand the ‘persona’ of the intended learner audience and map a learning journey that will ensure learners meet their goals, they curate and create learning content that is flexible and adaptive, they evaluate and adopt learning technologies that help the learners apply their learning in a real-world content, they develop highly applied and experiential activities that help learners meet outcomes and demonstrate competencies, and they leverage learning analytics and data to continuously improve the learning experience.
Learning Experience Designers will often leverage design thinking and rapid prototyping techniques to guide the creative process of developing impactful, memorable, and transformative learning experiences. Learner-centered approaches to designing education and training frequently require subject matter experts to break out from traditional approaches to educating and assessing student learning, and Learning Experience Designers use these techniques to help to understand and empathize with the learners, define the learning goals or competencies, guide the ideation process to come up with the most learner-centered approaches, protype and test those ideas, and implement learning solutions that engage learners in new and powerful ways.
For many years, companies have understood that experience design is a valuable and even necessary approach to making their products and services accessible, desirable, and enjoyable to use for their customers. In the field of education and training, we don’t often like to think of our learners as customers, but we know that our learners’ ability to access and use learning technologies, their desire to learn and engage with educational content, and the level to which they enjoy learning has a significant impact on their levels of engagement and even the level to which the learning content ‘sticks’ and can be applied later on…
This is why Learning Experience Design has emerged as the next frontier in learning and development, because positive and relevant learning experiences that keep the learner and their needs at the center help to ensure that our learners become engaged experts, lifelong learners, and powerful contributors to their fields.
Brian Salerno is the chair of the MS in Learning Experience Design program at Brandeis GPS.