It’s not enough to have all the information a learner needs in an eLearning course. It’s not even enough to offer that information in a searchable, mobile-friendly format. Great eLearning must foster great learner experiences. That’s why many instructional designers are becoming learner experience or LX designers.
LX design is the intersection of several areas of design: instructional design; user experience design; and user interface and visual design. It embraces elements of design thinking, user-centered, and universal design. Each of these skills focuses on different aspects of an eLearning module; when all areas are given the proper attention and skillfully honed, the result is engaging, effective eLearning.
Learning experience design retains key elements of instructional design while adding new emphasis on the learner. Here’s what that means in practice:
- Instructional designers must consider the specific learning goals, often set by corporate executives or learners’ managers. These might include mastery of specific skills or fluency with a body of knowledge. LX design adds an emphasis on how people learn—how they apply the knowledge and skills the eLearning conveys.
- A user experience designer is responsible for the navigation paradigm and the specific actions a learner takes to move through a module, including setting the hierarchy of content items and determining where they appear. UX design covers conceptual aspects of a design, like how people “feel” as they use a product or website. In the eLearning realm, the UX—user experience—becomes an LX, a learner experience. As such, “LX design in the workplace is concerned with improving performance and building long-term capacity by enhancing knowledge, skills, and attitudes,” according to Connie Malamed, a Guild Master and an eLearning, information, and visual designer at The eLearning Coach. Therefore, the methods chosen need to fit the desired outcome—building in opportunities for learners to practice skills, for example, in addition to reading about them or watching someone else do them on a video.
- User interface designers and visual designers create the look-and-feel of an eLearning experience; they design the color scheme, the appearance and function of buttons, the implementation of the navigation that the UX designer created. In LX design, the user interface and other visual aspects of the design take on a more human-centered focus. An engaging learning experience must look polished and professional; it also must be visually accessible—clear, legible, organized in a logical way, searchable. If learners spend too much cognitive energy figuring out where the needed content is or deciphering poorly designed content, they will experience cognitive overload before processing the actual learning material.
Creating engaging learning experiences requires blending an analytical, task- and information-focused mindset—covering the needed instructional areas—with an implementation that is creative and adaptable to a variety of learners and learner needs. Malamed suggests looking at design-thinking, which encourages designers to consider and test multiple solutions. She calls design thinking “an approach for deeply understanding the audience and their challenges, in order to generate creative and effective solutions.”
More than a name change
Shifting from instructional design to learner experience design entails more than a name change; it’s also a shift in mindset. In instructional design, the learning goals are primary, and an instructional approach is chosen to suit these goals.
While a learner experience might need to meet the same learning objectives, the increased focus on the learner might dictate more flexibility in format and instruction method. LX design acknowledges that not all learners will reach a goal by the same path. And that they might begin the journey from different places—some will have foundational knowledge while others are novices. Or they might need (or want) to do the learning in different environments or using different technologies.
Considering the learner—or, rather, the broad variety of learners—as well as the learning objectives might lead to plus-one thinking, embracing universal design and the idea of offering learners more than one way to access information. It could mean curating content and allowing learners greater control in what they learn.
This learner-centered approach to eLearning design and development meshes with two concepts gaining currency in L&D circles: personalized and adaptive learning. Both reject a one-size-fits all approach to training and performance support. They can be fully automated or can be driven by learner choices. Designing personalized and adaptive eLearning, which both offer content based on each learner’s needs, can be as simple as creating branching scenarios, or as complex as using an AI algorithm to figure out a personalized learning path for each individual. Key elements include:
- Rather than forcing all learners to complete identical content, content is served based on the learner’s competence level, previous responses, or quiz scores. Alternatively, learners select relevant sections to complete and can skip sections that cover material that they either already know or do not need to cover.
- Assessment is not based on the number of screens or questions completed or time spent but on performance or demonstration of mastery via assessment of knowledge.
LX design doesn’t limit the L&D team to a single approach or to specific formats or platforms for content delivery. It does allow designers to offer digital learners a full, rich experience that capitalizes on many skill sets, technologies—and learning opportunities.