Instructional Design vs. Learning Experience Design
Something amazing happened to me recently. My boss, the tireless Jim Kiggens, said, "Let's do this." The "this" he was referring to is the formalization of the shift in how we approach learning design: from the design to the experience, from the product to the learner. In short, a shift from Instructional Design to Learning Experience Design (LXD).
I've been designing instruction and curriculum for 20+ years (I started when I was four – *ba doom chick*), and this wasn't the first time I'd heard the terms "learner-centric" or "human-centered design" bantered around the like the newest beach ball at the pool. The term has always been there. It's the starting point of the ADDIE design model, where we analyze the needs of the learner.
What I haven't seen in any organization I've worked for—at a well-known educational publisher, at K-12, vocational, postsecondary, and graduate schools, at online and seated institutions, at professional education arms of companies large and small—is the actual practice of asking the learner what they want and need in order to meet learning objectives or master competencies. Until now.
Why isn't it common practice to ask the learner what would make them more successful? Why don't we study them in the learning environment and then determine their needs? Why don't we adjust and rework the learning based on their authentic feedback?
To be fair, good design models include audience analysis and learning evaluation phases, but in actual practice the feedback is usually filtered through analytics of demographics, results of an end of semester survey, or anecdotal evidence from instructors. This is because the goal of instructional design is on creating the product, not necessarily on designing the experience. We're so focused on our end goal: create a course that assesses the objectives, meets seat time, and follows a consistent, established structure, that we deprioritize the iterative, genuine feedback needed to truly create a valuable learning experience.
Of course it's ideal to do true learner analysis and formative and summative feedback on the product, but if this were happening a significant percentage of the time, we wouldn't hear the push back we do.
Objection 1: "How can we trust the learner to tell us what they need? They'll just tell us they want easy games and fewer tests."
In our experience, this isn't the case. Learners don't want to waste time. They don't want busy work or forced activities that derail their engagement. They also don't want gimmicks. They do want meaningful learning experiences that help them achieve their learning goals as efficiently and effectively as possible.
Some may ask how can we trust the learner with their own education, but we must consider why we only trust a few individuals to determine what the learner needs. In most cases in course development, at best there is a department chair and a few instructors who outline the course, choose the materials, and write the content. The instructional designer uses their expertise to mold the content so it is effectively designed and delivered using the tools at their disposal. The student is not involved. We know that student engagement is a key factor in motivation, persistence, and success, so why do we leave learning design to a chosen few?
Objection 2: "The learner can't know what they need. They don't know the content."
We must recognize that learner brings a different expertise to the table. They know better than anyone what challenges them and appeals to them individually, what they already know and what they're curious about, what strategies work for them and which pull them out of the learning, among other things. It is a mother lode of unmined information whose value we do not recognize.
Objection 3: "It's too expensive / takes too much time / won't provide value."
The argument for the shift from design to the experience, from the product to the learner, means that we put our efforts where we see value. We must walk the walk. There are many creative options for enabling learner's voices to be heard. Incentives for play testing, student advisory boards, or alumni organizational involvement, are not prohibitively expensive, but in order to reconcile even minimal cost, leadership must be convinced on the value and return on investment. It's not too much money and it doesn't take too much time to ask the learner, study the learner, and involve the learner in development if the end result is a more relevant, enriching, effective, engaging learning experience that results in increased persistence and success.
The underlying objection here is that LXD, where the learner is involved in every step from creating the experience, developing, and delivering it, means more power for the learner, which means the power of design is distributed more equitably between educators and the educated; a hard pill for some to swallow.
We need the expert's expertise, of course. LXD is not meant to silence one of the most important components of quality design, but it is meant to open the conversation to be more inclusive of everyone involved in the learning who is an expert, not just the content and design experts.
The shift in focus to the learner's experience means that we empower educators to break free from event-based, rigidly delivered, episodic learning events. Instead, educators will use their considerable expertise to create true learning experiences that engage and motivate the learner.
What is your experience in implementing LXD? What objections have you heard in incorporating the learner into the design process? Tell us what you think!