Five Core Tips to Design a Learning Experience

How do you design learning experiences that not only engage learners, but also ensure that they’re actually learning? To answer this question, we spoke to our in-house instructional and system designers and collected 5 core tips to help you design more effective, long-lasting learning experiences.

1. Set clear and understandable goals

Before the learning even starts, learners should understand the expected outcome. This contributes to motivation and helps them measure their progress. For designers, a clear goal makes it easier to choose suitable methods to create the best learning experience. When the goal is clear, you can ask yourself at each step of the design journey, “Does this help the learner achieve the set goal?”. If the answer is no, you know you need to make a change.

Learning goals can be expressed as an explanation, a list, a question, or even as a conversation. The important thing is that it is absolutely clear to learners how the learning experience will benefit them and what they stand to learn. Think about the last course you took, or even the last article you read. What made you pick it? How did you know it would help you?

For example, in this article, we shared the goal in the first paragraph:

  • “…design learning experiences that not only engage learners, but also ensure that they’re actually learning” (what you’ll be able to do with what you learn)
  • “…5 core tips to help you design more effective, long-lasting learning experiences” (what you’ll learn)

2. Get to know your learners and their needs

Learning experiences should focus on learners as humans; every learner is different. To set the right goals, you need to understand your learners and their needs – who are they? What are their goals? What knowledge or skills are they lacking to achieve those goals? Find out more about their previous experience, preferences, and reasons for learning. Armed with this information, you’ll be able to tailor the learning experience and connect the content to their personal experience.

You can gather this information through focus groups, interviews, feedback surveys, and user testing, either as a standalone activity or as part of your design process. This is the empathise stage in the design thinking process, the analysis stage in ADDIE, the preparation phase in SAM. You’ll find it in almost any design or development process you encounter because it’s so fundamental to creating good learning experiences. Many designers then create learner personas – detailed descriptions of their learners and their preferences – and use these to adapt learning content to best fit their learner types.

3. Consider the best methods to help learners experience the content, rather than just delivering content

Learning is about more than content delivery. It’s hands-on and enables learners to apply new knowledge and skills in real-life situations. Many learning experience designers use the 70/20/10 model for adult learning – 70% experiential learning, 20% social learning, and 10% traditional instruction – because of its strong focus on providing meaningful experiences.

Experiential learning can be used to “engage learners intellectually, emotionally, and physically while [guiding] them to discover solutions on their own.” It provides opportunities for learners to explore content together and create a shared experience and lasting learning; together they discuss, analyse, and dig into possible applications. This can be done through immersive experiences, such as simulations, role-playing, debates, games, or guided discussions.

Going beyond content delivery also means getting out of the way so learning can happen. LMS and LXPs have come a long way, but sometimes the fancy gadgets, gizmos, and features can get in the way of the actual learning. During our own design process at efiport, there are three questions that we ask ourselves repeatedly to make sure we’re achieving the desired result.

  • Is it useful? Does the system or tool solve the problem it’s meant to solve?
  • Is it usable? Can users successfully interact with the system or tool? Is it intuitive? Do they know what they need to do?
  • Is it enjoyable to use? Do users have fun while using the system or tool? Or does it cause frustration?

4. Combine intrinsic and extrinsic motivation

Designers can help learners stay motivated by incorporating both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Gamified elements such as badges and awards can be used to motivate learners, but, while these mechanics can be effective and engaging, they should be used sparingly and aligned with learner goals. It is essential to understand the learner’s own motivations – what drives them? What are they setting out to accomplish? Knowing this will allow you to design learning experiences that support learners and their personal growth.

Beyond that, you should aim to help learners understand their own reasons for learning. Malcolm Knowles’ research on adult learning suggests that adults learn best when:

  • They understand the purpose of what they are doing
  • Learning is problem-driven rather than content-driven
  • They bring prior experience and knowledge to the learning process (though this might mean unlearning some things)
  • Learning activities are based on gaining experience (including making mistakes)
  • They can make choices and be involved in driving their own learning
  • They build up interest in a subject and pursue both formal and informal learning

Think about a particularly effective learning experience you’ve had. How many of the points above applied? If something was missing, would it have improved your experience if it had been included?

5. Provide learners with feedback

Do you remember the last time you did (online) training at work? Beyond finding out if your answers were right or wrong, what feedback did you receive? Did it help reinforce what you were learning? Or did it leave you with questions? What feedback would you have liked to receive?

Good feedback doesn’t just tell learners whether their answer was right or wrong; it helps learners understand why, and how the correct answer was reached. Feedback is, in essence, an opportunity to support and promote further learning. It helps learners put information into context and identify similar problems in the future. Providing clear and meaningful feedback every step of the way makes learners more effective and advances them towards their ultimate learning goal.

Put it all together

These 5 core tips work best together. Understanding your learners helps you set goals that align with their needs, und understanding their needs means you can make the most of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. This makes learning relevant and gives your learners the opportunity to experience the content by using scenarios and problems familiar to them. Constant, meaningful feedback keeps motivation strong and shows learners how they’re progressing towards their goals. Ultimately, this will lead to successful learning experiences, both for you and your learners.

Written for OEB21 by Ruby Salvatore. Ruby is the Business Development Manager at efiport GmbH, a research and development company in Germany that offers technology-supported education solutions.

Consulted sources:

  • Cofino, K., 2016. Designing Learning Experiences | always learning. [online] Kimcofino.com. Available at: <https://kimcofino.com/blog/2016/03/22/designing-learning-experiences/> [Accessed 5 January 2022].
  • Fosway Group. 2021. Rethinking Learning Systems: The Rise of Suites and Specialists. [online] Available at: <https://www.fosway.com/research/next-gen-learning/learning-specialisms/> [Accessed 5 January 2022].
  • Fox, D., 2021. What Is Learning Experience Design (LXD) and How Can It Prepare Workers for Real-Life Challenges?. [online] NovoEd. Available at: <https://www.novoed.com/resources/blog/what-is-learning-experience-design-and-how-can-it-prepare-for-challenges/> [Accessed 5 January 2022].
  • Pappas, C., 2013. The Adult Learning Theory – Andragogy – of Malcolm Knowles. [online] eLearning Industry. Available at: <https://elearningindustry.com/the-adult-learning-theory-andragogy-of-malcolm-knowles> [Accessed 5 January 2022].
  • Shiftelearning.com. 2021. Four Key Elements of Learning Experience Design. [online] Available at: <https://www.shiftelearning.com/blog/key-elements-of-learning-experience-design> [Accessed 5 January 2022].

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