There has always been a sort of design approach to learning experiences. Just think of the way your fifth grade teacher might have organized a unit of study. Perhaps she brought a field trip or art activity into the study of the history. Or maybe she organized reading groups around a particular book and you maybe “the test” was a group project. There was lots of back and forth and collaboration, and you eagerly discussed your work with classmates and parents outside of school. Maybe it was a little messy. None of that was by accident, and the effectiveness of the experience was directly related to how you and your classmates engaged in terms of the timing, sequencing, as well as age and interest-level authenticity of the work. You learned as much through the process as you did from the content.
Now think about that other teacher – maybe high school history. That guy’s stand-and-deliver teaching was meticulously organized around back-of-the-book definitions and practice essay prompts from the mid-term test. There was lots of memorization of dates and names. His lessons were linear, straight-forward, and followed a top-down approach to delivering information in the most efficient way possible. The point was to concentrate on the content, not the learning path. This way you always knew where you stood at any given time by looking at progress reports and test scores. This is learning design too.
Which one of these two experiences actually worked best for you? Do you remember one as being more pleasurable than the other; with which one did the learning “stick” better?
Now fast forward to your current employer. Are the learning experiences offered in the workplace more like your fifth-grade instructor, or the high school history teacher? Does the learning you encounter through classroom presentations, computer learning, manuals and seminars “stick?” Does it improve your workplace performance?
You Can’t Change Your Mind
Even though you might have changed your mind three times before you selected the shoes you’re wearing to the annual office party, your brain itself really hasn’t changed in millennia. It’s the same connection-craving, meaning-seeking organ that was possessed by Da Vinci, Newton, and George Washington Carver; it particularly likes things that are arranged in ways that make sense to the whole. The brain has a harder time remembering things that aren’t in context. It likes variety and novelty. And experience with workplace learning seems to show that learning will deliver the desired result when it’s designed with connectedness and collaboration in mind: more like the fifth-grade lesson in your memory.
We’ve know this for a long time; that’s why I’m interested to see a recent shift in the workplace learning and development space. Just this past summer, I was working on a project and trying to recruit an instructional designer (ID) who had preparation in learning experience design, or “LX” as it’s becoming known. We interviewed for weeks all around New York City, ostensibly the native habitat of creatives and designers. And while most IDs came with strong bandwidth in user experience “UX,” and lots of experience crafting stand-alone course content, only one or two recent graduates of NYU knew what we were looking for. LX is actually a meeting place, or “mashup” of UX and ID.
Learner experience design is more like the fifth grade teacher’s approach to her work. It begins with the primacy of the learner’s experience in mind, and works out from there. It’s an “inside->out” approach as opposed to “outside ->in.” This kind of learning experience “sticks” and translates to desired change in worker’s performance.
This type of course looks like a “pathway” with content that is purposefully “chunked” into bite-sized portions that are seamless to the working environment. Learners can connect with their pathway socially and collaboratively, and it’s fully accessible on all types of devices, and maybe in a classroom environment as well. Any assessment is primarily formative, and gives the learner specific feedback and clear-cut next steps. The entire experience is purposefully designed with an end state in mind, using research-based placement of visuals, text, sounds, and actions. This type of learning speaks into the learners’ need for active thinking, achievement, actualization, and authenticity. Sounds good, huh? But how does lifting learning increase revenue?
More on that in Part 2.