7 Competencies of Learning Experience Design

A Brief History of LXD

Let me start by saying you will find many definitions of Learning Experience Design and I’m sure they all have value, so what follows is simply my take on the discipline, how it came to be and continues to evolve.

Instructional Design first emerged as formal practice in the late 1940’s and 1950’s in the military. Instructional Design pulled together a number of elements including psychological theory, and different systems and frameworks for assessing, organizing, and presenting content into a single discipline. The goal of instructional design was to make learning as accessible and effective as possible for its intended audience.

This was seventy plus years ago, so training was all done in person and materials primarily consisted of manuals and supporting presentations.  Most of this work could be done by a single person. That person was called and Instructional Designer. 

Instructional Design remains very relevant and is critical to creating effective learning experiences, but a lot has changed since the practice first emerged.

Fast-forward to 2023. Training and learning look very different. Rich media, blended learning, virtual reality, online cohorts, forums and so much more are now part of our toolbox for designing, developing, delivering and measuring learning experience. It’s very rare that a single person has all the skills, knowledge and capabilities to create a learning experience in today’s world. Instead, a multi-discipline team is needed and that’s where the discipline of Learning Experience Design comes into play.

Learning Experience Design is the sum of the skills, knowledge and capabilities needed to design develop, delivery and measure a modern learning experience. Instructional Design is still a core part of this process but there are many other elements. Below, I came up with seven core skills or competencies of Learning Experience Design, but I’m sure some of you will come up with additional ones and these will continue to grow.  

Animation, Motion Graphics and Video Production

Whether you’re creating an eLearning course, instructor-led or virtual classroom, the TickTock-YouTube generation expects rich media and for good reason. Rich media is engaging and fun but most importantly effective. Animation and video help your learners understand complex subjects or processes and are an effective way to add emotion and humor to your learning experience. Studies show that animation can increase engagement, retention and satisfaction. One study found that converting course material from static PowerPoint slides to animated (media rich) video resulted in a 12% improvement in learner performance.

Art Direction

We’ve all experienced websites where the visual design leaves us scratching our heads. You may have even dismissed the credibility of the company all together thinking if they can’t present themselves professionally, would I even want to do business with them. Similarly, there are websites you find yourself drawn into. The aesthetic resonates with you and you FEEL good about the organization before even reading a word. There’s a reason companies spend tens of thousands of dollars on web design and there’s an Art Director behind that aesthetic. The same holds true for learning.

Art Direction is a fancy term for creating visual guidelines for your course materials. For an instructor-led course, this may mean layouts for instructor guides and student materials and a PowerPoint template. For eLearning, this includes templates, use of color, font, graphical style (e.g. photography vs illustrations), and more. The benefit of Art Direction is a more consistent, polished looking product that will reinforce the creditability of your solution.

Course Development

Course development or build is the process of taking your scripts, images and media and putting it all together in a tool like Adapt, Articulate, Captivate, DominKnow, Elucidat, iSpring,  Learn In, NovoEd, PowerPoint, Rise, or Unity to name just a few of the countless possibilities. Today’s L&D team may have the luxury of employing someone who is proficient in 2-3 of these tools, but if you’re limiting yourself by your in-house skill set, you’re probably missing out on some of the cooler and more effective solutions in market today.  

Graphic Design

The phrase, a picture is worth a thousand words, rings especially true in learning solution. No skill may be more important than graphic design. A Graphic Designer combines art and technology to communicate ideas. In more practical terms they select or create images, combine, treat and lay them out so they bring content to life with emotion and detail. 

Instructional Design

eLearning Script Writing Basics (Free Template)I promised you this wasn’t going away! Instructional Design is the collection of processes, tools and methodologies used to create human-centered learning experiences that enable a learner to achieve a desired outcome. Some well-known methods include Action Mapping, ADDIE, Bloom’s Taxonomy, Gagne’s Nine Events and SAM. But what do Instructional Designers really do?

Instructional Design begins where Performance Consulting ends and ends where scripting and writing begin (even though many IDs also script!). A Design Document, the typical deliverable from an Instructional Designer. covers two critical elements of a learning solution. The first is the overall structure of the program or course which is often called the High-Level Design. This is particularly critical today as more and more learning solutions are taking on a more comprehensive perspective that includes not just the formal learning elements but also address other things like communication, pre-assessments, on-the-job support, practical application of new skills and ongoing updates and revisions. The second element, or Detail-Design, goes down to the next level of detail and includes a description and structure of each of the elements included in the High-Level Design. This includes the learning objective or outcomes for each element along with a specification for each that might include the type of experience, e.g. tutorial vs simulation, delivery method, e.g. VILT vs eLearning, and use of media and more and finally a map to content sources (e.g. documents or people) for each. Once the Detailed Design Document is complete, a content or script writer takes over to flesh out the details of each experience. The best analogy to understand the difference between instructional design and content writing skills is comparing the role of an Architect vs a Builder. The architect creates the blueprint, like an Instructional Designer, and the builder, like the content writer, brings that vision to life. It’s worth noting that like an Architect who is supported by an Interior Desigers, the Instructional Designer is supported by an Art Director. And like most builders are general contractors bringing in specialist like Plumbers and Electricians, a Project Manager often plays a similar role slotting in Content Writers, Graphic Artists, Course Builders, Animators and more.     A d

Learning Analytics

In the past few years, it has become increasingly easy to collect data from within a learning experience using standards like xAPI or through the native solution in an authoring tool. We can collect detailed information about assessments like question type, e.g. recall vs application. We can collect detailed information about how a user interacts with a course, e.g. what media elements did they start, finish and where did they leave off and what device and browser they used. This is on top of data many have always collected like starts, completions, reactions to the course (smile sheets), in-course time and more. Data is also much for accessible across the organization from systems like CRMs, ERPs and many other systems across an organization, Collecting data is the easy part! Making sense of that data by surfacing patterns and relationships is the work of Learning Analytics. This often requires knowledge of Business Intelligence (BI) tools like Tableau, programming languages like R and visualization tools like Power BI.

Performance Consulting

Before a learning solution can be designed, the L&D team and business owner need to work together to clearly define the problem, the audience and the change in that audience that will deliver the desired result. This is the essence of Performance Consulting. A Performance Consultant will bring a framework to organize this process and facilitate the discussions between stakeholders. The deliverable is a clear charter for a training program with a problem statement, audience and stakeholder analysis and criteria for success or outcomes. This may sound simple but most organizations are littered with failed initiative not only in training but most other disciplines as well and not solving the “right” problem is often the fatal error. This article in the Harvard Business Review provides a general framework for defining a problem that can easily be adapted for learning. 

Ready to create a learning solution that leverages all the dimensions of leaning experience design? Post a job on LXD Central today!