Mapping UX to ID: What Instructional Designers Can Learn from User Experience Design

I just finished up a one-week workshop on Learner Experience Design, taught by Jessica Knott from Michigan State University. As an instructional designer, I have been looking for ways to bring UX principles into my work, and Knott’s workshop certainly provided some inspiration. We discussed LX as the intersection of Service Design, UX, and Instructional Design, but I’m particularly interested in the overlap between the latter two.

Peter Morville’s UX Honeycomb has been widely used in UX workshops and courses since 2004, and provides a blueprint for designing effective and valuable experiences. I realized during last week’s workshop that each “cell” in the UX Honeycomb can be directly mapped to best practices for instructional design.

Peter Morville’s UX Honeycomb — Seven contiguous hexagons form a honeycomb shape, each containing one of the following words: useful, desirable, accessible, credible, findable, usable, and valuable.

Useful — An experience is useful if it helps the user achieve a goal. In the case of instructional design, we can think about “usefulness” in terms of learning objectives. For each facet of a learning experience, we should ask “what does this allow the student to do — and how?” Whether you’re curating supplementary readings or choosing a technology to be used in an assignment or project, you should be able to identify a learning objective or goal that students will achieve.

Usable — Perhaps the most common challenge I face in my role stems from the intersection of usefulness and usability. Sometimes we don’t have much control over usability — for example, your institution’s LMS might offer limited customization — but asking questions about usability during the evaluation phase of your instructional design process could lead to workarounds.

Findable — A course website with an unclear navigation structure serves the purpose of organizing and distributing content, but can create barriers for students trying to find and access that content. Many of the faculty I work with already consider this without realizing it — I frequently get questions about where in a course site students expect to find certain materials. Making content findable can extend to syllabus design as well — are all assignments and deliverables for a given course session listed in one place, or do students have to check different sections to find readings, assignments, and/or discussion questions?

Desirable — Applying basic graphic design principles to educational materials has benefits beyond making things “look nice.” Gestalt principles are used to teach users how to navigate and use a product or website. We can also use these techniques to help students learn and remember content. The lowest-hanging fruit here is presentation slide design — I’ve assembled some tips and examples here for those who are interested.

Accessible — Treating accessibility as a standard for good instructional design rather than a burden or mandate can lead to better learning experiences for all students. After The University of California, Berkeley removed tens of thousands of free educational resources from its library of publicly available content as the result of a high-profile court case, accessibility has been a hot topic on campuses across the country. As it turns out, accessibility best practices tend to overlap with those for usability, search engine optimization, mobile web design, and universal design for learning. Portland Community College has assembled some guides for creating accessible content on their website — I highly suggest using that as a starting point.

Credible — Design plays a role in whether or not users believe what they read. While a well-designed Powerpoint deck or course website probably won’t make or break the trust students have in their instructor, it can’t hurt to give a polished look to course materials. You don’t need to become an expert in graphic design — in fact, your local instructional designer would likely be delighted to give you pointers.

Valuable — Before reinventing the wheel, it’s worth examining the landscape of open educational resources to see if someone else has created something that will meet your needs. In a similar vein, try whenever possible to create “evergreen” resources — meaning things that can be reused and repurposed in other courses. With affordability at the forefront of many conversations about higher ed today, creation of high-quality, reusable course content should be a priority.

While LX design is an important facet of instructional design, it does not account for one very important piece of the puzzle. As an instructional designer, part of my role is to advocate for faculty. The biggest problem with current LX practices, in my opinion, is that faculty are largely absent from the conversation. I have seen cases where a learning experience meets all of the criteria above for students, but makes assessment and grading difficult for the instructor. To ensure faculty buy-in, instructional designers should give weight to the instructor’s experience as well as the students’. I would be interested in hearing how others in the LX community consider the faculty perspective.