Understanding the complexity of Learning Experience Design
Is it the new ID? Is it UX for e-learning? What is LXD?
Authors: Yvonne Earnshaw, Isa Jahnke, Matthew Schmidt, & Andrew Tawfik
“Learning a new skill is supposed to be hard, but it doesn’t need to be complicated. The difference between the two is the design.”
- Andre Plaut
Learning experience design (LXD) seems to have exploded in popularity recently (just check indeed.com for LXD job postings). Discussions about LXD abound on social media and on educational technology blogs. As a group of scholars who have been engaged in LXD for some time now, we are interested in better understanding just what exactly LXD is and how learning designers go about engaging in LXD practice. In general, we view LXD as the practice of translating activities for learners into experiences that empower and enable them to reach their learning goals in ways that are pleasing and enjoyable. To do this, LX designers often borrow from the practice of user experience design (UXD).
Because LXD is relatively new, it is not well established. We have observed that this has led to some confusion about what LXD actually is and how it differs from related areas of design, such as instructional design (ID) and UXD. In this blog entry, we hope to clear up some of this confusion by providing our own insights on LXD, and to present some of the more general characteristics of LXD that can help provide some clarity around the topic. Specifically, we consider these three questions:
- Is LXD just the new term for instructional design?
- Is LXD just UX for e-learning?
- What are some universal characteristics of LXD?
Is LXD just the new term for instructional design?
It can be tempting to consider LXD as distinct or separate from instructional design (ID), but we believe LXD sits alongside ID as a complementary approach to design for learning.
- ID is a form of design for learning that focuses on designing instruction with a particular focus on the instructor — it is instructor-centric.
- By way of contrast, learning design focuses on designing learning activities, with a particular focus on the learner — it is learner-centric.
Differentiating itself from ID and learning design, LXD focuses on designing learning experiences that are engaging, meaningful, and interactive. LXD places the learner centrally in the design process and continually references the learner across all phases of design. Could LXD be used to create instruction? Absolutely. Could it be used to create learning activities? Of course.
So how is LXD different? The key difference is in:
- How instruction and activities are designed
- The focus on perceptive qualities of individual learners while they are engaged in digitally-enabled learning.
This is what sets LXD apart from other approaches to design for learning, and has some similarities with the differences that Niels Floor has pointed out.
Is LXD just UX for e-learning?
UX focuses on the user and how they interact with and experience a digital product, system or service. Applying the logic of UX to LXD, it is easy to replace the word user with the word learner. But using a product to accomplish a certain goal is much different than gaining knowledge or meaning-making while using a learning technology. Here are a few considerations to put this in perspective:
- In schools, students do not have a choice of whether to use a technology or not, whereas in product design, users can abandon a poorly designed product in favor of something better. In light of Zoom fatigue during the COVID-19 pandemic, many students probably wish they could switch to something different!
- Complicated learning technologies can be refined to streamline activities, be more easily understood, usable, enjoyable, etc., but learning itself cannot be tamed. Learning is difficult, and this challenge is what spurs growth, critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving. No amount of great UX can account for this.
- Learning goals are often set by educators or organizations (goals also can be co-designed by learners, but this is rare). Most often, the educator sets the tone and designs the learning activities. In digital products and from a UX perspective, the user has her or his own goals, and the product or service provides a means for the user to accomplish her goals. Not so in learning contexts!
- Although UX designers constantly monitor users’ performance, UX design typically does not inform users how well they accomplish their goals. But assessment is central to learning. In order for learning to occur, the learner must receive formative or summative feedback (regardless of whether the learner wants it or not). Frequently, this is in the form of grades, which are absent in UX. Digital products or services do not judge users based on their performance.
What are some universal characteristics of LXD?
In our own work as the editors of the (free!) book Learner and User Experience Research: An Introduction for the Field of Learning Design & Technology, we have identified three universal characteristics of LXD. Generally speaking, learning experience design:
- Is transdisciplinary
- Is complex
- Requires multiple literacies
LXD is transdisciplinary in that it draws from multiple fields such as educational technology, informatics, HCI, information technology, education, instructional design, and psychology. We can see the individual contributions of these fields in LXD; however, the sum of their parts when applied in an LXD context is distinct. This bears some similarity with Maria Galaykova’s elephant metaphor for LXD.
The complexity of LXD is apparent in that it isn’t just based on a pure technological perspective like what you might see in UX usability studies. Instead, LXD is also concerned with pedagogy and considers the socio-cultural contexts in which learners are situated. The socio-cultural context considers things like the quality of different forms of communication, collaboration, sociality, social presence, and social interactivity. Pedagogical considerations include things like the interaction with the course type, learning goals, learning activities, forms of assessment, and learner control. These three things — technology, pedagogy, and socio-cultural context — all play a role in LXD.
Finally, LXD practice requires multiple literacies such as interface design, UX design, interaction design, graphic design, etc. This doesn’t mean that instructional and learning designers have to become masters in all of these areas, but they do need to have solid foundational knowledge (Rebecca Quintana and her colleagues call this a “bidirectional approach”). This allows LX designers to productively collaborate with professionals from other fields (e.g., HCI experts, UX designers, interface designers, etc.). The prospect of learning designers collaborating with professionals from other fields (for example using participatory or co-design methods) presents exciting opportunities for powerful synergy that can drive outstanding learner experiences.
Taken together, the reader can see that LXD is more than the sum of its parts (see figure below). LXD encompasses the socio-cultural dimension (i.e., collaboration, social interactivity, etc.). It also considers all aspects of the learner’s interaction with the digital technology or service (similar to UX). LXD is also concerned with the pedagogical components of learning designs (i.e., instructions, learning goals, learning activities, etc.). This means that LX designers need to consider learner experience not just from a purely technological perspective, but instead from what we call a “socio-technical-pedagogical” perspective, as illustrated in the graphic below.
Sociotechnical-pedagogical considerations include the learner’s experience within his or her socio-cultural context, the learner’s interaction with the digital technology, and the learner’s process of meaning-making while engaging with various pedagogical elements. As a whole, these elements are bound together in a complex mess. They cannot be separated. Designers must carefully consider these elements and their relationships in order to promote a positive learning experience — not an easy task, but (we believe) very much worth the effort.
👉 Free book from the authors.
👉 More illustrated concepts.
For further reading
- Tawfik, A. A., Gatewood, J., Gish-Lieberman, J. J., & Hampton, A. J. (2021). Toward a Definition of Learning Experience Design. Technology, Knowledge and Learning. https://doi.org/10/gh27hp
- Jahnke, I., Riedel, N., Singh, K., & Moore, J. (accepted 2021, February 14). Advancing sociotechnical-pedagogical heuristics for the usability evaluation of online courses for adult learners. Online Learning Journal.
True or False? UX + ID + UI = LXD
What is Learning Experience Design (LXD)? How do you become an LX designer? Should you hire one? Where are the LX designers in the K-12 space?
👉 Listen here.
For further listening
Consider listening to one of the book contributors discuss LXD and UX education. The UX of EdTech Podcast hosts Dr. Colin Gray, who headed up one of the first UX undergraduate programs at Purdue University. They chat about:
- Building one of the first UX design undergraduate programs
- Advice in building a UX education program
- How does LX stand out from UX and ID?
- How do academic research and actual practice interact and influence one another?
- Recommendations for UX students of all sorts and stages
Finding meaning in your work