Introducing Learning Experience Design –à la e180

How e180’s braindates are growing into much more

Raise your hand if you’ve ever had trouble sounding clear and legitimate when some of the most important people in your life ask you what you do for work.

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For as long as I have been employed, I’ve heard my parents sweetly botch my job descriptions to their friends (except for a peaceful time when I was repairing bicycles). After about a year of battling extreme anxiety due to — in retrospect — the choppy waters of finding a role that taps into my talents and my personal life mission, I’ve landed somewhere great as a Learning Experience Designer. Unfortunately, I’m no better off when it comes to explaining that term to my 89-year-old dad in less than… let me count… 1400 words.

Sometimes, collaboration is quiet! All of the photos in this piece come from the Collaborative Retreat that we’ll dive into later.

Transforming learning, beyond conferences

For years, e180 has brought Braindate to conferences and events around the world, making waves in the event space and developing a reputation as experts in participant engagement and peer-to-peer learning. As the Braindate movement began to spread, we started to receive requests that, at first glance, seemed outside of the original Braindate sandbox. Things like —

I want my employees to feel as vibrant and inspired as they do when they do braindates at our annual conference; would you design an ongoing peer-learning program in my organization?

or,

I’m desperate for my trade show to provide more meaningful impact and human value to attendees and exhibitors; could you transform our traditional selling format into something new?

These opportunities were too exciting to pass up. e180’s mission is to transform the way humans learn, after all, and it seemed like we were approaching the perfect moment to roll out our master plan. It was time to introduce the world to Learning Experience Design — à la e180.

Sometimes, learning experiences necessitate party bikes to really cement relationships.

What is LX Design?

In the context of organizational learning, what do you feel is the difference between an informational training session and a transformational training session? How do you build a workshop where participants leave truly knowing the things they’ve learned? If you feel those questions are daunting, you’re right to feel that way! There is a lot of work to do on our most prominent educational models in order to get them to make that shift, and LX Design is part of the e180 approach to getting us there.

Learning Experience Design is about creating learning experiences that are human-centric, problem-focused, and rooted in intentionality and collaboration. It includes room for creativity in how to approach important aspects of learning that have long been overlooked, like: engagement prior to, throughout and after the experience; new approaches to collaboration and intention setting; and fully meeting the needs of each individual participant.

Learning in action: bringing a problem-to-solve to a group who is ready to dive in with you.

When I’m doing Learning Experience Design work at e180, I am brought back to how I felt directing theatre plays with student actors. My role had little to do with explaining or informing the actors of the truth in the script. There’s an important emotional leap to work through if a high school senior is going to shout, “STELLA!” with nearly as much nuance and pain as Brando. Every one of my rehearsals was designed to contain transformational learning experiences — power dynamic games, puppeteering and other exercises — to immerse the young actor into new reality and have them truly carry it in their body.

Beyond simply transmitting the words of a script, LX Design makes use of everything at play, from spatial elements to the participants’ backgrounds, to bring participants to a place where their learning process transforms them. It draws from principles of space, emotions, lighting and sounds (etc.), and how these elements come together to create a complete, transformational event from the moment someone hears about it, to the moment the leave and carry it with them through the rest of their lives.

A real, good example: e180’s Collaborative Retreat

Back in May, our CEO Christine Renaud and I designed a day-long Collaborative Retreat for our most beloved partners. Our theme was creating transformational learning experiences for the people you serve. Some participants were in the events industry, others in organizational learning, others in community building and social innovation.

Our goal was to lead people through our own LX Design process so that they could make real progress in their individual projects based on the theme we proposed, all while leveraging the bright and diverse minds in the room (and experiencing a side of e180 that they had not encountered before).

The success of this retreat, we believe, is due to the learning design, which revolved around three key intentions.

1. Putting Learning in the Flow of Work

There was a point in e180’s story where we had to find a way to root learning in the flow of real work. We had prototyped a self-directed learning initiative with our internal team, where each person would identify and progress through a personally meaningful learning goal — during work hours. We thought that, by choosing something they were passionate about and supporting their choice to prioritize their learning, our team would be motivated enough to dedicate time each work week to achieving their goal. It took about two months for engagement around this initiative to slow down to a low hum. Motivation was not the problem… rather, it was that we had inadvertently pitted this initiative against the ever-present reality of urgent, existing work. That’s when the clouds opened up to reveal the answer: the beauty of ‘stretch projects’.

Stretch Projects are challenges that take you out of your comfort zone: they are projects you can’t quite achieve right now for lack of knowledge, but give you the motivation to learn what’s necessary to implement them successfully. By choosing to tackle stretch projects as the base of a learning plan instead of choosing a more general learning goal, our team’s learning went from being a passive, peripheral side-benefit to being the only way to achieve your personally and professionally meaningful goals.

We used stretch projects as the key organizing principle behind the design of the Collaborative Retreat. That way, each and every participant’s learning was always relevant to them throughout the day and linked to truly actionable takeaways for their lives back home.
Supporting each other in identifying the critical questions that may help lead us to a deeper understanding of the challenges each person brought with them.

2. Striking a Sweet-spot Between Diversity & Homogeny

We’ve learned that the key to generative and transformative peer-learning is the balance between commonality and diversity. If a group is too unlike-minded, they struggle to feel able to guide or challenge each other. Imagine two people from totally different fields with totally different learning goals– despite our desire for their divergent perspectives to bring out creativity and innovation, there’s simply no common reference point or way of knowing whether the other person is taking steps in the right direction or not.

On the other end of the extreme, it goes without saying that a group of that is too like-minded or similar in their backgrounds and goals will not generate as many innovative ideas. Among the group of 40 participants at our Collaborative Retreat, we designed smaller cohorts with that in mind — they were meant to become “learning cells” of peers who share a common challenge to divide and conquer, but also of unlike minds who can bring fresh perspectives to each other’s ideas.

3. Activating our Values

When Christine and I began the design process, we defined what a successful Collaborative Retreat would look like for us. Given that we wanted our participants to experience what e180’s vision of learning is all about, we took inspiration from our core values. These values became a curating force for us. We made sure that each and every moment of the programme transmitted our intention of bringing our values to life. For example, our belief in Liberty and Agency inspired us to avoid any general ‘educational’ content that sought to be relevant to all. Instead, our programme demanded that participants flesh out their own learning plans and choose or facilitate discussions that could serve them best.

Our vision of a successful Retreat meant leveraging the specific experience of the people in the room to address one another’s stretch projects.

We were blown away by the effect of basing our design and its definition of success in e180’s values. We could literally see our culture taking shape in the space, living and breathing in the world. In retrospect, there could be no better source of truth for creating something that was as exciting for us as it was for our participants, let alone the fact that they got as real a taste as ever for what our company’s mission is all about.

The First Step in Your Own LX Design

Take a moment to think of the people that you serve that play a crucial role in bringing your mission to the world. These can be your team members, your students, people your local community, the users of your products or the participants at your events. How could you transmit your values and vision to them through a simple yet unforgettable experience? Rather than memorize your tagline, how could they effortlessly sense an ‘ah-ha’ moment where they feel the intention behind your words– where they truly feel the texture of the passion that you feel for your own purpose? Those are the exciting questions that drive our work in LX Design– they’re far from simple, but once you see a glimmer of the answer, the real deep learning begins.

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