Learning Experience Designers: Stop Prioritizing Content

Richard Posluszny ·

May 18, 2021

A major shift has been underway within Learning & Development (L&D) and Organizational Learning in recent years. Underpinning this is the understanding that traditional methods of teaching, learning and even instructional design haven’t been effective at changing behavior in an organizational context. 

One of the main problems with how we’ve traditionally gone about learning is that we’ve failed to put the learner at the center of our design processes. 

Historically, L&D leaders have prioritized their own need to “make sure people get it.” And, usually, “it” is what the people at the top of the organization — or the trainers themselves — say it is. You see, the focus is on the content itself and minimal attention is placed on the learner or the context in which they’re expected to learn. 

The end result is a highly bureaucratic process, which leads to watered down and irrelevant course materials. Even worse: They tend to be accessible through clunky and siloed learning management systems that nobody wants to log into. 

It amounts to millions of dollars wasted — annually — on corporate training. 

This is because:

    1. Companies don’t take the time to understand how people learn, or;
    2. Companies are unable to break through cultural barriers that prevent learner-centric and context-driven learning experiences.
    3. Sometimes, it’s a combination of both. 

Nick Shackleton-Jones, author of How People Learn: Designing Education and Training that Works to Improve Performance, has emerged as a prominent thought leader on the topic of Learning Experience Design (LXD). In a recent conversation on the Learning and Development Podcast, Shackleton-Jones shares that learning and education are not the same thing and that we’ve all put up with this context-less content-dumping we call “training” because it’s what we’re all familiar with. 

If you’ve read my other pieces, by now you’re familiar with my take on the shift from learning management to Learning Operations. Now, let’s look at the importance of the learning experience itself and how LXD fits into the Learning Ops methodology we’re so passionate about at Northpass. 

An Introduction to Learning Experience Design

According to Niels Floor who runs lxd.org and coined the term in 2007, learning experience design is:

The process of creating learning experiences that enable the learner to achieve the desired learning outcome in a human-centered and goal-oriented way.

Key design principles used in LXD come from interaction design, user experience design, experience design, graphic design and game design. These principles are combined with elements of education, training and development, instructional design, cognitive psychology, experiential learning, educational sciences and neuroscience.

There’s no shortage of L&D voices shouting that LXD is just another fad. In fact, there’s a growing discord as the general consensus seems to think LXD is replacing instructional design. 

The Development of Learning Ops

Just as a shift from ID to LXD is underway, there’s also a cultural shift in how we approach growing and scaling businesses. At the root of this is the introduction of Learning Operations, which facilitates the organizational change required to align learning programs to measurable business goals. 

Learning Ops better positions training-powered initiatives within today’s leading organizations and dispels conventional beliefs about L&D and its contribution to growing businesses. 

How Does LXD Fit Into Learning Ops?

What I like about the rise of LXD is that it highlights the importance of the learning experience itself. It rejects the idea that learning is just knowledge transfer and it equips designers with some helpful theories to take their learning programs to the next level. 

Consider the Affective-Context Model, which proposes that that context rather than content determines learning efficiency. 

At Northpass we agree that learning isn’t simply knowledge transfer and that context rather than content determines learning outcomes. For this reason, we’ve put the learner at the center of our three-step Learning Ops framework and everything we do.

Related reading: Why Innovative CX Starts With a Learning-centric Company Culture

In Step 1 of Learning Ops we outline how to Align Teams and Outcomes and Prioritize for Impact. 

This upfront work is fundamental to the success of any learning-powered initiative. Without strategic alignment, an effective executive sponsor and measurable business outcomes, LXD alone isn’t going to help your learners reach their performance goals. That’s why it’s important for learning designers to be aware of and prepared for the operational and cultural challenges they face — not just learning ones. 

In Step 2, the focus is on establishing learning objectives, mapping the learner journey (e.g., Where? When? How?) and creating content that is:

    • Intentional
    • Structured
    • Well-designed
    • Personalized

The third, and final, step of Learning Ops is to Deliver a Frictionless and Human Learning Experience. This step involves connecting systems, supporting learners, celebrating success and collecting actionable feedback. 

Gone are the days of forcing people through a rigid LMS and extensive catalogs of irrelevant courses. Instead, connect learning programs to your mobile app, website and all your business systems (e.g., CRM, Help desk, HRIS, etc.), and use data to automatically deliver valuable content right within the touchpoints your learners use every day. This is what we call learning in the flow of work. 

If you’re ready to evaluate your current learning operations and plan for greater impact, download our eBook “How Do You Actually Do Learning Ops?”


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About the Author

Richard Posluszny

Richard Posluszny oversees Northpass' marketing efforts. When Richard isn't spreading Northpass' gospel, he can be found driving something sporty, at an art gallery or learning more about American history.

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