Learning Experience Design
Why Learning Experience Design is Here and Matters
The evolving nature of work is driving workforce models to be more open and flexible. Virtual networks of teams and talent marketplaces, leveraging contingent workers, are becoming more and more common. For companies and workers, the need for continuous, flexible, and scalable learning practices is more important than ever.     
Over the past five years, a new field has been emerging into the learning profession – Learning Experience Design (LXD). LXD is an interdisciplinary field that draws from the learning sciences, user experience/human-centered design/design thinking, interaction design, environmental design, storytelling, and marketing/branding strategy/employee experience design. Heralded by Josh Bersin in 2016 in his predictions for 2017, “I believe most HR teams will stop designing “programs” and start designing “experiences.”[vi] His Bersin associates expanded, “For many L&D departments, creating great programs and facilitating and delivering those programs—[was] always the main focus. Increasingly, these tasks represent only a portion of L&D’s purpose within the organization. Changing the focus from creating and delivering content to enabling learning empowers the organization and takes advantage of additional resources…taking into account the entire employee experience rather than only the experience provided by one course or interaction.” [vii]
Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends echoed the sentiment, “Today, we see the learning function as a highly strategic business area that focuses on innovation and leadership development by delivering a world-class learning experience, promoting lifetime learning or longer careers, and bringing multifunctional teams together to connect and collaborate….To keep pace with these changes, chief learning officers (CLOs) must now become the catalysts for next-generation careers…They should become part of the entire employee experience, delivering learning solutions that inspire people to reinvent themselves, develop deep skills, and contribute to the learning of others…learning should encourage and even push people to move across jobs. Refocus the L&D team: Move away from training toward curation, culture, and bringing people together.” [viii]
Today, learning experience design is so popular that it has become a replacement term for instructional design in job postings. Still, learning experience design is meant to capture something different and more than traditional instructional design.
What is a Learning Experience?
Simply put, a learning experience is any experience you learn from. Working every day is a learning experience. Problem-solving laboratories are learning experiences. Team problem solving, workshops, analytic studies, spending the day shadowing a client – all learning experiences.
The reality of our brains is that as we move through the world, we do not experience the cognitive and emotional psychological processes separately. People simply experience the world as it happens. We sense, think, and feel simultaneously. Memories package each of these experiences together. Whether it is a theater production or a classroom setting, we are experiencing all these dimensions at one time – in that moment.
Marc Hassenzahl, Professor for “Ubiquitous Design / Experience and Interaction” at the University of Siegen, Germany, explains, “Psychologically, an experience emerges from the integration of perception, action, motivation, and cognition into an inseparable, meaningful whole…. An experience is a story emerging from the dialogue of a person with their world through action.[i] An experience is subjective, holistic, situated, dynamic, and worthwhile. While an experience is a complex fabric of feelings, thoughts, and actions, I believe emotions and fulfillment of universal psychological needs to have an accentuated role.” [ii]
Learning is a journey; it happens in the moment of delivery; it is both an emotional and cognitive experience that occurs in the mind of each learner. It does not distinguish between ‘learning’ and ‘work’ because the mind doesn’t differentiate them. And it is usually anchored in something the learner has done or wishes to do. Learning in the abstract is very difficult without some connection to life experience. The main takeaway is that a learning experience only sometimes happens in a classroom (either live or virtual) or while interacting with courseware, reading, or listening to others. It can also occur in a much broader set of activities.
What Is Learning Experience Design
If experience design is “the practice of designing products, processes, services, events, customer/employee journeys, and environments with a focus on the quality of the user’s subjective experience,”[iii] then learning experience design would apply those principles to the matter of human learning. Margaret Weigel, former Director of Curriculum and LXD at Six Red Marbles, a leading Educational Content provider, explains, “Learning Experience Design’s holistic, interdisciplinary approach lands somewhere between instructional design’s focus on content and UX’s focus on user experience. This new and rapidly expanding discipline is poised to revolutionize how learning happens, to capitalize upon the affordances of various media – to transform users into learners.[iv] Investigating the learning experiences places a prime focus on the emotional experience of learners. An experience-focused approach empowers designers to empathize with learners and to observe and draw conclusions about what they want and need. Learning experiences designers use emotional language to map out the emotional journey of different learner groups and discuss learning design as marketers might discuss the emotional value proposition of a product. “This learning experience makes me feel smart.”
Learning experience design builds off discovery learning, learn-by-doing, and cognitive apprenticeship learning theories while incorporating UX/HCD design principles. Digital learning solutions incorporate interaction design principles, while live classroom experiences include environmental design principles.
Case in Point: A Learning Experience
Imagine a world without books or writing, a pre-historic world where knowledge is obtained only from first-hand experience. The only way to pass knowledge down is through stories or practices handed down through generations. If I wanted to help my adolescent learn all they need about hunting or surviving, I would need to craft a set of experiences for them. Perhaps starting with how to use a spear, then escalating to target practice, shadowing a hunt, and eventually leading one. This is the essence of learning experience design. “I primarily focus on experiences as meaningful, personally encountered events and not so much on the knowledge gained through these events. These experiences are memorized stories of use and consumption and distinct from the immediate moment-by-moment experience.” [v]
For classroom or courseware learning, learning experience designers consider everything that affects the learner in the moment. They consider the student’s motivation for taking the class, the sign-up or registration experience, how the classroom layout might set or reinforce expectations for the day’s activities, how the instructor’s tone impacts willingness to participate, how visible or hidden the student feels, the level of distraction the classroom or computer affords, and emotional states of learners during class (boredom, fear of looking foolish, engagement, etc.). 
In the workplace, LXDs consider how developmental staffing assignments, project choices, and networking relationships inside and outside the company provide and shape career development. In the digital realm, they determine how to deliver the best customized, curated support resources in the flow of work. They choose which digital/virtual modalities best support the various experiences desired. They employ principles of interaction design and game design. They decide how participation in virtual learning communities and cohorts can support employee development over time.
Characteristics of Learning Experience Design
Learning Experience design is a holistic approach to talent development that is experience-centered, goal-oriented, and design-focused.
Learning Experience Design (LXD) is not just focused on knowledge, skills, and abilities but on everything that affects learning, including education, experiences, and exposures. It looks at all forms of development, from professional, career, and workforce development, to performance improvement and change adjustment. It includes classroom, digital, work, and outside work experiences.
According to a 2017 Deloitte report, Learner Experience designers “consider the entire employee experience rather than only the experience provided by one course or interaction. With that in mind, L&D needs to consider employees’ behaviors and working environments and link various kinds of content together to create integrated experiences… [They] take a holistic and continuous approach to employee development to drive organizational performance and value. For one organization we spoke with, this means focusing on helping employees recognize learning that happens in the day-to-day course of their work. It can also mean focusing on learning through various business channels and infrastructures, including performance support tools, instant messaging or chat technologies, business dashboards, customer feedback, and the like.” [vi]
LXD is a) human-centered – not technology-centered or focused on cognitive development alone, but on social, emotional, and environmental factors as well; and b) learner-centered – focused on what the learner is absorbing at the moment of delivery, not on the content or what the instructor is delivering.
Patrick Newberry, Chief Strategy Officer at Method Inc., a global design and engineering consultancy, explains, “Learning Experience design, as a process, is not focused on the development of content, nor on how best to deliver content in an engaging manner to drive retention. Learning Experience design is instead concentrated on systemically designing a set of environments in which learning will occur.[vii]
If learning can be described as the acquisition of new memories, then a learning experience is more than just the dissemination of content. The experience is about what students think about and feels when the content is being delivered. This is a critical point for learning designers and teachers to recognize: what students feel and think about in class has much more to do with what they take away from the course than anything else. Regardless of the content being discussed, if one is bored during a lecture, their mind will attend to something it finds more interesting – even if that is its own contemplations. If one were thinking about something other than the course content, that is what one will remember.
“To ensure your learning interventions are effective, they should be designed with the audience’s prior knowledge, experience, abilities, and interests at the top of mind. The experience must be relevant and relatable to the learner, ensuring sustained interest and motivation to learn. The difficulty level needs to sit in the sweet spot of being challenging but within reach, balancing the cognitive load with the delight learning something new brings.”[viii] – Kira Koopman, Head of Digital Learning at Momentum Metropolitan Holdings.
Human Information Processing theory teaches us that Memorability (the process of thoughts passing into Long Term Memory) depends on Attention. Attention, in turn, is a function of the emotional brain. So, if we strive to make our training worth remembering – we must engineer an emotional state conducive to learning. Our integrated memory of this emotional state, together with our thoughts and sensations at the time, is what we experience. “I primarily focus on experiences as meaningful, personally encountered events and not so much on the knowledge gained through these events. These experiences are memorized stories of use and consumption and distinct from the immediate moment-by-moment experience.” [ix] [x]
LXD focuses on doing something relevant and motivating to the learner that has practical application to both the individual’s and organization’s performance, whether in a classroom, work team, online, or outside the company.
Nick van Damn, Chief Learning Officer at McKinsey, explains, “In the workplace, experiential learning has a long tradition, having proved itself over time to be the most effective means to acquire skills… Experiential learning immerses participants in an active and shared learning environment…An experiential-learning program takes participants on a journey through a real-life environment. This environment can be an actual workplace, a purpose-built capability-development center mirroring a workplace setting, or even an ordinary classroom. The program links participants’ day-to-day work to value generation and business impact. The learning experience challenges people to move beyond established work routines into a learning zone. Elements of this immersive experience can include role-playing, guided discussions, and simulated situations. Participants are asked to work with new tools and methods, practice new skills, and make decisions. Feedback on the effectiveness of the new skills is an important part of the process…They learn by interacting with peers to acquire new knowledge and skills.” [xi]
LXD is a form of applied art and allows for individual and subjective interpretation. It employs structured creative processes, which include user-centered analysis, research, ideation, experimentation, prototyping, iterative design, and user testing to methodically build the user experience into every aspect of development, delivery, and evaluation.[xii]
A great way to explain the general difference between LXD and ID is by comparing a scientist to an artist. ID has a more scientific perspective as applied science, while LXD has a more creative perspective as an applied art… ID comes from the field of learning and is intended to be used in the field of learning…LXD comes from the field of design, which is radically different from the field of learning…[LXDs] have a sharp eye, empathize with the target audience, generate original ideas, sketch visualizations to clarify and conceptualize these ideas, create and iterate different designs, craft elegant and surprising ways to communicate a message….IDs have essential skills like developing content and designing curricula that fit perfectly within the academic and corporate educational systems… This requires more analytical-methodical and scientific skills.” [xiii]
A Shift for Learning Teams
This shift in focus of the design process also requires a change in the skills and role of Learning Designers. “Instructional designers may be more like “instructional architects” who look at how entire systems operate and must integrate each learning component as part of an overall end-to-end user learning experience…. Like traditional performance consultants, we will be charged with improving productivity and performance, but with the added dimension of thinking about how users will experience the instruction we design.” [xiv] According to Josh Bersin, LXDs ‘focus on facilitation, information architecture, and audience analysis – not just learning design and development.’ [xv]
Janet Clarey and Dani Johnson, researchers from Bersin by Deloitte, offer an illustration of this shift in thinking. “For example, one large business services organization we spoke with used to conduct a traditional needs analysis and then create what they felt was the best learning solution. Today, however, the company starts with different questions: How does learning happen in your team? What resources does your team already use? How do employees access those resources? This approach allows them to look for inefficiencies and opportunities to enable learning in the course of work.”[xvi]
About The Author:
Craig Friedman is a Learning Strategy Consultant and contributing author at St. Charles Consulting Group. Craig has been a Learning entrepreneur, executive, and Big 4 human capital consultant for nearly 30 years. He has helped create Enterprise Learning Strategies for two internet startups, five national healthcare firms, and three of the Big 4 professional accounting firms.
Craig brings a unique blend of strategic, analytic, and social skills to solving complex, systemic problems in dynamic, change-oriented environments. He can quickly assess situations, propose and negotiate innovative solutions, and has a proven record of executing plans.
For many years, Craig was also actively involved as a board member, and project lead in several national non-profits focusing on extending access of education to at-risk populations.
Craig holds an M.A. in Learning Sciences from Northwestern University, a B.S. in Human Factors Engineering, and a B.A. in English from Tufts University; He also holds 2 U.S. patents for learning program technology and processes and has won half a dozen industry awards. Write to Craig at email@example.com.
 We use the Word “Experience” design as distinct from “Experiential.” In the Learning world, “Experiential” design refers to goal-oriented or “Learn-By-Doing” design principles like immersive simulations, role-plays, team projects, etc. While the two concepts are similar, “Experience” design is a bit broader a concept.
[ii] Marc Hassenzahl “User Experience and Experience Design.” In: Mads Soegaard and Rikke Friis Dam (eds.). The Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction, 2nd Ed. The Interaction Design Foundation. Aarhus, Denmark (2013)
[iii] Emile H. L. Aarts, Stefano Marzano The New Everyday: Views on Ambient Intelligence. 010 Publishers. p. 46. (2003).
[v] Jodi Forlizzi and Katja Battarbee. “Understanding experience in interactive systems.” In: Proceedings of DIS04: Designing Interactive Systems: Processes, Practices, Methods, & Techniques (2004). pp. 261-268. Daniel Kahneman “Objective happiness.” In: Daniel Kahneman, Ed Diener, and Norbert Schwarz, (eds.). Well-Being: The Foundations of Hedonic Psychology. pp. 3-25. Russell Sage Foundation Publications (2003)
[vi] Janet Clarey & Dani Johnson. Capabilities for “Invisible L&D,” Deloitte Development LLC and Deloitte University Press, 2017
[vii] Patrick Newberry. “Experience Design: When Innovation isn’t enough.” Wired Magazine. March 2014. https://www.wired.com/insights/2014/03/experience-design-innovation-isnt-enough/
[viii] Kira Koopman, “What is Learning Experience Design (LXD)?” 08 July 2020 What is Learning Experience Design (LXD)? | Digital Learning Solutions Specialists (elevatelearning.org)
[ix] Marc Hassenzahl. “User Experience and Experience Design.” In: Mads Soegaard and Rikke Friis Dam (eds.). The Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction, 2nd Ed. The Interaction Design Foundation. Aarhus, Denmark: (2013):
[x] Jodi Forlizzi and Katja Battarbee. “Understanding experience in interactive systems.” In: Proceedings of DIS04: Designing Interactive Systems: Processes, Practices, Methods, & Techniques (2004). pp. 261-268. Daniel Kahneman “Objective happiness.” In: Daniel Kahneman, Ed Diener, and Norbert Schwarz, (eds.). Well-Being: The Foundations of Hedonic Psychology. pp. 3-25. Russell Sage Foundation Publications (2003)
[xi] Claus Benkert and Nick van Dam “Experiential learning: What’s missing in most change programs” McKinsey & Company | Our Insights. August 2015 Experiential learning: What’s missing in most change programs | McKinsey
[xii] Margaret Weigel, “Learning Experience Design vs. User Experience: Moving From “User” to “Learner.” Six Red Marbles. | April 2, 2015. LXD vs. UXD | Six Red Marbles.com; “What is Learning Experience design” LXD.org 2020 What is learning experience design? – Learning Experience Design (lxd.org)
[xiii] Niels Floor, “Learning Experience Design vs. Instructional Design” LXD.org (2021) Learning Experience Design vs. Instructional Design (lxd.org)
[xiv] Caroline Da Silva. “Transforming from Instructional Design to Learning Experience Design.” eLearning industry. Sept 14, 2016. https://elearningindustry.com/instructional-design-learning-experience-design.
[xvi] Janet Clarey & Dani Johnson. “Capabilities for “Invisible L&D.” Deloitte Development LLC and Deloitte University Press, 2018