Written by:

Holly Macdonald


March 1, 2016

Many of us have heard of “user experience” or UX, but how many of us think about the “learner experience” or LX?

We’ve looked at (ranted?) about the confusion between e-learning design and web design.

We’ve looked at some shared goals between product design (and management) and instructional design.

Let’s look at how instructional designers might learn from user experience (UX) designers.

A UX designer is most interested in ensuring ease of use of an interface or a product. They want the user to have a good experience when interacting with their product or interface and focus on nuances that the rest of us wouldn’t notice. Especially those who work with content, like instructional designers who are often focused heavily on WHAT is in their product, less so on HOW the product functions. The UX designer, thinks about existing patterns of behaviour, to try to reduce the confusion make the decision-making easier. They think about “affordances” (admittedly a word I struggle with every time I see it), which means an object provides the ability to do something and that you design to the environment that exists. They think about feeling and how the product conveys that feeling or reinforces that feeling. They are interested in what the user needs.

Instructional design could learn a thing or two from UX:

  1. Focus on the USER’s experience, not our own or the powers that be. If we are able to really serve the users, we might be able to provide the instructional product that would accomplish the goal, rather than the one that’s most convenient for us to build or for the client to understand. If the user would be better served by an interactive job-aid than a overall course, then we’d be able to design the right instructional product.
  2. I think we could design the experience BEFORE the instructional product. Take some time to really map out how the audience is going to hear about the instructional product, what it’s going to do, how it’s going to work, what do you want the audience to feel in addition to what do you want them to learn. We don’t often get the chance to do that, but it would elevate the instructional product. Maybe it’s not possible for every product, but perhaps cornerstone products are given extra attention.
  3. The definition we’ve used indicates that it’s actually a mindset that encompasses the experience BEYOND the product, and that is not something many internal instructional designers or teams would think about. What does this instructional product say about us? What feeling does it convey to the audience? Does it evoke the feelings we want to?

Tools and Techniques:

  • Personas – understanding WHO you are designing for is important. We’ve had clients initially dismiss personas because they assumed we were simply capturing demographic information and labeling the audience. This isn’t terribly helpful for design, as we aren’t going to pinkwash something because it’s a predominantly female audience or try to “jazz it up” because the audience is mainly “Millenials”. Personas can be very useful, especially when focusing on their goals, challenges, constraints, current practice, environment and other factors that inform what problem your content is solving or how to get and keep their attention. One tool that we like is the Empathy Map.
  • Use frameworks like wireframes to provide structure to our content. When we produce courses or job aids, we tend to focus on the content, but taking the time to use a wireframe would also provide another layer of insight, such as how balanced our content is and how it flows visually and how it supports the experience. Are we taking care to consider their needs? Are we looking at the overall workflow? Are we analyzing the content to ensure we are organizing it in the best way possible? Here’s an approach that Tom Kuhlmann suggests for elearning.
  • Apply some usability (a subset of UX) thinking to our work. We could use some design shortcuts common in the “consumer” world that our audience might be familiar with. I have to admit every time I open a link on my iPad and the close button (“X”) appears on the left I scratch my head and wonder why that is? We have already been conditioned to look on the top right. As instructional designers, we should adhere to common design practices that ensure our audience is confident about their interaction with the content. We could think about HOW our audience is going to access our content. Is it a single point of access? Is it pushed to us? Do we have to go looking for it, and if so how hard is it to find?  Ant Pugh discusses this with regards to the LMS.

What are your thoughts? Would you change anything about your process? How are you incorporating UX into your instructional design practice?

Additional Reading