How to bring UX principles into your learning design

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Written by Andrew DeBell on 12 February 2021 in Features
Features

User Experience isn't just for building consumer websites; it can make your learning design better, says Andrew DeBell.

How do you design a learning program that maximises engagement? Minimises confusion? And reaches peak levels of comprehension?

It all starts with the instructional design model you choose.

Many experienced designers hold high regard for classic models like ADDIE, Gagne’s Nine Events, or the Dick and Carey Model. These learning models, while effective on their own, can be supercharged by borrowing a few modern ideas from product designers and software developers.

These tech-forward functions use a different process to create their end-products. They use a holistic, human-centred design approach. Centring their entire end-to-end build on the human experience. Who they are, how they feel, what they think.

Tweaking their product in continual iterations as they observe real-world behavioural patterns. This human-centered approach is known as user-experience design (UXD).

A budding new field, Learning Experience Design (LXD), is described as the process of using a human-centred approach to create learning experiences that achieve desired outcomes. 

What is user-experience design (UXD)?

UXD is a design process to optimise a human’s experience with a product or service. The process reduces confusion and friction by exploring how humans think, feel, and prefer to interact. UXD is most often used by product designers, web designers, and software developers. Their goal? Create optimal experiences for humans that are simple, smooth, efficient, and all-around enjoyable.

If product designers use UXD to optimise digital products for humans, why can’t we use the same for our learning programs?

Principles of UX have begun to trickle into the world of learning design. A budding new field, Learning Experience Design (LXD), is described as the process of using a human-centred approach to create learning experiences that achieve desired outcomes.

Basically, it’s a blend between UX design and traditional instructional design. Learning Experience Design aims to focus solely on the learner and the desired outcome, leaving behind the rigid guidelines of traditional academia.

Bringing UX principles into your learning design may sound intimidating. But with a few simple tweaks to your approach, you can create a powerful training program optimised for human learning.

Tips for bringing UX into your learning design

Build for a specific audience

One frequent miss in training design is not building for a specific audience. Other corporate functions, like product or marketing, spend an immense amount of time understanding their audience. They build persona profiles and conduct in-depth audience research before ever putting pen to paper.

Training often misses this step entirely. Jumping right into a generic, templatised build before ever attempting to understand our audience. Don’t just assume who your learners are. Dedicate time to get to know them. Conduct research on their needs, behaviors, tendencies, preferences, and technology limitations.

Research can simply be spending 30 minutes on Google, seeking demographic information. Or if time permits, conducting personal interviews with your learners.

 

Aiming to understand their preferred communication styles, digital literacy, company culture, and platforms they already use. Any type of in-depth information that can help you tweak and improve your end-product, reducing friction and designing a seamless experience.

With all of this information compiled, try building an audience persona profile. This is a visual representation of your target learner. Who they are and what they care about. Build this persona profile and keep a copy by your desk.

As you create your training program, you can easily refer back to your target learner throughout the entire design process. This helps to keep you focused on building a training experience that is truly centered on your human audience.

Collect feedback and iterate often

One major criticism of ADDIE (and other instructional design models) is its rigidity. As a linear process, each step is meant to be completed in sequential order. The model leaves little room for continual feedback or new iterations.

UX takes a slightly different approach. One that builds efficient products that meld with natural human behavior. The approach? Test, test, test.

Testing early and often is a tenet of sound UX design. Instead of waiting until the end of the build, UX principles suggest that design be an iterative process. In training design, this means continuously seeking to understand how learners are engaging with your program. Understanding what issues are occurring and how you can solve them at each step.

This iteration tactic works best when it’s built into your project plan from the beginning. Secure time for additional reviews at multiple points along your instructional design process. Guide your SMEs and reviewers to answer questions, not just about content, but also useability and ease of access.

Simplify your writing

Simple writing is key for any training program to be effective. Hundreds of employees take these programs. The words chosen must be relevant and easy-to-understand for the masses. Whether it’s an elearning course, interactive training video, or an instructor-led session, words and language choice matter.


It’s not just about using fewer words. It’s about being deliberate in your word choice. Cutting the fluff. Shortening sentences. Optimizing for any reader level.

For example, 'use' is a better word than 'utilise'.

'So' is better than “consequently'.

'Now' is better than 'currently'.

Early in your design process, make sure to get feedback from many different people. Have them read your scripts and provide edits. Did this make sense? What was confusing? Take their feedback and continue your edit, making sure to shorten sentences and use simpler words.

Once you’ve written a draft, check your readability score. Online readability checkers provide you with a score of how readable your content is. They often provide tips to improve your writing and make it easy to read. Use these tools to continue to refine and enhance your training content.

Keep it all consistent

UX design is about creating a consistent experience. On websites, this means web pages, text, buttons, colors are all standardised. Pages link together in a predictable flow. Buttons are always in the same place. Text size and font is identical on every page. Consistent websites provide users with better experiences. Which makes them much more likely to purchase your product.

Learning design can borrow these principles of consistency. Especially in designing self-guided training like eLearning, which shares many similarities to website design.

Start by focusing on clean visual design. Pick one font. Use a simple color palette. Keep your design minimal. Make sure every slide has a similar look, feel, and navigation features. As you design the user flow and branching scenarios, be thoughtful about your learner’s experience.

As a human, where will they naturally look for information? What would they find disrupting or confusing?

Many elearning issues can be attributed simply to a lack of consistency in the user-experience. Test your product early. Gather real-world human feedback. See where learners click, where they look for information, what confuses them. Use this information to improve consistency and create a cleaner user experience.

Training professionals can learn a lot from the world of UX design. Learning Experience Design is still an up-and-coming field. With its recent popularity, expect to see the future of instructional design leaning on UX for more human-centered design principles.

For now, try bringing a few of these principles into your own training design. Branch out from the rigidity of classic instructional design models and put the learner at the center of every design decision you make. These tactics are guaranteed to reduce friction, boost clarity, and improve the overall learning experience for your audience.

 

About the author

Andrew DeBell is a learning consultant and digital content marketer at Water Bear Learning.

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