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From Instructional Design to Learning Experience Design — Why We Changed the Name of Our Service

Changing a name isn’t easy. A name is a vitally important indicator; it captures the essence of a person, company, or service line and communicates it properly. At Extension Engine we changed the name of our service from ‘instructional design’ (ID) to ‘learning experience (LX) design’ because it better captures the full range of what we do.

Learning experience is at the center of our focus. Understanding and designing learning experiences for maximum effectiveness requires a fusion of several activities. These include:

  • Conducting learner research
  • Developing a learning strategy
  • Mapping out a content strategy
  • Creating a product design
  • Designing an experience
  • Preparing and executing learner testing
  • Providing tools/measurements for assessment and evaluation

Why ID is no longer satisfactory

The term ‘instructional design’ comes with the baggage of variability; it means different things to different people. It also means something to nearly everyone, and that something is not usually aligned with the expectations we want to set.

Broadly speaking, there are three ways organizations often view ID:

  1. Through the corporate learning and development lens — In the corporate L&D space, ID is content execution. There’s information to impart (hopefully with the principles of good learning in mind), but the learning material is usually pushed through a predetermined process and technology.
  2. Through the higher ed advisor lens — In some higher education situations, ID usually means advising faculty on how to approach developing a course when (or if) they ask for help. However, there’s no real ownership over the result.
  3. Through the higher ed course development staff lens — In other higher education situations, IDs have the whole course development effort on their backs and move forward hoping the faculty will provide the input they need, then acting as a Swiss army knife to get it done. This often happens without much time to think deeply or strategically about how the learning should be structured.

Outgrowing this methodology

Some might argue that “ID” itself is actually becoming an outmoded term overall. The fact that it has “instruction” in its name inherently prioritizes one particular learning model–and that is a didactic, one-way transfer of knowledge.

Learning is in an age of digital transformation. As we improve our understanding of how to support learning through technology, it becomes increasingly advantageous to move beyond the paradigm of just digitally replicating processes that work well in person. It’s time to approach digital learning as an entirely different system with its own unique set of provisions and constraints.

After ID, what?

This is not to say instructional design is not a part of the service. This name change doesn’t exclude any of the components that come with ID, rather it better represents the wider scope of what we do.

At the center of everything is the learner. The terms ‘learning design’ and ‘learning experience design’ were two options we considered so as to emphasize the learner focus as well as build on recognized nomenclature within the industry.

There was a great deal of internal discussion about the differences between these terms. We leaned away from learning design because you can’t actually design learning. However, you can design experiences in which the learning takes place. Ultimately, we decided ‘learning experience design’ better denotes the direct ties to learning science, UX, service design, interaction design from which we pull our techniques, approaches, and thought processes.

Admittedly, there may still be some issues with the new service name. The LX experience is not as well defined across the market and therefore has some variability in interpretation. Neither is it as widely recognized as ID—yet—and it may be a bit cumbersome to say and write (its excellent abbreviation notwithstanding).

However, the leadership and team believe any negatives are outweighed by the positives of being more descriptive as well as distinguished from traditional ID. Learning experience design is core to what Extension Engine offers—and an increasingly valuable service on projects—and the name change helps signal that to clients.

Putting focus on learning (in whatever form works best) rather than instruction

LX is core to what Extension Engine offers, and this approach yields increasingly valuable dividends on projects. The term “Learning Experience Design” recognizes and addresses several issues, including:

  • Focus on learning and learners
  • Greater variability of projects, clients, goals
  • Higher strategic value of tasks the team executes
  • Larger, more influential nature of our tools, techniques, and processes compared to other disciplines of design
  • Theory and research used for our design decisions that is more varied and tied to current thinking in learning research

Going from ID to LX Design changes the focus and scope of our mindset, processes, and design decisions. It makes them more outward looking and variable, rather than defaulting to a focus on courses or other standard formats of learning. And while it’s may not be a perfect term, it better represents our efforts to install the learner at the center of the equation.

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