How User Experience Designers and Instructional Designers Should Work Together

by Extension Engine | June 13, 2019

Estimated time to read: minutes

You have something you need others to learn. Perhaps it’s professional growth, a new online course, or training for a new product. The task at hand is to create an online learning program that will not only explain the intended learning objectives but, hopefully, deliver that information in a way that will result in actual learning. If your teachable stuff sticks its landing, then you’ve maximized your ROI.

So, what can you do to stack the odds in your favor?

The old way of designing learning programs

When it comes to designing an online learning program, there’s a traditional approach that has become the industry standard.

Over in one department, the user experience design (UXD) team is busy integrating branding, audience definition, usability, and function to come up with a learning program. In a completely separate department, the learning experience design (LXD) team, or instructional designers, are focusing on how to improve the learning experience to cultivate better learning outcomes.

In this standard scenario, you’ve determined your objectives, but the components designed to meet them are  being constructed in distinct silos. The teams involved may be internal or external — or both — but they never interact. The learning program components become mini-projects all strung together, and the end result is a clunky collection of related segments rather than a fluid learning experience.

It gets the job done, but what about the learning success rates?

A better design approach

It’s time to step outside the standard way of thinking by incorporating UXD with LXD through the entire process. It is, in effect, a design fusion. And we’ve found that this approach delivers a much more intuitive online program — one that learners actually embrace.

This design process is a balanced and interwoven approach. The UXD and LXD teams begin at the same place at the same time, proceeding down their specific functional paths. However, at regular intervals they deliberately intersect, and this ebb and flow is repeated until the project is successfully completed. It’s best demonstrated as a helix.

Blog - Helix UX and LXD

Why UXD and LXD must intersect

The intersection is critical. These deliberate, periodic intervals of connection provide opportunities to learn the current state of the project as well as gather valuable feedback. In short, they provide a chance to:

  • Verify that you’re on track with the intended learning objectives
  • Discuss new findings or experiences
  • Plan tasks for the next intersection

By coalescing and sharing information, both teams are better able to maintain overall goal alignment, develop and validate learning modalities, and tweak features and functionality. We have an earlier and more agile opportunity to address any issues that might cause friction in the learning experience.

The result of a new approach

You could think of our process in terms of taking a road trip.

Imagine you are driving from Boston to San Antonio. With careful planning, you can estimate your route, how long you want to drive in stretches, places to sleep, and places to get a bite to eat. To ensure the road trip goes smoothly, you will also want to make sure your car has comfortable seats, a full gas tank, good tire pressure, charging cables for smart devices, and most important, some sort of GPS.

In this story, UXD is the car and the accoutrements that make your ride as smooth and enjoyable as possible. LXD is the sequence and planning of the journey, the stops, and ultimately the destination — and why you are going there in the first place. You can see why these two things must work together to generate the best road trip possible.

This process of collaboration and interaction is the “special sauce” that makes the end learning experience remarkable. By regularly checking learning design against user experience design, you get that synergy that is so vital to the creation of a frictionless, intuitive, and successful learning experience.

You can’t get the same kind of learning experience with an assembly line approach. Learning experience design is a team sport. There’s a sort of design zeitgeist that occurs when you work together as a team from beginning to end — a culture and mode of thinking that informs everything we do.

At Extension Engine, our professional culture is entirely focused on the learner and their learning experience. As a result, we’ve developed a process that takes learning design to a higher, more tightly woven, level.

Creating an online program that succeeds well as a learning experience involves a series of operations that must work in unison. It demands agility, focus, and shared goals. When teams are fragmented, what you set out to make isn’t always what you end up getting, because no one connects along the way to ensure the process  is still on track and working.

By integrating user experience with learning experience design, you fundamentally change the direction of design approach.

An optimal learner experience doesn’t just happen. If your aim is to successfully put your learner in the driver’s seat, you must invoke a new way of looking at how design functions.

Keep learning

How to Bring Your Online Learning Program Up to Its Full Potential

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