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Deck the Halls and the Secret to Engaging Learners

The holiday season is upon us, which also means the shopping season has begun. This is the time of year advertisers declare open season on consumers. From targeted social media ads online to the twinkling store retail displays, advertisers are fighting for our attention. They tell us what we want, making it even more difficult to find what we actually need.

Sometimes in the L&D world, this is how we approach our learners; with so much content out there, we try to capture the attention of our learners using a variety of formats. For example, augmented reality (AR) has recently been made readily available on most smartphones and has created opportunities to deliver readily accessible interactive experiences, combining virtual learning in a real-world setting.

Of course, the whiteboarding technique, an oldie but a goodie, is a fun way to deliver content in an alternative format. And gamification can be used to provide an opportunity to engage learners, appealing to each learner’s desire for challenge and rewards. We use many vehicles and formats to capture the attention of learners and deliver learning successfully. But delivering content is simply no longer enough—we need to focus on outcomes and ensure that mastery of the learning is occurring. So how can we do that and produce learning that captures engagement? The solution is simple: learner experience design (LXD).

LXD is a relatively new discipline and falls within the human-centered design framework.

LXD combines the discipline of instructional design with user experience, ensuring the focus remains on the learner and how they learn, leading to the desired learning outcome. LXD does not have a step-by-step systematic process, but follows more of a creative process, like design thinking, with an outcome that’s uncertain at first but clear in the end. LXD has three key points of focus:

  • Focus on the learner.
  • Focus on learning rather than the idea of training or instruction.
  • Focus on the process the learner goes through to reach the desired learning outcome.

In recent years, efforts in L&D have moved toward finding new ways to package the content we create. We dazzle our learners with gamification or virtual or augmented reality, design WBT that we think is valuable, and finish their training with a level 1 survey to make sure they liked the course. In the meantime, we’ve forgotten the most important component: the experience of the learner. Simply put, human beings respond to and learn from experiences. As L&D professionals, that puts the responsibility on us to refocus our efforts on the learner and the process that the learner goes through. This is where LXD enters the picture.

Earlier this year, GP Strategies led a design thinking initiative within a learning organization to help uncover the conscious and unconscious expectations learners had placed on their learning organization. What we uncovered changed the trajectory of the learning strategy, not only for the year, but for the next several years. Learners told us:

  • Understanding people is critical to our success, and we need soft skills training: listening, reading people, cultural training, and selling skills.
  • We need inspiration and support to stay motivated and gain confidence and competency.
  • We want our learning to be personalized to our needs and topics that we want to build on based on our experience and interests.
  • We want the flexibility to learn what we want or need, but with enough structure to understand goals and what is expected from us and to know where our learning is taking us.
  • We prefer hands-on and interactive learning so that we can learn and apply the information at the same time.

You are probably nodding and agreeing with these themes. Our learners, all our learners, are telling us the same thing—think of them. It’s time for us to reposition ourselves as curators, facilitators, and enablers of learning based on their needs. It’s a mind shift for us. For so long we made the decisions; we were the experts. But our roles are now evolving, and we must embrace the evolution if we want our learners to continue to trust us. If you are looking for a magic solution to make learners interested and engaged in what you are delivering, it’s simple. Look no further than the learners themselves. LXD is the perfect evolution in the field of instructional design to ensure we remain focused on the experience of our learners.

About the Authors

Keith Keating
With a career spanning over 20 years in learning & development, Keith Keating holds a Master’s Degree in Leadership and has experience in a myriad of areas ranging from Instructional Design, Leadership Coaching, Operations Management, and Process Transformation. More recently Keith has been leading clients on the development and execution of their global learning strategies. Regardless of the role, at the heart of everything Keith does centers around problem solving. He studied Design Thinking at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and found Design Thinking was a perfect tool to add to his problem solving "toolkit". Since then, Keith has been utilizing Design Thinking to help clients tap into understanding and resolving unmet customer needs.

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