What Faculty Need to Know About ‘Learner Experience Design’

Image Credit: Rawpixel.com
Image Credit: Rawpixel.com

Published on EdSurge 11.10.16

Somewhere between our collective obsession with predictive analytics and infatuation with adaptive learning, higher education wonks and practitioners are making time to deconstruct the quality attributes of online courses. The online “quality” debate stems, in part, from explosion in institutional demand for online experiences and resulting pressure on faculty to design and facilitate online courses.

Forced to quickly get up and running with online classes, faculty—and the instructional designers who help them make the transition—often resort to checklists to create the bare minimum of what’s required to build a “quality” online course. The ID ticks off the boxes for alignment of learning outcomes and accessibility and sends the faculty on his or her way to teach the course. But in our rush to get online, are we losing something fundamental? Does our current quality evaluation ensure a wonderful learning experience?

The emerging field of Learner Experience Design or LX design is about balancing the need for quality course design with the central role of human interaction in online learning. It’s a collaborative process that engages faculty in the design and improvement of online courses. But LX design doesn’t have to be daunting or complicated. Here are three big LX ideas for faculty who may be new to online learning, and hope to create and facilitate more humanized online learning experiences.

Relationships Matter

Learning is about personal relationships. Deep learning doesn’t happen through reading or rote memorization online any more than in the physical world. It is the experiences and meaningful conversations (or maybe human interactions) within a course that enable students to critically reflect, and deepen their learning. All too often, online students feel isolated, which can decrease motivation and increase attrition.

When learning occurs entirely through computer-mediated instruction, professors often overlook simple steps like asking participants to introduce themselves. Details like asking your students to create a video introduction to a class can have a powerful impact. Video-based introductions can help develop a community of learners more quickly than simply posting text on a discussion board. Students who are in courses with introductory videos have been shown to actively participate in online discussions very early in the course. And research shows that learners who are more engaged and have higher levels of interaction, have higher success rates.

Tech Should Increase—Not Replace—Social Interaction

Social interaction plays a fundamental role in cognition, especially in online mediums. Some technologies enable social interaction while others purposefully remove it. Millennials gravitate toward tools like SnapChat because they incorporate a human dimension and connectedness that text-based tools don’t. And in an online course, technology must play a role in fostering student-to-student, student-to-instructor and student-to-content interactions during break out groups, interactive polls or back channels.

New technologies promise a more adaptive and personalized learning experience. However, many are coding the human element out of learning. In a recent article on EdSurge George Siemens notes that while adaptive technology in large online or blended courses make learning more efficient, they’re perpetuating an outdated form of learning. Siemens cautions us on the negative effects of using technology without applying a human touch: “While machine learning and automation are obviating the need for learners to memorize content and develop routine skills, current edtech solutions still focus on helping learners develop these capabilities. Instead, they should drive students to hone their uniquely human traits—the ones that will help them thrive in an increasingly automated world.”

Walk In Students’ Shoes

Participating as a student in an online course makes you a better online teacher—whether those experiences were good or bad. Preparing to teach online is not just about technology, it’s about pedagogy and communications online. Taking an online course provides faculty with the experience of being an online student. It is helpful to see the reasoning behind and/or “10,000 foot” view of the online environment – a sort of metacognition. It also provides opportunity to connect, collaborate, and communicate with peers (other faculty) to share and evaluate online teaching strategies and techniques.

Finally, don’t give up. It takes continuous improvement to get it right. The very best online experiences, like analog learning, are improved and iterated upon over time. Don’t be afraid to revisit design considerations after you learn more about what works and what doesn’t—for both the instructor and the students. Check in with your students during the course, and take time for critical reflection. Quality is about much more than checklists. Engagement is about more than data. We hope that as more faculty understand, and embrace, the field of LX design, both faculty and students will have more rewarding and meaningful online learning experiences.

Patrice Torcivia (@profpatrice) works on working on the design, production, and support for CornellX MOOCs, online courses and digital initiatives at Cornell University. Whitney Kilgore (@whitneykilgore) is the chief academic officer at iDesign.

>Published on EdSurge 11.10.16

UX to LX: The Rise of Learner Experience Design

>Published on EdSurge 6.20.16

The term “user experience” or “UX” wasn’t always an overused Silicon Valley buzzword. Coined in the mid ‘90s by Don Norman, while he was vice president of advanced technology at Apple, it refers to an abstract way to describe the relationship between a product and a human. Back then, Norman argued that technology must evolve to put user needs first—the opposite of how things were done at the time. It wasn’t until 2005 that UX gained mainstream relevance: 42 million iPods were sold that year and the mass market experienced great design at scale.

Not long after, run-of-the-mill software engineers—once in high demand—weren’t as competitive in the job market. Job descriptions and expectations shifted from putting information online to tailoring the online experience to the needs of end users. The field of User Experience Design was born. Today, it is among the country’s fastest growing job categories.

Instructional design is now approaching a similar transition. Most student consumers have yet to experience great learning design, but the commoditization of online learning is forcing colleges and universities to think differently about how they construct digital courses. Courseware is enabling the development of new modalities and pedagogical shifts. An abundance of data now enables instructional designers to decode learning patterns. As a result, we are witnessing the growth of a new field: Learner Experience Design.

Parse higher-education job postings and descriptions, and it’s evident that LX design is, as a discipline, among the fastest growing fields in education. But what exactly makes for great learning design, and how can instructional designers ensure they remain competitive in this new era of student-centric education?


Greater Than the Sum of Its (Many) Parts

Instructional designers, like web developers in the ‘90s, historically had expertise in conveying content through a limited set of tools and platforms, such as a learning management system (LMS). LX designers, in contrast, merge design-thinking principles with curriculum development and the application of emerging technologies to help faculty tailor content to student behaviors and preferences. It cuts across disciplines and moves beyond the LMS: LX designers embrace graphic design, multimedia production, research-based standards and social media. They are partners to faculty throughout the program and course development process.

Jessica Knott, learning design manager and applied researcher for Michigan State University, has begun studying the difference between old and new schools of instructional design: “User experience research methods and design thinking help us unpack the intangibles of the student experience,” she says. “There are many instructional design frameworks that inform the way content is delivered—and those are important—but LX pushes farther, making sure the student voice is integrated more purposefully by sharing the course development and iteration process with those for whom it is designed.”

The most successful LX designers today are delivering content that brings in outside influences to cultivate engagement. They use technology to foster connections to faculty, other students and real-world experiences that make online courses more meaningful to students. These specialized designers are building student choice into courses by giving students more control over their learning journey through the use of new forms of courseware and adaptive learning tools. Following a choose-your-own-adventure model, customized assignments and activities ask students to call upon their own experiences and judgments to complete the task. Of course, outcomes are aligned with a rubric for grading purposes, but this simple twist in delivery encourages students to be more creative and involved.

What’s Next?

The transition to digital content has made entirely new layers of student data available. Learners now leave a digital footprint that allows designers to understand how students are interacting with course materials and for how long. LX designers can develop course pathways that connect student challenges to specific sections of content. For the first time, faculty have insights into time on task—before, during and after class. Ready access to student behavior data is helping institutions develop powerful predictive analytics, and LX designers are leading the field to make more and better informed choices on content delivery to help students better understand the critical concepts.

The groundswell of data and learning technology shows no sign of slowing down, and a LX designer’s job will grow more complex alongside it. Learner experience designers must rise to the challenge, so universities can deliver online courses that captivate and resonate with each unique student.

>Published on EdSurge 6.20.16

Whitney Kilgore (@whitneykilgore) is the chief academic officer at iDesign, which partners with universities to build, grow and support online and blended courses and program offerings.