Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Defining learning experience design

I'm finishing up my book, Immersive Learning, and its by far one of the most difficult things I've ever done. Not just because writing a book is hard (it is) but because its been the perfect storm of personal and professional chaos, transition and shifting of responsibilities in my adult life, and all the while I'm trying to balance these things with writing a book...its been a challenge.

Today I got wrapped up in a conversation with some of my professional peers about experience design. I thought, hey! this is what I'm writing about! Except, it really wasn't.

The problem is that the word "experience" is used a lot lately to refer to lots of different things. When I talk about experience design, I'm talking about designing FOR experience, to provide opportunities for learners to apply their knowledge, fail, try again, see the outcomes of bad decisions, and try again, and again, and again. When I talk about experience design, I'm talking about designing for authentic practice, designing for failure. I'm referring to designing to help learners get more experience.

Where this gets tricky is that many people use experience to talk about what its like to go through training. Think of it as the roadmap, or the designer as an event planner. Think about creating a seamless experience for your audience, in our case, your learners. In this case, the hard work is shouldered by the designer to anticipate what would facilitate a better "experience" for the learner. This is commonly called User Experience Design, or UX Design, and believe me, its important, vital, to the success of learning engagement and usability of, well, anything we engage with digitally (and analog as well, but let's stick to e-learning for now).

I'm not valuing one over the other, but there is an important difference between designing a seamless experience for a learner and designing to create opportunities for learners to gain experience doing something. Its why I typically refer to what I do as immersive learning, not experience design (even though I AM designing learning experiences). It might be semantics, but these delineations are critical to talking about the different motivations and intended outcomes of how we engage in the design process.

Think about what YOU mean when you talk about experience design. Are you talking about the usability and engagement path for the learner, or are you talking about creating opportunities for practice and failure to guide learners towards performance improvement and behavior change (ie, immersive learning)? Let's define these goals and design practices clearly so that we can speak the same language even in our own field; if learning professionals can't articulate the differences amongst ourselves, what hope do we have of describing our skills, "experience" ;) and design expertise to the rest of the world?