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Sep 2020

Want to be a Learning Experience Designer? Master these 6 Skills.

Blog posts

Steve Lowenthal

Steve Lowenthal

CEO at Kineo US

Instructional Designer, Learning Consultant, Learning Designer…  Whatever they’re called in your organization, these are the people who design learning experiences for you. A learning experience designed by any other name is still someone who designs the events, resources and interactions that help learners, typically your employees or customers, achieve learning outcomes that either they (or in many cases the organisation) desires for them.  

We’d all like to think of our learners as highly motivated and eager to consume whatever content we put in front of them and equally effective at consuming that content and turning it into actions that produce meaningful outcomes. However, the reality is typically quite different.  

Learners are busy. They often don’t think they need to learn or change. Even if they do want to learn, they struggle to find the bandwidth or get the support to put into practices what they’ve learned.  And these are just a few of the common barriers to creating learning that sticks.

Enter the Learning Experience Designer. The Learning Experience Designer is tasked with bridging the gap between the business stakeholders – their goals and objectives - and the audience – with all their potential barriers. Bridging this gap requires a swiss army knife of skills – some of which we’ll explore here.

What makes a great learning experience designer?

  • Analyst
    The first skill is to interact with business stakeholders and subject matter experts to understand their problems and needs. Let’s be clear, this isn’t about identifying content. It’s about clarifying what problem are they trying to solve, what is the role of audience being trained in solving that problem, and how they will know if the training program has produced a change or not.  
  • Psychologist
    The second skill is to scrutinize the audience and to gain an understanding of why they aren’t performing or acting in the desired end state. Are they motivated? Do they have the skills? Do they have the knowledge? Do they have support? Are there structural barriers stopping them?    Building out this 360-view of learners is critical to gain the empathetic understanding required to inform a human-centered design. 
  • Architect
    The third skill is to define the kinds of interventions or experiences that will address the needs you’ve surfaced. If you find a motivation gap, tutorials probably won’t help. If you find a skills gap, a motivational video probably won’t help. If you find a gap in support, only training the audience and not their manager probably won’t help. This isn’t about the details, this is about articulating the steps of a coherent learning journey that will close the gap between the stakeholder and SME input and the needs of the learners. 
  • Technologist
    The fourth skill is to decide what blend of technology you will use or not use to deliver these experiences. We can create a version of most experiences through a number of formats – asynchronous online, synchronous online and in-person. This decision is typically made based on a mix of logistics, e.g. how big the audience and their availability, the nature of the experience, e.g. a simulation on confined space would clearly be better done in a virtual environment than a real one and constraints like budget, travel and access to technology.   
  • Creative Director
    The fifth skill is to set out a strategy for aesthetics and engagement. Will you have an overarching theme or analogy? Will games or gamification add value? What colors and styles will be used? What approach to visuals will best convey the content and engage our audience and fit our budget – photos, illustrations, 3D graphics?  How will we use rich media like video and animation? These decisions will make a huge difference in how your audience receives your solution. A Yugo and Ferrari can both get you from home to work but they will make a very different impression.  This is about deciding what impression you want to make. 
  • Copy Writer
    The sixth skill is about the words. Words can be either be the undoing a learning program or the savior. Long, boring, tone-deaf content will drive away even the most motivated learner. Compelling stories, words that evoke emotion and strong imagery will engage your audience.   

Few are masters of all these skills, but of course that can’t and won’t stop us from designing learning solutions. What we can do is to continue to develop each of these skills and to make sure we recognize the importance each plays in getting both the right solution and an engaging and effective one.  

Steve Lowenthal

Steve Lowenthal

CEO at Kineo US

Steve Lowenthal has over 15 years of experience in Learning Technologies in consultancy, sales and management roles. He's a regular speaker at US conferences and events on trends in LMS, elearning and technology.

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