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Designing a “Learning Journey” #LX

March 23, 2016

One of the most useful tools that we instructional designers can borrow from #UX is the Customer Journey map. After we’ve confirmed that this training should exist (a la Cathy Moore’s Action Mapping), we should remember that learning is not an event, but a journey.

What is a Learning Journey?

It’s a type of timeline that we can use to align different types of instructional products or solutions to support learning. Learning is not a binary activity, it takes time! A Learning Journey includes the things that happen between Don’t Know learning journeyto Know.

When making a map of a learning journey, it would be helpful to think of it not just in terms of time, but also consider the task from an instructional point of view:

  • complexity – is this something they’ll learn easily or will spaced repetition help?
  • frequency – is this a task they be doing a lot or rarely. If it’s rarely, then provide less training and more performance support, AND trigger it somehow (push notification)
  • consequences of poor performance – is this something that they need to do right in order to avoid significant consequences?  If so, it’s essential that they learn it and get “challenged” or tested on it to ensure that they really have learned it.

And consider how performance might be monitored or shaped throughout the journey, through:

  • Coaching
  • Feedback
  • Monitoring
  • Practice

As you map how people might move through their learning journey, it will give you some ideas of how they need training or performance support. It will also help you identify how to construct or deliver training and performance support to your audience. One of the interesting elements of training is that it often includes both knowledge and skill. And we are often involved in marrying the two together. Knowing something and doing something are not the same thing. Doing it right is another issue entirely!

There’s more nuance that can be gained from the customer mapping methodology, and we’ll explore those more in future posts.

Designing a learning experience, applying #UX to instructional design #LX

March 1, 2016
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Many of us have heard of “user experience” or UX, but how many of us think about the “learner experience” or LX?

We’ve looked at (ranted?) about the confusion between e-learning design and web design.

We’ve looked at some shared goals between product design (and management) and instructional design.

Let’s look at how instructional designers might learn from user experience (UX) designers.

A UX designer is most interested in ensuring ease of use of an interface or a product. They want the user to have a good experience when interacting with their product or interface and focus on nuances that the rest of us wouldn’t notice. Especially those who work with content, like instructional designers who are often focused heavily on WHAT is in their product, less so on HOW the product functions. The UX designer, thinks about existing patterns of behaviour, to try to reduce the confusion make the decision-making easier. They think about “affordances” (admittedly a word I struggle with every time I see it), which means an object provides the ability to do something and that you design to the environment that exists. They think about feeling and how the product conveys that feeling or reinforces that feeling. They are interested in what the user needs.

Instructional design could learn a thing or two from UX:

  1. Focus on the USER’s experience, not our own or the powers that be. If we are able to really serve the users, we might be able to provide the instructional product that would accomplish the goal, rather than the one that’s most convenient for us to build or for the client to understand. If the user would be better served by an interactive job-aid than a overall course, then we’d be able to design the right instructional product.
  2. I think we could design the experience BEFORE the instructional product. Take some time to really map out how the audience is going to hear about the instructional product, what it’s going to do, how it’s going to work, what do you want the audience to feel in addition to what do you want them to learn. We don’t often get the chance to do that, but it would elevate the instructional product. Maybe it’s not possible for every product, but perhaps cornerstone products are given extra attention.
  3. The definition we’ve used indicates that it’s actually a mindset that encompasses the experience BEYOND the product, and that is not something many internal instructional designers or teams would think about. What does this instructional product say about us? What feeling does it convey to the audience? Does it evoke the feelings we want to?

Tools and Techniques:

  • Personas – understanding WHO you are designing for is important. We’ve had clients initially dismiss personas because they assumed we were simply capturing demographic information and labeling the audience. This isn’t terribly helpful for design, as we aren’t going to pinkwash something because it’s a predominantly female audience or try to “jazz it up” because the audience is mainly “Millenials”. Personas can be very useful, especially when focusing on their goals, challenges, constraints, current practice, environment and other factors that inform what problem your content is solving or how to get and keep their attention. One tool that we like is the Empathy Map.
  • Use frameworks like wireframes to provide structure to our content. When we produce courses or job aids, we tend to focus on the content, but taking the time to use a wireframe would also provide another layer of insight, such as how balanced our content is and how it flows visually and how it supports the experience. Are we taking care to consider their needs? Are we looking at the overall workflow? Are we analyzing the content to ensure we are organizing it in the best way possible? Here’s an approach that Tom Kuhlmann suggests for elearning.
  • Apply some usability (a subset of UX) thinking to our work. We could use some design shortcuts common in the “consumer” world that our audience might be familiar with. I have to admit every time I open a link on my iPad and the close button (“X”) appears on the left I scratch my head and wonder why that is? We have already been conditioned to look on the top right. As instructional designers, we should adhere to common design practices that ensure our audience is confident about their interaction with the content. We could think about HOW our audience is going to access our content. Is it a single point of access? Is it pushed to us? Do we have to go looking for it, and if so how hard is it to find?  Ant Pugh discusses this with regards to the LMS.

What are your thoughts? Would you change anything about your process? How are you incorporating UX into your instructional design practice?

Additional Reading


Think like a product manager

February 10, 2016

Instructional designers create instructional or training products. Whether we like it or not, product design and product management is our industrial cousin. How so?

  • We produce a “thing” that others choose to use/buy or not.
  • We have to market this “thing” to ensure our target audience is aware of it and knows how to get it.
  • We have to balance what our target audience wants and tie it into overall corporate goals and/or messaging.
  • We have to support our users in using and troubleshooting it.
  • We have to plan for updates.
  • We care about what’s included and what problem it solves.

So, if you agree, here five lessons we could learn from our product cousins:

  1. Your instructional product should solve a problem. Does it? In the start-up world, many follow Steve Blank’s advice to do “customer discovery” and figure out what problem your product would solve and for who.
  2. Build a minimum viable instructional product. Don’t misunderstand the term. It’s not minimally acceptable product, it’s identifying the core aspect of your product that will solve your customer’s problem. The intent with the MVP is that you cut to the core and then polish your product once you are confident that it fixes a problem. Does your instructional product do that? Our industry gets caught up in making stuff look pretty, but if it does what it was supposed to do, then it is good enough.
  3. Design thinking. Customer journey. Empathy mapping. Scenario planning. These are trends that are intended to use product design to match the needs of the customer/user. This involves feature selection, visual look and feel, product use, and other aspects that define how your customer interacts with your product. Have you done this with your instructional products? Could you use design thinking to engage stakeholders? Could you map the learning journey to understand the types of instructional products/support you might tap into or need to develop? Could you use empathy mapping to outline behavioural outcomes? Could you use scenario planning to test your solution?
  4. Invest in marketing your instructional product. You want widespread adoption, so plan your implementation carefully. Work backwards and forwards from your “release” day, using the following timescale. We’ve included a rough example to give you an idea of hotimescalew to make it work.


  1. Think about product support early in your cycle. Ensure that you have people who are on call to support users. Identify vulnerable groups and reach out. Build review cycle into your instructional product during initial development. In fact, if your product is akin to a “seasonal” product (limited shelf life), you could cut down on the nice to have features, such as custom graphics or illustrations. Can you build into the maintenance loop a “check-in” to ensure that it’s still current? Analyze what problems are trending. Address those in an “update”. Communicate out to your customers that there is an update and have “release notes”.

What do you think?

The Talent Question

February 1, 2016

One of the common things heard at the recent #BCTECH summit was the cry from organizations for more talent. The government responded with coding in schools and investment in post-secondary facilities (let’s build more talent) and relaxed immigration (let’s buy more talent). One aspect I wanted to explore is the third element – organizations investing in talent development (let’s shape more talent). Pushing the burden of providing talent to the education system is a long term strategy, but it’s also flawed. Education does not produce talent.

Here’s a parallel example: many organizations we work with lament the lack of critical thinking in their workers. It’s not that they have hired adults that can’t think, it’s more that the context of their thinking is not ingrained. They need to figure out how to apply their critical thinking to the organization. Critical thinking to one organization might be very different to another organization. I think the same will be true with hoping that schools teaching coding is going to solve the problem. I suspect it won’t deliver exactly what tech companies are looking for out of the box.

Does skill = talent?

The biggest question you need to answer is… “what IS talent?” or more specifically… “what does talent mean to US?”.  If you assume that every skilled hire you make is going to hit the ground running, you are probably setting yourself up for disappointment. An old adage in the training industry is that you hire for fit, but train for skill. However, getting people to do great work is not all about skill, so recognize that you need to improve the onboarding and orientation to your organization. It’s not enough to just hire them and give them a computer. You have to help them fit in. Figure out what it means to work for you. You have to set and communicate expectations. You have to be able to give constructive feedback. You have to provide direction and support. You have to lead and manage. A skilled employee is not enough. Talent is a skilled employee who can adapt to excel in a particular environment. A talented employee at Microsoft is not the same as a talented employee at Apple. So, you have to invest in shaping your own talent.

Industry needs to step up as well. If you invest in people, we all prosper.

I would urge organizations to invest in their own talent development initiatives, some of which stretch beyond their own walls. This doesn’t have to be a big financial investment, but it does need to be a time investment. Some approaches you could consider, some are specific to “coding”, but most could be applied to a variety of skills:

  • Tapping into existing bootcamps – encourage your staff to volunteer or get involved with them. The best way to learn is to teach!
  • Partnering with other organizations that have a similar ethos to build some training/development initiatives. These could be lunch-n-learn sessions (shared cost/logistics), temporary job swaps, other brainsharing ideas. Think of it like a guild…
  • Internal hackathons – get people working on things hands-on – and provide ways to discuss/share/learn together
  • Hosted hackathons – invite prospective employees or students or community groups to participate in your hands-on activities
  • Partner with local schools or community youth organizations – you could help students gain real world experience
  • Hire co-op students or paid interns
  • Discuss with other organizations how you might reduce the gap – could you automate certain common things that would benefit many organizations? – could you change the workflow to support someone who has less skills? Training everyone to do the same thing is not the most productive.
  • Build training and documentation for things that are critical to your organization – make sure your developer’s notes are annotated. Invest in simple screen recording capabilities so key tasks are recorded for future reference. Don’t make new staff learn everything the hard way.
  • Introduce an “each one teach one” philosophy – apply it to your existing employees and have them find a buddy inside or outside your company to teach and learn with.
  • Reward staff for teaching non-coders how to code – encourage them to find someone outside the tech industry and skill-swap

There’s a reluctance to spend on training and development when you are small, but it’s an investment.

I’ll leave you with this:

A rising tide lifts all boats.

Or in the context of this post – the more you put into the talent pool, the better talent there is in the long run. For everyone.

Love to hear your thoughts.

#BCTECH Summit – an instructional designer’s perspective

January 30, 2016

Last week I attended the #BCTECHSummit and one of the things I was interested in finding out was how companies were innovating around technology and training. BCIC wrote a nice blog post highlighting some of the cool things about our tech scene. And of course if I could be a hometown type of cheerleader, well I was happy to do that too.

Here’s my “trip report”…

Overall, I was so excited to see such a variety of tech-related solutions:

  • Agritech
  • Healthtech
  • Clean/green tech
  • Biotech
  • Resource based, such as mining & forestry tech (this is the historical hub of BC’s economy)
  • Fintech
  • Gaming and entertainment
  • Big data
  • Open government
  • Artificial intelligence

I saw: drones, BB8, 3D printing, VR, robots and exoskeletons, which made it fun and interactive.

In terms of “Edtech” – this is a muddy term, as many are focused on education, whereas we are interested in more community or organization based training solutions.

There were many tools that could deliver training in new ways:

Virtual Reality – yes it was there and it was cool – Cloudhead Games was there showcasing their product on an HTC VR set. Conquer Mobile was there – they have a simulation for pre-op training and simulated surgery via VR.

Augmented Reality – Microsoft did a presentation on their HoloLens and it did feature instructional uses.

Wearables – there was a great case study by Human on their band that altered utility workers about the presence of voltages (Proxxi). Perhaps a bit more behaviorist than some of us would like, but you’d sure learn (and the target audience would avoid harm/death, so there’s that)! We’ve written about the use cases of wearables before, and I appreciated how the founder of Human (Kharis O’Connell) described it in this article:

“We don’t want to make trinkets, there is a lot of that around. There are a lot of real world problems that can be solved elegantly if we approach it the right way.”

There was also CommandWear which is a Situational Awareness platform. The ability to review and annotate afterwards for training and performance improvement is a great feature.

Differentiated Learning – Microsoft One Note Learning tools and Skype translator are both tools that enable learning.

Hard to categorize, but some potential application for training/learning

ThoughtExchange is a large scale platform for input, prioritizing and decision making. I could see some use for it in MOOC applications for organizing the massive amount of discussion that might take place. For example, Curatr is currently running a “eLearning beyond the next button” MOOC and there’s tons of rich conversation happening, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed by it. Finding ways to filter and sort would enhance the experience.

Tradeable Bits is a “Fan CRM” platform, but I could see some organizations that offer training products, using it as a pseudo-LMS. Speaking of platforms, of course our friends from Thinkific were there – they have a great platform to deliver training.

The two days were filled with optimism and excitement for the future. There were passionate entrepreneurs there who really do want to make the world a better place. The epitome of this philosophy was Ray Kurzweil, (founder of Singularity U) who was a fascinating speaker.

I can’t wait for next year.

“Training for Good”

January 15, 2016

There’s a lot of focus in the L&D world on corporate applications of training or elearning. Which is understandable, but it would seem that the not-for-profit organizations are underserved and under-represented. Several months ago I saved this link with the idea that the L&D world needs a bit of this. for Good

Some examples do exist:

As an industry, there’s more emphasis on the hard aspects of training – e-learning is efficient, compliance training is risk mitigation, etc.

But, we have tools and skills at our disposal to help the planet!

We should use these tools and skills. Help people learn, connect, grow, make good choices, etc. For example, MOOCs started by MIT opening their content up in 2000 mainly for developing nations to gain the skills they’d need even if they didn’t get “credit”. It was about equipping the world to build and solve. Training can help a lot of people. Learn how to start their own business. Learn how to manage a household budget. Learning how to manage a chronic condition. And the list goes on. Our focus as a company is to use training to help build capacity.

When do you need a “course” (and not something else)?

January 13, 2016

There are times when it seems that when training is suggested, it always means “a course”. In North America, a course means a single instance of programmed instruction (an e-learning module, a 2 day workshop). It may have different connotations elsewhere (in the UK, it can mean a series of related workshops/events). But many training needs are put in a “course” format unnecessarily. The reality is that an instructional designer has many tools in his/her toolbox and the trick is to determine which one is the best fit for the need.

Here are some times where a course makes sense:

Multiple steps in a process

Say you have to train people on a process that has multiple steps and there’s some context or reasoning behind why it needs to be done in a certain way. A course would be a good fit here, as it’s probably too many things for someone to remember the right order and all the details that would go into it. Actually in this situation a course PLUS a “Quick Refresher Card” would be an ideal combination. This is common in corporate settings, but could also apply to many other types of training: citizen science, software training, medical procedures, flight training, etc.

How to do something that has many possible options

Your target audience can follow a path down many side-shoots and you want them to understand and react to the consequences of many of them. Unless you are training animals, there are many elements of modern work that aren’t black and white, and you need to ensure your target audience knows enough of the consequences without learning them the hard way. While we think that business is automated through technology, the reality is there are many small decision points in most jobs all day long. How to respond to a customer. What to do when your estimating is out of whack on production work. What advertising campaign to choose for your new product. Which strategy to pursue to maximize earnings. How to diagnose or triage something. Again – doesn’t need to be corporate, it could apply to creative work, volunteer committees, leisure activities, etc.

Lots to learn and a definite order exists

In some organizations, employees are dealing with hundreds of products or services (or combinations) and need to be able to market, sell, support, make or otherwise learn about them in a way that makes the most sense. Let’s say you have one product line where you put things in a room, like furniture and a service where you build the room as well. One employee services the clients who will often use both products and services. They need to learn about the furniture and then they need to learn about the room. Then they’d need to learn about what things to do to make sure the room and furniture go together effortlessly. If you focus on the room specifications first, then the employee may spend hours trying to get up to speed on the furniture. If they learn about the furniture first, they may have a better understanding of how to select furniture for the room. Emergency management comes to mind as well. You can’t just wing that.

There’s a right way

While it would be nice if we could assume that everyone could learn socially, there are a couple of not so great realities in that method: first, the co-worker/peer might not know what they are doing, so you end up having an untrained person training another one. Secondly, in some (many?) organizations, there’s a lot of boring stuff that you have to learn. And you are not really going to seek out others to learn it. Mostly you just want to get it over with, so a lot of shortcuts and just plain ignoring it happens. Third, the company is counting on focused execution of strategy and/or brand messaging and actually needs you to learn the right way, not just any old way. So, a course here is best. It meets the needs of the audience and organization.

Consequences are significant

Might be life or death. Might be significant harm or cost. Your audience really needs to learn this stuff. And not just learn it in the “I can google it if I get stuck” way. This is the type of stuff that a course was made for. It could be a hands-on, extremely experiential course, but it’s a classic situation that needs a training course. Don’t be afraid to prescribe a course. Just make sure if you do, that you create a damn good one.

Otherwise, you/your instructional designer will look through the entire toolbox to see if there’s a better fit for the need:

  • Need to fix something, once (say a household appliance part) – well, unless you are planning to get into household repair, a good video or asking an expert would be best.
  • Need to remember the steps for something not terribly hard, but consequences of mixing up the steps is significant (say giving your car battery a jump start) – a good illustrated job aid would do the trick.
  • Building habits over time, for example learning about nutrition – a “drip” campaign (subscription course) could be ideal

The reality is that most situations might need a more integrated approach and a good instructional designer will put together the best combination of instructional tools to help address the training need.

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