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How to do the Learner Experience Design? ( posted on Medium )

Over the summer, our capstone project will focus on the learner experience design (LXD) of two curriculum modules for our client. There have been many different ways to define the learner experience design. What do we mean by “learner experience design”exactly? Our understanding is that LXD is a holistic design approach organically combining user experience design and instructional design. If we examine existing learning products in the market, it is not hard to notice some of them only emphasize learning objectives and content but neglect if learners’ learning experience is engaging. Some of them do the opposite thing. Neither of these two types of learning products would lead to effective learning. In LXD, the learner’s perception of their learning experience is equally important as content and learning objectives. In our training in METALS program at CMU, we add another element to our LXD design process: data-driven learning analytics, which inform our design decisions through the design iteration.
We will elaborate our LXD approach by sharing our LXD plan for this summer. The plan is created based on our “big idea” design template and it is tentative at this point. We expect to adjust the plan as the project moves forward and our understanding of LXD deepens and evolves.

Phase One: Goal Setting

We consider both the service goal for the client and the learning objectives for students. We have worked with our client to set the service goal: design and develop two course modules of career management skills and learning to learn skills to help students achieve the sustainable career success. For the learning objectives for students, we are going to propose the contextualized definitions of the career management skills and learning to learn skills based on our understanding of the learners’ characteristics as well as the client’s mission. Based on the definition, we will decompose the skills into bite size measurable learning objectives.

Phase Two: Assessment Design

Once the learning objectives are set, the key metrics representing success to achieve the objectives should be designed. For example, if the one learning objective for Learning to learn is “ be able to seek advice, information and support when appropriate”, the key metrics could be recognizing the obstacles or challenges in learning, mapping the external resources to the problem confronted, and knowing how to reach out the resources for help. We will create a set of sample assessment tasks for cognitive task analysis in the third phase. The interactivity and usability will be taken into account when creating assessment task.

Phase Three: Model design

In this phase, we will adopt two methods to design the learning model. First, we will set up interviews with students to conduct the think aloud, which is one of the methods of cognitive task analysis. Second, we will do the data analysis of students learning behavior pattern and their prior knowledge based on the dataset our client provided. Based on the comparison of the methods that the novice and the expert use to solve the task, and the data analysis, we can identify the “blind spots” of the learning goal framework created at the first phase, and calibrate it with the findings from cognitive task analysis and data analysis. Then we will have the learning model: how one knowledge component is relevant to another one. This phase is crucial to make sure the learning objectives are addressing students’ needs.

Phase Four: Instructional Design

We will answer four questions:

  • What type of topics and activities will align with the learning objectives and assessment? Where do we get the content or materials?

  • How will topics, activities and logistics be structured?

  • How will the E-learning principles be applied to the instruction?

  • What will learners actually be doing, hearing, and seeing during the learning experience (information architecture)?

For the content or materials, we will consult the domain experts and expect to get the raw content and materials from them. Then we synthesize the content and materials to align with the learning objectives and assessment. Structure of the content or materials will follow our learning model created in the phase three. We will decide the form of the learning environment (online vs. offline, short-term vs. long-term, facilitated vs. self-led, and the like) to make sure it is conductive to the learning objectives. We will be always inclined to the environment that can collect the interactive data of the learning behaviors.

To create the learning experience that is both functional and beautiful, we will integrate the E-learning principles to the UX and UI design. For example, the principle of Contiguity involves the need to coordinate texts and and graphics. To decrease learners’ extraneous cognitive load, the on-screen words should be placed near the parts of the on-screen graphics to which they refer. Although it sounds obvious, it is actually aesthetically challenging from UI perspective. We will make decisions to do the tradeoff to create a cohesive experience that help learners to focus on acquire new skills and not just deciphering their their learning environment. We will do the quick prototyping, conduct user-testing, and then iterate our design.

Phase Five: Data-driven Analysis

The evidence-based approach is highly valued at CMU, which means we not only use the traditional assessment metrics but also use data analysis to inform the assessment of the learning outcome and the evaluation of the course or program, and the iteration of the design. For example, after “Learning to learn” module is delivered and used by learners, the interactive log data of students’ learning behavior, learning path, error rate and patterns will be collected and the data analysis will inform us both the learning experience and the learning outcome. Since our team will not involve the real assessment and data analysis after we delivered the module design, we will only propose data-driven analysis metrics and methods to the client.

The above is the tentative process we are going to go through of the learner experience design(LXD) for our capstone project. As mentioned earlier, we expect the change and adjustment of this process along the project. We will keep update our understanding of the learner experience design from the hands-on practice. We believe learn by doing is the best way to learn the learner experience design.

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