Learning Design:
Keeping it personal

Carole's picture

Carole Bower

3 minute read

The art of Learning Design is essentially about writing and organising learning content and activities to help people learn something. But there’s quite a lot more to it. Typically, Learning Design is associated with digital delivery and learning designers have many labels – from scriptwriters and instructional designers to learning experience designers. So, we do appreciate how difficult it is to get a sense of what the role involves. Hopefully this article will demystify this and give a bit of an insight into the role from our world.

So, you’re a Learning Designer. What’s that?

Our Learning Designers write and create a vision for our digital experiences – the task includes digital copywriting, identifying visuals to convey messages, designing interactive stuff, writing videos, animations and apps etc. It essentially covers the writing and design treatment ideas for anything that can be viewed on a digital device.

The term “experience” is being used a lot now (we think that’s good) because it feels more personal. How people feel about an experience is important and it can easily go wrong if sweeping assumptions are made and people just feel disconnected/don’t see the point.

The approach we take therefore is largely based on the need of the learner. Our mission is about helping them on their journey to doing new stuff or doing stuff differently. A good piece of learning should feel relevant and personal to whoever is experiencing it; we design to get people ready, get people interested and to get people to see the point (for them).

The Learning Design approach

So how do you design a digital experience that can change something or someone? That’s the main task faced by Learning Designers on virtually every project. The answer is that it’s all about digging around to get to the route of the problem. If anyone ever says it’s just about taking content and making it look nice – we cry (just a little).

Our best work happens when we review the evidence and ask lots of questions. Just like the agony aunts and uncles of the digital learning and comms world, we love to know all about problems - What happened? Why? Who did it? Who cares? Then, (and only then), can we start to roll up our sleeves and start solving. Sounds interesting? – it is, and it all happens in a lively session where we get to know about the learners and the context for the learning. That’s when the overall vision starts to emerge.

After our lively session we take a breath and reflect on things – time to get into a bit more detail and refine that vision/create the concept. A video here an animation there, lots of engaging interactive stuff, the WIFM bits – we have a plan.

Once the vision is agreed we start to design. For Learning Designers, it’s about putting yourself in the learner’s shoes and designing something just for them. We feel this is what makes the difference between delivering learning as opposed to just delivering information (Context is king NOT Content). So, we write based on what people need to do in the real world and put the information bits into another bucket for future reference. We see ourselves as translators working with knowledgeable subject matter experts asking the “so what” questions. This protects our learners from information overload.

Putting the pieces together is just as much fun, the content, interactions, visuals, videos and stories etc. From campaigns to one-offs we start creating the blueprints for our UI/UX and production teams who create those digital assets that will help learners to do stuff. If we know our learners might just not want to do it, we’ll bring in the big guns from our Behavioural Insights Team to supplement with behavioural techniques from scientific research.

About behavioural influence – we think it’s important for the success of the learning to tap into learner motivations. With help from our Behavioural Insights Team, we look at the different techniques we can use such as tapping into emotions. For example, an emotive story can be memorable and impactful if the learner relates to it (we use real ones). Stirring music is another approach – in fact, we did deliberately aim to incite a little fear with the narrative and heartbeat tracks used in one of our recent trailers (but we only make people cry if we really need to!)

Our top three considerations for effective Learning Design

Learning Design is so much more than writing words and organising content, and that’s probably why the role titles shift around so much. Success in the role though must align with empathy for the end customer (and that’s ultimately the learner). So, if we were to recommend three considerations for designing great ‘learner’ experiences, I guess we would focus on these three questions:

  1. What’s the problem (the real problem) and what needs to change?

  2. What do people need to do?

  3. What will motivate or prevent them from doing it?

If you know the answers to these questions, then as a Learning Designer you are in a pretty good shape to steer things in the right direction.

Back