LX design vs Instructional design

Learning Experience Design vs Instructional Design

January 21, 2021 by Niels Floor |

What is the difference between learning experience design and instructional design? That’s a question I get a lot, especially from instructional designers. There is no short answer to this question, so buckle up!

As a pioneer in the field of Learning Experience Design (LXD) I came across ID after several years of designing learning experiences. When I learned more about Instructional Design (ID) it became clear to me that there are fundamental differences between the perspectives, skills, methods, tools and results of LX designers and instructional designers. Let me explain some major differences between learning experience design and instructional design one by one.


A great way to explain the general difference between LXD and ID is by comparing a scientist to an artist. ID has a more scientific perspective as an applied science while LXD has a more creative perspective as an applied art. Imagine how a scientist and an artist would separately try to solve the same problem. Their approaches and their solutions would be totally different. Both have value and one is not necessarily better than the other. The same applies to ID and LXD. Applied science and applied art are both valid approaches with different qualities and limitations.

ID comes from the field of learning and is intended to be used in the field of learning. This makes sense. I know several great instructional designers who studied ID at university and who now work as an instructional designer at universities. LXD comes from the field of design, which is radically different from the field of learning. Being a creative professional who has taught at universities for years I’ve always felt like an outsider. Being an outsider can be difficult, but it also offers a certain freedom because you tend to see and do things differently. You are not part of the system. That’s one of the reasons why LXD is appealing to some. It offers a fresh perspective that comes from outside of the world of learning.


Imagine a typical creative professional like a graphic designer. What are the skills of this type of designer? Having a sharp eye, empathising with the target audience, generating original ideas, sketching visualisations to clarify and conceptualise these ideas, creating and iterating different designs, crafting elegant and surprising ways to communicate a message. These are all essential qualities for a LX designer as well. They can be applied to present learners with an experience that is just as elegant, refreshing, and surprising as the work of a graphic designer. As you can see, the roots of LXD lie firmly in creative design disciplines.

ID has its roots in the field of learning. Learning- and educational professionals come from a different background and professional culture. They have key skills like developing content and designing curricula that fit perfectly within the academic and corporate educational systems. Or designing standardised e-learning courses effectively. This requires more analytical-, methodical and scientific skills and less artistic skills. As the name instructional design suggests, instructions play an important role. This dates back to the origin of ID in the army, where clear instructions are vital. These instructional principles enable teachers, trainers, and instructors to do their jobs and provide learners with clarity and structure.


Instructional designers have a methodical approach to design. According to the ATD website an instructional designer applies a systematic methodology rooted in instructional theories and models. It works with a clearly structured step by step process which is often linear. Each step builds on the next and guides you towards creating a solid, well founded design.

While the LXD process is also structured, it does provide more space to be creative and quickly come up with different ideas, designs and prototypes which can be improved through iteration. There is a level of unpredictability that designers love. You’re not sure what the end result is going to be. The creative and experimental process inspires and guides you towards finding the right shape or form. Like a sculptor turning a piece of stone into a sculpture or a painter turning a blank canvas into a painting.

Of course, both instructional designers and LX designers go through the same general steps of research, analysis, design, development, testing and implementation. At a glance, these steps may look the same. However, the way you go through the process and what you focus on during the process are actually quite different. This has a lot to do with the different perspectives and skills being used. For example, there are significant differences between scientific research and design research when applied to the field of learning. The first aims to gather comparable and quantifiable data on cognitive aspects of learning. The second aims to empathize with the people you design for and connect with them on an emotional, personal and educational level.

In general, instructional designers have an analytical mindset with a scientific approach. This enables them to find and select great options that enable learners to reach their goals. LX designers have a creative mindset with a design approach. This enables them to go beyond existing options and create completely new ways to help learners reach their goals. The ability to create something new and different is what creative professionals do on a daily basis and it helps LX designers to design learning experiences that haven’t been made before.


There are so many tools you can use to create a learning experience. Looking at the work of instructional designers I often see tools like learning management systems, e-learning authoring software, PowerPoint and web services like Kahoot! being used. LX designers tend to use design tools that enable them to make more tailored designs like Adobe software, custom apps, gaming technology, a range of web technologies and last the inevitable sticky notes and sketchbooks.

Another key difference in the work of ID and LXD is what you design. Designing an experience is not the same as designing a course, an e-learning module or a curriculum. You can ask any experience designer that this requires different methods and tools. For example, how do you prototype a learning experience? The possibilities are virtually endless. That’s why design tools like experience maps, empathy maps and personas play a crucial role in LXD when it comes to making the intangible more tangible during the creative process.

A tool is just a tool of course. Who uses the tool and how they use it determines the quality of the actual outcome. When I introduced the Learning Experience Canvas (LX Canvas) to a group of primary school teachers, they simply redistributed everything they normally did to make it fit in the LX Canvas. They concluded “it’s nothing new.” When I showed them different ways to use the LX Canvas it changed their designs and their minds. These changes take time and effort, and they are similar to the process I go through with instructional designers that I train or work with. As you become more experienced in LXD the tools become more versatile and powerful.


You can imagine that if you use different perspectives, skills, methods and tools that you will also get different results. And you’re right. I see it in the work of the people I train and in different people’s portfolios. To be clear: one is not better than the other. LXD and ID serve different clients with different needs. LXD is not always a perfect fit. In fact, the market for ID is much bigger right now. LXD is still relatively unknown and clients might prefer what they are familiar with. Clients that are attracted to LXD are open to a different approach and willing to explore new territory in the landscape of learning.


Where you come from determines in large part how you perceive LXD. Instructional designers tend to see LXD close to, or identical to ID. But the same goes for several other disciplines who feel LXD is strongly related to what they do. For example, user experience designers who swap the user for a learner. Or experience designers who see LXD as a form of experience design. Or teachers who apply design thinking and feel that they are LX designers. Or interaction designers who regard learning to be a process of taking the right actions and making the right choices to get to the desired outcome. Or cognitive psychologists who apply their expertise in a human centered way. Or neuroscientists with creative talents who know how our brains work and are able to turn that knowledge into interesting experiences. Or game designers… You get the idea.

Stating that ID is the same as user experience design or any of the other fields I’ve just mentioned would be incorrect. When you look at the origins of LXD as a creative design discipline with links to all of these and other fields, it just doesn’t make sense to say LXD and ID are identical. In fact, ID is just one of many fields that is related to LXD. ID and LXD are different and even opposites in several regards.

One more thing

I have no background or training in ID, and I have dedicated my professional life to creating, developing, applying, teaching, spreading and promoting LXD since 2007. I’ve worked with and talked many wonderful instructional designers and have experienced the fundamental differences first-hand between ID and LXD. I get positive feedback from LXD enthusiasts from all over the world. They see the difference between what they are doing and what LXD has to offer therefore the spot the difference between learning experience design and instructional design.

I will continue to move forward with LXD because I believe it can improve the way we learn and contribute to designing a wise world. To all of you who have joined me on this journey, thank you so much! Your support has been inspirational and has given me the strength to push forward. For those who see things differently, let’s talk. I’m always up for a good discussion!

For example, after reading this article, what do you think is the main difference between learning experience design and instructional design?

Note: If you want to know more about other fields that relate to learning experience design, visit the page: the origin of learning experience design.

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  1. Great post! I completely agree that Learning Experience Design (LXD) is the future of instructional design. The focus on creating personalized, interactive, and immersive experiences for learners is crucial in today’s fast-paced digital age. As an instructional designer myself, I’m excited to see the evolution of LXD and its potential to revolutionize the way we design and deliver learning experiences. Thank you for sharing your insights!

  2. Hi Steve, thank you so much for your reply. Your sense of somehow missing the design aspect, is exactly where LXD comes in. You can read more on our blog and at the LXD Basics. We also offer a 4 week online course where you will get personal coaching while learning the LXD fundamentals and working with the LX Canvas. More info here: lxdcourse14.eventbrite.com.

  3. I was a graphic designer for 15 years. Then I went to pursue a degree in interaction design, but fell in love with instructional design. I’ve been doing ID for 7 years but felt it was missing the design aspect that I had as a graphic designer. The fundamental aspect of designing for a specific audience with the ability to design in the real sense of the word was missing. So I’m now in graduate school learning how to be an LXD. This article is spot on. I would absolutely love to learn more from you and push LXD further. We could all do so much better.

    My focus is Workforce Development, but ultimately making all learning experiences better would be awesome.

  4. My formal education covers three fields: Social Anthropology, Human Development, and Instructional Design. My second master’s degree was in ID. I NEVER felt comfortable calling myself an instructional designer, in part because I knew that this field originated from the army and their methods to INSTRUCT. Instruction meant for me a robotic blueprint to re-create something that would resemble a soldier’s functioning. When I explained to others what I did as an instructional designer, I would always say “I design learning experiences”. One of the most important pieces for me about a learning experience that I would design was, and still is, a context that allows people to interact with others and reflect on their choices. That is learning to me. At least the highest form. Being able to collaborate and reflect are, to me, essential parts of a lasting learning experience. A LX Designer creates the context for that process to occur; the context should provide all the elements for transformation to happen. The direction of this transformation can be estimated but not predicted: the learner will decide its direction. The design and development of a learning experience may need different skills and disciplines, and it is the LX designer’s task to artistically and intuitively to put all the pieces together. Different LX designers may have expertise on different fields: graphic design, coding, design thinking, etc. However, it is crucial that a LX designer has a good handle of learning theory. A LX designer must be able to create excellent and functional learning objectives. There is both creativity and methodology in a LX designer, and there could actually be a tension between these two forces. Our role as LX designers is to balance that tension and use the most fitting tools for the particular learning experience we are designing.

  5. Hi Niels, I am working on an EdTech platform and I believe I could use some of the insights mentioned here. It would be good to connect 1-o-1 and explore further.

  6. Thank you, Niels! I wanted to shout out loud at each sentence, Yes! Finally, someone understands my process!” Thank you for putting words to my methods.

  7. Author

    I think it can Khanindra. It will require some fundamental changes though. I’ve had the pleasure of working with a Polytechnic School in Singapore to implement LXD on all levels of the organisation, from teachers and support staff to higher management. This was a three year process where we created a community of practice through LXD training and events. From there it started to spread throughout the school. About teaching experiences, LXD is primarily focussed on the learner. If a teacher is part of the experience it’s vital to also look at what’s best for them. I wouldn’t focus specifically on the teaching experience but see teaching as support for the learning experience.

  8. Do you think the centre of Teaching and Learning of an Institute of Higher Education can be transformed into a Centre of Learning Experience Design? Is there any work on Designing teaching experience?

  9. What a wonderfully clarifying post! Thank you.

  10. Thank you for the great write up, Niels! I agree with you that the two approaches are different. But as an Instructional Designer, what I see in modern learning is we are looking at the learner journey or the experience we can give the learner – and there you have the word ‘experience’ coming in! 🙂
    Clients nowadays are not satisfied with a training which is a step by step linear process to help the learner meet his/her goals. “Designing an experience is not the same as designing a course, an e-learning module or a curriculum.” Yes and so I guess, we need to lean on each other to create the best? 🙂

  11. I appreciate this post and it hits on some of the questions I get asked all the time in the world of academic LXD.

    “How is this different from UCD/UX/IxD?”

    “How is this not ID? You’re just doing ID but using different terms.”

    “Don’t you know we do usability studies in ID, too?”

    I think one point we can all agree upon is that there is no commonly-accepted definition of LX or LXD, and this introduces some confusion. We are working on this, but the perspective we take is unquestionably biased. As stated in the post, “Where you come from determines in large part how you perceive LXD.” I couldn’t agree more. Coming from the field of learning design, my perspective is colored by this lens. I interpret theories, methods, disciplinary perspectives, and design perspectives through the lens of learning. In my view, this is ultimately what differentiates LXD from its sister disciplines (such as UCD, UXD, IxD, etc.). LXD is not about any user. It is about a specific class of user—the learner. LXD is not about performing any task. It is about performing a specific task—learning. LXD is not about using any technology too. It is about using a specific tool—a digital technology designed for learning.

    So how is LXD different from ID? At the core, it’s all about perspective, which fundamentally influences skills, methods, tools, etc.

    Great post. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Thanks for this insightful blog Niels. I could never really put my finger on the differences, so this is very helpful. Being an instructional designer myself, I see a lot of ways in which LXD and ID can complement each other and give new inspiration to us designers, so we can keep innovating.

  13. Author

    It’s always a good idea to learn from each other Isabelle. The question is whether or not integrating parts of another field will fundamentally change your approach. When I train teachers for example, I don’t expect them to become professional designers. I try to offer them valuable elements of LXD that they can incorporate in their teaching and that can have a really positive impact. I’ve experienced that ID and LXD simply work differently and sometimes even in opposite ways, which makes it hard to combine them. I value these different approaches and it really depends on who you are as a professional and what type of clients you serve what works best for your situation.

  14. Author

    That’s a great point Kiersten and I fully agree that it really depends on the context and client you’re designing for whether LXD or ID would be the best fit. I know that clients I work for are looking for a LXD approach. When I talk to potential clients who are looking for ID they often choose another company to work with.

  15. I see that ID and LXD have different roots. At the same time I pick up from many ID-people that they put the learning activities smack in the middle of their designs.

    Do you see possibilities for integrating the best of both worlds?

  16. I come from the ID side who has expanded into LXD over time. One thought that emerges upon reading your post:

    I agree with what you’re saying in terms of differences between ID and LXD and the common spaces for both approaches. What I think is missing here, and it’s a worthy expansion, is that one must always select the approach that will yield the right/best results for the system in which they work. For example: if I worked for a company that makes learning that is sold as a product I might have freedom and budget to do more LXD whereas if I work in an academic setting I might take a strong ID approach. In a corporate context I might use a hybrid of ID and LXD to as a more timely and cost-effective model.

  17. This is awesome, Niels. Thank you for opening me up to this. I appreciate creating learning experiences that make a great mark in the learner. I will love to read more of your articles on LXD.

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