May 12, 2021 by Niels Floor
User experience design (UXD) is an essential part of the origin and development of Learning experience design (LXD). This raises the question: what are the differences and similarities between UXD and LXD? Or, what happens when a user becomes a learner?
LXD and UXD are creative design disciplines. In fact, LXD uses many of the core design principles that can be found in UXD. For example, human-centered design and goal-oriented design are common practice in UXD. Together with other creative design disciplines like interaction design, game design and graphic design, UXD forms the roots of LXD.
When you look at the general design process of creating a user experience, it is like designing a learning experience in many regards. For example, both disciplines use design research, prototyping and user testing. In essence, any creative process goes through the same fundamental steps from a first idea to a final design. Like LXD, each design discipline uses alterations of the same process to support the type of design you are creating. For example, graphic design doesn’t require user testing while LXD, UXD and game design do.
So far, it might sound like UXD and LXD are almost identical. That’s not the case. Let’s look at some of the fundamental differences between UXD and LXD.
User vs learner
A vital lesson I learned when I studied interaction design is that a designer is not a typical user. In other words, you are not the person you design for so don’t assume you know what the user wants or needs. This is a reminder to take design research seriously and to get to know the user before you design for them.
A user wants to watch a movie, a learner wants to speak a foreign language.
The same applies to UXD and LXD. A LX designer is not a typical learner. And a learner is not a user. The needs and goals of a user and a learner are fundamentally different. A user wants to watch a movie on Netflix or to use a planning app and not forget birthdays. A learner wants to be able to speak a foreign language or wants to become a more successful entrepreneur.
UXD is about shaping the experience of using a product. LXD is about creating an experience that enables a learner to achieve a desired learning outcome. Both experiences can enrich your life. Having a phone with a great user experience can benefit you greatly. It’s not just ease of use. It’s about having access to the people and things you love and enjoy. Having a great learning experience can bring about significant changes in your perspective, knowledge, skills, and behaviour. It can benefit you personally, professionally, and academically. They are clearly different outcomes based on different needs and goals.
Researching and mapping out these needs and goals is done in a similar way. For example, creating personas based on design research works well for both UXD and LXD. When you compare user personas and learner personas, you will see that they have a similar structure but different content. For a learner, I would include levels of cognitive, social, physical, and emotional development. That wouldn’t be always be necessary for a user. At least not in such detail and only when it relates to using a specific product or service.
Users are faced with different choices than learners.
Both fields use cognitive psychology to understand what motivates people and to explain the choices they make. Obviously, users are faced with different choices than learners. Also, the rationale behind their choices is hard to compare. For example, during a one-year training program, a learner goes through a complex psychological process where the level of motivation can vary greatly. Understanding what the learner goes through and offering a learning experience that motivates, engages, and empowers them is a key aspect of successful LXD.
Experience vs experience
A user experience focuses on the interaction a user has with a product or service. For example, think about all the steps you take when you book a flight. A large part of that process goes through apps and websites from searching for plane tickets to payment and finally checking in at the airport. In general, UXD is great for digital (online) experiences.
LXD has a very broad scope because of the many ways people learn. A learning experience can be a high-tech interactive digital experience but also one that uses ancient or very little technology. I’ve worked on a wide variety of designs ranging using elements like (board) games, music, apps, e-learning, physical exercise, theater, virtual- and public spaces. The possibilities are endless.
Learning experiences and user experiences can be very different in terms of scale and scope. In general, learning experiences can have a higher level of complexity and more variety when it comes to the design choices you make. That doesn’t mean UXD is easy. Both UXD and LXD require talented designers to deliver a high-quality experience.
Easy vs challenging
The main goal of a UX designer is to create an experience that is as simple and easy as possible. You try to take away any friction or confusion for a smooth and elegant user experience. A great user experience is effortless.
A great user experience is effortless, a great learning experience is challenging.
The essence of learning is to challenge yourself and exceed your previous abilities and grow. These challenges are hard by default. If it’s just easy, you’re not really learning. Personal growth is a continuous and challenging process and as a LX designer you try to provide the right level of challenge. Too much challenge and the learner will feel frustrated. Not enough challenge and the learner gets bored. In this regard game design is a great source of inspiration for LXD. Good games are great at providing just the right level of challenge.
LXD, UXD and ID
LXD is often compared to or confused with instructional design (ID). When you look at the differences and similarities between LXD and ID you will see that LXD is fundamentally different from ID in its perspective, methods, skills and tools. In my article learning experience design vs instructional design you can explore these differences in more detail.
LXD has more in common with UXD than with ID
When you compare LXD to UXD the similarities are obvious and numerous. That’s understandable since LXD is a creative design discipline in the tradition of applied arts like graphic design, interaction design and user experience design. To better understand the interdisciplinary field of LXD it might be worth looking at the origins of learning experience design.
Learning vs learner
If learning experience design is strongly related to user experience design, why not call it learner experience design? That’s a good question. I know there are learner experience designers out there so, let me explain why I prefer and use learning instead of learner.
A learning experience is designed for all who participate in the experience, not just the learner.
LXD is about the experience you learn from: the learning experience. It is designed for all who participate in the experience, not just the learner. The primary focus is the learner, but you don’t want to forget a teacher, trainer, expert, colleague, client, friend, parent, or anyone else who contributes to the experience. Including and aligning the perspectives of these different groups of people is an important part of creating a learning experience.
Also, the term learning experience is well known and easy to understand. A learner experience would probably require some explanation if you’re not familiar with user experience design.
What do you think?
What are your thoughts on LXD vs UXD? Are you a UX designer turned LX designer? Or a teacher who uses elements of UXD? Put it in the comments below. Thanks!