Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

8 December 2009

Creating meaningful experiences

Clark @ 7:03 am

What if the learner’s experience was ‘hard fun': challenging, but engaging, yielding a desirable experience, not just an event to be tolerated, OR what is learning experience design?

Can you imagine creating a ‘course’ that wins raving fans?  It’s about designing learning that is not only effective but seriously engaging.  I believe that this is not only doable, but doable under real world constraints.

Let me start with this bit of the wikipedia definition of experience design:

the practice of designing…with a focus placed on the quality of the user experience…, with less emphasis placed on increasing and improving functionality

That is, experience design is about creating a user experience, not just focusing on their goals, but thinking about the process as well.   And that’s, to me, what is largely ignored in creating elearning is thinking about process from the learner’s perspective. There are really two components: what we need to accomplish, and what we’d like the learner to experience.

Our first goal still has to look at the learning need, and identify an objective that we’d like learners to meet, but even that we need to rethink.  We may have constraints on delivery environment, resources, and more that we have to address as well, but that’s not the barrier.  The barrier is the mistake of focusing on knowledge-level objectives, not on meaningful skill change.  Let me be very clear: one of the real components of creating a learning experience is ensuring that we develop, and communicate, a learning objective that the learner will ‘get’ is important and meaningful to them.  And we have to take on the responsibility for making that happen.

Then, we need to design an experience that accomplishes that goal, but in a way that yields a worthwhile experience.  I’ve talked before about the emotional trajectory we might want the learner to go through.  It should start with a (potentially wry) recognition that this is needed, some initial anxiety but a cautious optimism, etc.  We want the learner to gradually develop confidence in their ability, and even some excitement about the experience and the outcome.  We’d like them to leave with no anxiety about the learning, and a sense of accomplishment.  There are a lot of components I’ve talked about along the way, but at core it’s about addressing motivation, expectations, and concerns.

Actually, we might even shoot for more: a transformative experience, where the learner leaves with an awareness of a fundamental shift in their understanding of the world, with new perspectives and attitudes to accompany their changed vocabulary and capabilities.  People look for those in many ways in their life; we should deliver.

This does not come from applying traditional instructional design to an interview with a SME (or even a Subject Matter Network, as I’m increasingly hearing and inclined to agree).  As I defined it before, learning design is the intersection of learning, information, and experience design.  It takes a broad awareness of how we learn, incorporating viewpoints behavior, cognitive, constructive, connective, and more.  It takes an awareness of how we experience: media effects on cognition and emotion, and of the dramatic arts.  And most of all, it takes creativity and vision.

However, that does not mean it can’t be developed reliably and repeatably, on a pragmatic basis.   It just means you have to approach it anew.  It take expertise, and a team with the requisite complementary skill sets, and organizational support. And commitment.  What will work will depend on the context and goals (best principles, not best practices), but I will suggest that with good content development processes, a sound design approach, and a will to achieve more than the ordinary.  This is doable on a scalable basis, but we have to be willing to take the necessary steps.  Are you ready to take your learning to the next level, and create experiences?


  1. I think your definition of experience design is a great way to think about learning events and processes. First, identify what the learner needs to learn and then design an experience that will develop that learning. This might involve online tools, games and simulations, instructor-led, coaching, internships, etc., or a mix of these in which the development of the learner is guided. But I also think “experience design” should extend to the organization as a whole and how a workplace learning culture is created to support employees. I use the 5As Framework when thinking about this kind of culture: Alignment of experiences with goals; Anticipation of learning and success; Alliance of learner with boss/supervisor for the purpose of learning; Application of learning in workplace with support from organization; and Accountability for achieving business results from learning.

    Comment by Stephen J. Gill — 9 December 2009 @ 7:44 am

  2. Clark,

    How will the introduction of new learning technologies (i.e. mobile learning) change the learner’s experience especially since the context for learning could be anywhere?


    Comment by marian casey — 9 December 2009 @ 8:20 am

  3. Stephen, I agree that it does need to extend beyond just the learning interaction. Overall, it has to be the ‘total customer experience’, regardless of whether it’s education, organizational learning, or customer support.

    Marian, I think we want to include in our learner experience perspective the role mobile will have, whether delivery or augment. We may consider how the delivery might change through a mobile device in any context, and we might also consider what specific role we might include specifically for mobile delivery. What sort of reactivation, coincidental contextualization, and more, can we create?

    Thanks for the comments!

    Comment by Clark — 9 December 2009 @ 10:15 am

  4. […] Creating Meaningful Experiences by Clark Quinn […]

    Pingback by ID Webcomic #3 – Just Like Riding a Bike « The Usable Learning Blog — 4 February 2010 @ 5:15 am

  5. Clark, I’m following a link from Harold Jarche’s blog and I just have to say a big AMEN to this post. I won’t say I have given up on the old models, but something has shifted in me over the last three years of intense immersion in Web 2.0 and the real-time aspects of learning community… At this point, the underlying assumptions of my current learning design process are well-described by what you’ve articulated here. I’m running a small “coaching group” right now that is such a learn-by-doing experience that sometimes my head spins, but it seems to be delivering exactly what you’ve described here as “hard fun: challenging, but engaging, yielding a desirable experience, not just an event to be tolerated.” For all of us! I’m running it as a “fishbowl” experience where the small group of learners who have stepped up to increase their competence at using real-time virtual meeting tools for real-time engagement will be “surrounded” by a group who are learning with and from them in a weekly fishbowl – where both content and process will be examined.

    The experience is intense for me and the other “Madhatters” but they’re telling me they’re having “hard fun.” And I can see for myself that each of them, at different stages of mastery, is constructing what they need from the process. I would personally love it if any instructional designers who are interested in experience design decided to join our caravan: http://virtualmeetingstartup.com/enroll_6teaparty.html.

    And thanks for sharing this clear articulation!!

    Comment by Meri Walker — 16 April 2010 @ 8:04 am

  6. […] From Clark Quinn’s blog, Learnlets, December 8, 2009: What if the learner’s experience was ‘hard fun’: challenging, but engaging, yielding a desirable experience, not just an event to be tolerated, OR what is learning experience design? Can you imagine creating a ‘course’ that wins raving fans?  It’s about designing learning that is not only effective but seriously engaging.  I believe that this is not only doable, but doable under real world constraints. […]

    Pingback by The Virtual Meeting Coach » Blog Archive » Creating Meaningful Experiences – Using Real-Time Virtual Meetings — 16 April 2010 @ 2:59 pm

  7. […] talks about learning experience design. He provides good explanations of his thoughts and approachhere and here. I find both Clark’s learning experience designer and also the term interactivity […]

    Pingback by Internet Time Alliance | ID – Instructional Design or Interactivity Design in an interconnected world? — 4 September 2012 @ 7:00 am

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