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

25 September 2012

Transcending Experience Design

Clark @ 6:46 AM

Last week’s #lrnchat touched on an important topic, experience design. I’ve talked about this before, but it’s worth taking several different cuts through it.  The one I want to pursue here is the notion of transformative experience design.

A number of years ago, now, Pine & Gilmore released a book talking about an Experience Economy.  In it, they posited that we’d gone from the agricultural economy, through a product and service economy, to what they termed an ‘experience economy’: where people paid for quality experiences. You can see this in themed cruises & restaurants, Apple’s product strategy, Disney, etc.  I think it’s a compelling argument, but what really struck me was their next step. They argued that what was due next was a ‘transformation economy’, where people paid for experiences that change them (in ways that they desire or value).

And I argue that that’s what my book Engaging Learning was all about, how to create serious games, which really are experiences with an end in sight. The point here is not to tout the book, but instead to tout that a meld of experience design and learning design, learning experience design, is the path to this end.

There are things about experience design that instructional design largely ignores: emotion, multiple senses, extended engagement.  While I feel that not enough has been written systematically about experience design (interface design yes, but not the total cross-media picture, e.g. Disney’s Imagineering), their intuitive approaches acknowledge recognizing the ebb and flow of emotions – motivation, anxiety – and beliefs about one’s role (epistemology, there I said it).

On the other hand, learning design is (properly done) grounded in cognitive science, with empirical results, but is incomplete in breadth.  We know what we do, but our view is so limited!

Together, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  It’s about thinking beyond content, it’s about contextualizing, designing to “bewitch the mind and ensnare the senses”.  Really, it’s about creating a magic experience that transcends content and truly is transformative.  Are you ready to take that next step?


  1. Completely agree on “transformative experience design”, which means designing not just for the experience (LX) itself, but rather the post-experience experience. Whether UX or LX, all that REALLY matters is what happens AFTER the “experience”. If the participants are to be transformed, it is about what they do when the LX is over. When the clicking/swiping/interacting is finished for the session, the day, the week, the month, the course, etc. What can they now do? More importantly, what DO they now do? How have they been changed?

    When I taught interaction design at UCLA, one of the main exercises for my students was to answer this question: imagine you put a tracking and recording surveillance device on your learners/users (creepy idea, but useful thought experiment). What do you see them do? What do they say to other people? What is the real result? How do people LOOK at them differently as a result? Given that this was pre-Twitter/Facebook/blogs, I might now ask, “in what way would the comments they get in social media *change*?

    I had a tough time (ultimately failing) convincing Sun (RIP) that their course objectives were useless. That nobody cared what they learner WOULD be able to now do. All that mattered is what they ACTUALLY now did. Not could do, but actually do. And that suddenly requires that all those things we’ll like to keep out of our courses — like emotions, inspiration, motivation, and follow-up coaching — MUST be a core part of the experience.

    If everything about the person essentially stays the same, then why are we even wasting their time? :)

    Comment by Kathy Sierra — 25 September 2012 @ 8:23 AM

  2. I love the way you put that, Kathy. You’ve eloquently expressed something that I’ve been trying to chisel within my organization. We have this short-game view of the learning experience that manifests in isolated interventions. A series of services that create bureaucracy wickets, measured like radiation — in exposure.

    Coming to terms with what folks ACTUALLY do, not the lab perfect projection of our objectives is the crux of what L&D should be about. I’m lucky to work in a place that values all of the pieces of the performance pie — even if that place is buried within our training organization.

    Behavior is about more than individuals. The stuff that leads to consistently positive outcomes is almost exclusively a complex set of inputs, paths, decisions, supports, and resources. These outcomes deserve and demand more than a simple one-off event. The long-game matters. Culture matters. Networks matter. The overarching experience in a broad sense… it matters.


    Comment by Steve — 26 September 2012 @ 6:33 AM

  3. Kathy, yes, it’s absolutely about the changes needed to be seen, and also about recognizing that change takes time. The ‘event’ model is fundamentally broken.

    Steve, yep, the long game. Slow learning, drip irrigation model of development, not flood. More closely aligns to how our brains actually work!

    Comment by Clark — 26 September 2012 @ 8:03 AM

  4. Greetings All – I just stumbled across this site and conversation by accident while doing a bit of research and thought I would offer you a couple of things to chew on. Quick history – we have been designing and delivering Transformative learning experiences to corporations for 25 years and in the process have learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. The general themes you have all expressed here have been born out in our experience – i.e.: Event learning doesn’t work and if you want to be successful you must engage the emotions as well as the mind, what matters is not the nice learning theories but what the learners can do differently.

    Here is a bit more to consider. Part of what we are fighting against is a deeply ingrained but incorrect view about learning. Typically we think of learning as the process of acquiring new information, models, beliefs, ideas etc., all for the sake of gaining understanding as understanding is seen as the end state of learning. The false assumption being that if one understands the necessity to take a new action that they will naturally do so. This is the foundation on which the event model of learning is built.

    We started years ago working with athletes and soldiers and quickly found that while we could easily generate understanding, new behaviors were an entirely different matter. The best way to summarize what we found was that while the mind understands and understanding can indeed occur in an instant, in the end it is the body that learns and the body only learns through practice and practice takes time. If you think about anything that you are really good at you didn’t get good by reading a book, sitting in a seminar, or going through an e-learning course. All of those are great for introducing you to a new domain that you may want to learn but you got good via practice. The easy arena in which to see this is sports. We can draw plays up on the board and the players will understand them but that has only a minimal impact on their capacity to run them. They get good at running the plays via lots of practice.

    The same things is true of managers and leaders in business. To say that we want to develop new competence means that the participant will have a new capacity for action – action that was unavailable to them prior to the learning experience. Thus the ‘formula’ that we have developed and used successfully looks like this.

    We start with an off-site session that is largely experiential. The purpose is to shift their historical mood (which in most organizations is some combination of cynicism, resignation, arrogance, distrust, and complacency) and get them hooked into a new view of what is possible and how an authentic learning process unfolds. We then deploy a series of short conferences with coaching interactions at regular intervals between the conferences. In this way we have hooked the emotions, provided them with new distinctions and practices, and then ensured the utilization of the new practices with the ongoing coaching.

    The end result is what we refer to as embodied competence. Embodied means you can take the new action without having to stop, think about it, or look it up in a manual. It is now part of your ‘ready at hand’ responses to the world. Competence is simply the capacity to consistently produce the desired result.

    The challenge we all face is that everyone is looking for a short cut to this process and there simply isn’t one as you are contending with biology – what it means to learn and how it actually happens. In its infancy e-learning was next to useless as all it did was take text from paper and put it on line. Now that the technology has advanced the challenge is not so much how to create transformative events but how to build systems and structures that drive the utilization of new practices.

    Food for thought – thanks for listening.

    Chris Majer
    The Human Potential Project

    Comment by chris majer — 1 October 2012 @ 2:45 PM

  5. […] @Quinnovator, “Transcending Experience Design.” […]

    Pingback by Learned Last Week (39 of 2012) | All Across Learning — 2 October 2012 @ 7:12 AM

  6. Wonderful conversation. I call what I do: designing for learning and try to bring this orientation to faculty I work with. It shifts their focus away from teaching and towards designing experiences. For them, that translates into designing activities and projects–things students do that lead to changes out there, after the class.

    I also noticed when studying everyday folks world-building in Second Life, that their learning experiences were part and parcel of their own desires to create, express, belong, share. They might spend 5 hours learning a new set of building skills while creating a greeting card to give to a friend. This wasn’t time spent “learning,” but time spent making the greeting card. One result was that “making greeting cards” became easier.

    Taking an experiential approach to learning design makes a lot of sense to me. :)

    Comment by Suzanne Aurilio — 2 October 2012 @ 12:53 PM

  7. Love to see the interest!

    Chris, thanks for the thoughtful response. Sharing pretty much the same approach, though I tend to do tech-mediated, and yours seem more F2F, and both can and should be blended.

    Suzanne, exactly the way; get them focused on what learners need to be able to *do*, and the experience that will get them there.

    Comment by Clark — 2 October 2012 @ 1:31 PM

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