How to Design User-Centric Learning Experiences (free template)

Why do we need user-centric learning?

The learning system we have in place is a mirror image of the working environment and the structures we have in organisations.

In the industrial age of top-down management, the boss had the right answers. Now, companies are moving towards self-organisation, agile approaches and lean(er) organisational structures.

The design of learning has to reflect this change – and in many places it already has. The old model of the “sage on the stage” is a remnant from the past, in which one person had the answers, and everyone just had to listen.

We know that this model is not the answer to most learning and development scenarios, but it also doesn’t give the right message across an organization if you want to create a human-centered learning culture.

To support engagement, the trainer has to become the “guide on the side”. Better yet, we can even create learning where there is no separation between the trainers and the learners!

You can teach someone, but you can’t learn on behalf of someone else. Learning is a process that always requires the active participation of learners themselves.

How do you do it in practice?

To get started, choose a new or existing project – a training, a program, a learning tool, game or some other learning solution.

Who to involve?

We have created a User-Centric Learning Design Canvas to help you design a learning experience – a single workshop or a more complex learning program. You can do it on your own or get a planning group together and reserve 60-90min to work through the stages.

To get a good understanding of the learning needs on the ground, it’s good to get people involved who are representatives of the target group for the training.

Desired Learning Impact

In school exams, it may be enough to “know” something, but in order to create impactful corporate learning experiences, we need to change the starting point of learning design from “what do people need to know?” to “what the learner needs to be able to do”.

This small change has a huge impact on the entire design of the learning experience. It makes sure that the goal of the learning experience is more than knowing, it is about doing and developing the capacity to perform. We all know the difficulty to bridge the learning-doing gap, and how difficult it is for people to transfer their learning back at work.

On the Learning Design Canvas, start with Impact at the centre of the canvas to define what the learning experience will enable the participants to do differently or better.

To define the learning impact, we usually state it like this: “After this experience, the participants will be able to… (enter an active verb here, like recognise, select, visualise, discuss, explain, teach, contrast, optimise, assess, collaborate, imagine etc, following a description of what they need to do).”

Example: “After this experience, the participants will be able to explain what design thinking means and apply it in their own work in a project.”

For a deeper understanding of different types of learning objectives, you can use a framework such as the Bloom Taxonomy. We have made a six part hands-on guide on the different levels of learning objectives with examples on how to design learning, when you want the participants to Remember, Understand, Apply, Analyze, Evaluate or Create.

Tap into Existing Knowledge

In order to design a user-centric learning experience, we need to dive deeper into the profile of the learners. As a start, we ask:“What do the participants do well at the moment in relation to the subject of this learning experience? What knowledge can they build on?”

On the Learning Design Canvas, The Strengths in Context enables you to build on the current state of the participants’ knowledge.

Knowing what the participants already know does not necessarily mean that you should not include these topics into your learning plan, but it helps to think about activities that may enable activating and sharing existing knowledge.

The Learning Opportunity

The second element is possibly the most important part of the learner needs assessment. Here we need to define, “What challenges do the participants have in relation to the subject?” The main idea here is to identify what comes in the way of the learners’ performance in relation to the subject of your training.

Some companies use complex learning needs analysis frameworks and while these may be helpful, sometimes it is as good to ask the learners themselves.

Empathise with the Learners

After analysing the participants’ learning needs and existing knowledge, step deeper into the shoes of the learners. We use Fast Forward Testimonials to give an idea of what you would like the participants to feel and say after the experience as if they were talking to colleagues back at work.

You can use “I statements”, such as “I especially enjoyed the hands-on activities!”. These expressions can relate to feelings and statements on the style of the learning experience, or to an application of the knowledge they have acquired, eg. “I tried the new method with my colleagues and it worked.”

What Next – Designing the Learning Journey

Here are a couple of ideas on how to do this exercise. After downloading the User-Centric Learning Design Canvas, share it with anyone participating in the learning design process (or upload on Miro or some other online collaboration software) and…

  1. Ideate freely. Don’t restrict ideas, just write down everything that comes to mind.
  2. Prioritise. Choose for each area, what are the most important points (3-4 max).
  3. Review. Look at the participant persona you created and start sharing ideas on the activities and content which are needed in order to reach the desired impact.

After you have a good understanding of the learning needs and the desired impact, you can move on to designing the learning journey, the contents and the activities. (More about this part of the learning journey design in a different article soon!)

Our expert facilitators regularly facilitate learning design workshops for companies, to enable them to create engaging learning experiences. If you would like to explore how we create impactful learning experiences, tools and games, please get in touch.

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