ID Delight

Educational design is shifting from Instructional Design, or ID, to Learning Experience Design, or LXD. That might seem subtle, but it makes a world of difference. It’s still designing toward learning outcomes (LO’s) but paying more attention to the learner’s experience. Far too many traditional courses are top-down, sage on the stage, presentation-style, and you either get it or your don’t. Think of how our shopping experiences have been transformed by’s “You might be interested in…” or “others also viewed…” and instant access to customer reviews and alternatives.

Image Credit: Rawia Inaim. Adapted from:

This shift also represents a more fundamental influence of video gaming, where user experience is everything, on education. One of the presenters in a recent webinar mentioned what he referred to as The Holy Grail of game design: cognitive flow. This is when the difficulty of a task meshes with your own skill level to reduce both anxiety and boredom. Such a state increases focus, enhances our sense of control, inhibits our self-awareness, distorts the experience of time, and imparts the experience of the task being the only necessary justification for continuing it. I’ve experienced this many times while enjoying a good game, and also in school while pursuing a fascinating topic I had just discovered. It’s lengthening the “Aha!” moment into minutes or hours, and, in college education, has the propensity to profoundly change a person’s life trajectory. I found a nice explanation of this at Gamasutra, and wanted to translate it into good learning experience design.

To drive an equilibrium between skill and difficulty, four things must happen in the course.

  1. There must be concrete goals with manageable rules.
  2. Instructors must demand actions to achieve those goals that fit within the students’ capabilities.
  3. Students must have clear and timely feedback on performance and goal accomplishment.
  4. And extraneous distractions must be diminished to facilitate concentration.

Students must have concrete learning objectives and must understand how they are to achieve them. While we all have limits on our information processing and attentional capabilities, students these days are juggling three to five classes, many are working on the side, and striving to build new and/or maintain strong social connections. They’re expected to integrate all of this into some cohesive college career with knowledge transfer between classes and disciplines. Their ability to problem solve and make informed decisions is directly affected by information processing and attentional issues. Clearly defined LO’s with manageable course expectations are achievable, rewarding, and reinforcing to accomplish further LO’s.

Instructors and LXD’s can fix problems with LO’s and rules by thinking carefully about every aspect of the learning experience, from classroom wall decor to mobile LMS app notifications. While students are in a face-to-face class or logged into an online course shell, every element of the environment and/or interface should be geared toward the LO they’re currently working on. Blackboard has a feature, called Adaptive Release, that will hide content until certain criteria that you as the instructor specify are met. Such features or tools can be used to minimize visual stimuli. And the completion of smaller assignments leading up to larger objectives is helpful.

Courses should only demand actions that fit within a student’s capabilities. Stress and performance affect cognitive flow. IF a student is incapable of performing what you consider are basic college-level tasks, get them help ASAP!

(This was composed some time back, probably years ago, and languished as a draft on the EdTech @ OWU blog since then, without being published, until now.)

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