By Les Howles
In a previous podcast, I described learning experience design (LXD) as the next generation of instructional design (ID) better adapted for today’s digital learning environments. That’s one way to look at it. I now offer an alternative view of LXD based on an ecological and systems thinking paradigm. The underlying premise is that the rise of LXD can be approached not so much as an outgrowth of ID, but rather as a new form of design emerging from the broader domain of learning design. Reframing or re-grounding LXD ecologically as a distinct form of learning design, analogous to a hybrid species, accentuates its unique transdisciplinary intermixing of attributes from ID as well as a host of other empirically-based design disciplines (explained in podcast).
Emergence in Learning Ecosystems
The concept of emergence is fundamental to this ecological way of thinking. When studying complex dynamic systems and environments, the interplay, and synergies between system components (human and technology) give rise to new and often unexpected phenomena such as changes in organizational structures, product-service design, and behavioral patterns. The metaphor of a learning ecosystem interpenetrated by continuously evolving technologies, generating new hybrid forms of hardware and software is in accord with this organismic systems view. A natural adjunct of emergence within human systems is the need for new descriptive labels and categories. In the learning design field, examples are abundant and include terms like hybrid learning, microlearning, immersive learning, workflow learning, virtual learning, and learning engineering to name a few. We can also add LXD to the list.
Learning Design Grounded in a Paradigm
A human tendency during periods of transformational change is to approach emergent phenomena through the lens of established conceptual models and classifications. This type of paradigm paralysis occurs when people are unable or unwilling to let go of familiar frameworks and perspectives. They interpret or explain new phenomena in ways that align with their preconceived notions. This is especially common when a new pattern or approach is beginning to evolve, as is the case with LXD. Consequently, when approaching LXD through a traditional ID lens many people today dismiss it as an unnecessary and fancy label for what instructional designers have always been doing. However, such a stance ignores some foundational differences between ID and LXD related to how each of them came to be. The ID conceptual model emerged during the 1940s and 1950s, gradually taking shape over several decades. This early formative period for ID grew out of a highly industrialized environment, characterized by mass production, efficiency, linear processes, and a scientific paradigm still largely anchored in mechanistic thinking. Such was the ground out of which ID took form. Over several decades, even after incorporating elements from general systems theory, an emphasis on learner-centered design, affective states (motivation), and engagement strategies were not central to mainstream ID practice. ID has always tended to emphasize a systematic design process, commonly known by the acronym ADDIE (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation) that focuses heavily on content development, organization, and delivery.
Learning Design Beyond Instruction
As we fast forward into the present age of digital transformation, a more holistic and learner-centered approach to learning design has emerged of which LXD is an integral part. Although usage of the LXD term gradually surfaced during the first decade of this century, it wasn’t until around 2015 that we’ve seen an exponential rise in publications and professional presentations focusing on the LXD concept (Schmidt & Huang, 2022). This emergence has coincided with the universal phenomena of digital transformation, a profoundly different environmental ground from ID. This digital renaissance is driving perhaps the most sweeping and rapid changes ever experienced by humans. The ground has not just shifted, it is being totally reconfigured causing many learning professionals to rethink their roles, functions, and job titles. For example, a growing number of learning professionals no longer see their primary role as designing instruction. Instead, they see their roles more holistically, not as instructional specialists, but as facilitators and designers of learning, leveraging new technology-based approaches to create diverse kinds of learning experiences. For many learning professionals, the ID concept is becoming outdated no longer reflecting what they do. No surprise then that we increasingly see the much more inclusive label of learning design now being incorporated into job titles as well as professional development programs. Along with this comes a greater emphasis on creating learning experiences based on learner-centered design and learner engagement principles. An example of this shift is Michael Allen, author of Leaving ADDIE for SAM, who changed the job titles of his company’s instructional design staff to learning experience designers. He argues that the job title of instructional designer, “is no longer definitive” and that the core mission of his internationally successful company centers around designing learning experiences.
Seeing LXD Off the ID Premises
The emergence of LXD represents a kind of recalibration and refocusing on how we think about and do learning design in 21st-century learning environments. Seeing LXD off the ID premises by transplanting it into the more inclusive domain of learning design may be the key to what is most imperative right now – to better define and operationalize LXD as a unique skill set. This does not imply we discard the practice of ID. ID will likely remain a preferred approach for systematically guiding the design process in traditional course development contexts where an instructional mindset dominates. Within an all-encompassing learning design ecosystem, ID, LXD, and other emergent forms such as learning engineering can co-exist and complement one another. Given the uncertainties inherent in complex evolving systems, no one can predict the future of LXD at this early stage. For now, let’s give LXD its own developmental space within an evolving learning design ecosystem. In the spirit of digital transformation and unhindered by paradigm paralysis, we can let it emerge.
Allen, M. W., & Sites, R. (2012). Leaving ADDIE for SAM: An agile model for developing the best learning experiences. American Society for Training and Development.
Schmidt, M., & Huang, R. (2022). Defining learning experience design: Voices from the field of learning design & technology. TechTrends, 66(2), 141-158.