15 Elements of Next-Gen Learner Experiences

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With growing access to online learning and the adoption of school models that blend the best of online and face-to-face learning, there is growing attention to learner experience (LX)—how students interact with their learning environment.

5 LX design components

What are the qualities of LX design that make it a unique discipline? LX is rooted in, according to this article by Margaret Weigel at Six Red Marbles, “learning sciences, pedagogy theory and practice plus the neuroscience of cognition, can provide an engaging and relevant experience that helps facilitate many types of learning.” How do these different approaches help define learning experience design?

It’s learner-centered. LX designers talk to the learners about what they need and what their aspirations are. “Design gets better when we talk to the learners. The real corner stone of LX design,” said Jason Gorman, VP of Learning Experience Design Services, ”is that it’s a process that allows us to make sound design decisions that will get baked into an actual product.”

It’s prototyping. LX designers develop testable prototypes that are then shared with the learners to get better final products. This means constantly iterating, and asking the learners for feedback.

It’s best practices. LX designers don’t want to reinvent something if they don’t have to. In the education sector, looking to next-gen school designs, and sharing lessons and resources are two best practices that good LX may consider.

It’s design thinking. That is, LX designers gain empathy through listening, then use the information they have glean as evidence to making the learner experience optimal.

It’s evidence-based. Those in LX design know decisions about the learner experience need to be based upon research. Here’s a collection of some of the most recommended books on the subject:

10 LX characteristics

A quality learner experience includes at least these 10 characteristics:

1. Powerful learning: Experiences that encourage critical thinking and higher order questions; deeper learning; an emphasis on real-world problem solving; and next-gen advisories.

Tip: Regularly visit other classrooms and schools. Make observations and create systems for safe feedback (such as a critical friends group) among educators.

2. Culture, policy and tools that support quality work products: Examples of quality work, implementation guides, deeper learning leadership, and supporting student leadership (see feature on the Palo Alto journalism program).

Tip: Edleaders and teachers model the deeper learning they wish to create for and with students. Create a professional learning environment that mimics deeper learning experiences.

3. 24/7 access to an Internet connected device: Take home technology and access for all students (see feature on Santa Ana Schools).

Tip: Support policies that encourage device adoption and wifi access. Ensure there are ways to distribute technology to allow students to use devices at home and at school.

4. Modern user interface: Mobile friendly, customizable UI with seamless movement between applications (see feature on DreamDegree, GenEd optimized for mobile).

Tip: Focus on clarity, concision, consistency, aesthetics, efficiency, familiarity, and forgiveness.

5. Data visualization tools motivate progress: Achievement recognition systems including mastery tracking, badges and micro-credentials (see 10 tips on mastery tracking).

Tip: Make progress visible and intuitive.

6. Flexibility in learning path and pace: Support for competency-based learning, blended and online learning options.

Tip: Visit schools where innovative designs and approaches are working. Look for ways to connect with regional hubs of innovation that are creating high leverage partnerships beyond stand alone models to impact scale.

7. Effective academic support systems: Increased personalized through learner profile and dissemination of student data while safeguarding privacy; communication with community-based organizations, tutoring, therapists etc who are all part of a learning plan team and have access to information with parent permission.

Tip: Start or continue discussions at the local, regional and/or state level about access to student data. Read how one region is approaching data portability to increase personalization.

8. Sustained advisory relationship: Distributed guidance, counseling, and advisory services with links to youth/family services provides. (see Personalizing and Guiding College & Career Readiness).

Tip: Make the structure of the advisory experience meaningful. Maintain a consistent relationship throughout a school experiences.

9. Positive physical environment: Evidence of joy and the “buzz of learning” and may include stand up desks, station rotation models, evidence of 1:1 devices and access to learning opportunities based on choice and interest (see Blended Learning Demands Big Open Spaces).

Tip: There are a slew of resources on implementing blended learning well, including our newest Blended Learning Implementation Guide.

10. Meaningful and healthy extracurricular activities: Real world experiences such as internships, access to exercise and interest-based learning.

Tip: Encourage and create opportunities for students to learn outside of school.


For more on learner experiences, see:

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Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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