The Future of Learner Experience (LX)

Last week, thanks to the support of the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation, we had the opportunity to gather a group of innovative educators and an absolutely brilliant crew of learners that were eager to discuss the future of learner experiences. With a backdrop of the Point Defiance Zoo, we were hosted by SAMi (Tacoma Public Schools) in their new Environmental Learning Center located in the heart of the zoo. Greeted by Jon Ketler, Director and Founding Designer of a suite of innovative Tacoma public high school models, he shared a historical overview that spanned over the course of the last decade. A sustainable model of designed LX, it provides an opportunity for equity of access to learning that is anything but traditional. Armed with basic background on the models within Tacoma (SOTA and iDEA), a beautiful setting, and a set of prompts, we were on our way.

Walk & Talk Prompts

  • What is the most powerful experience you had as a learner?
  • Spot an “aha,” or something you notice, connect it to LX?
  • How could space provoke deeper student learning?

We set out on a “walk and talk” with students navigating the paths.

In designing these gatherings, there are a handful of non-negotiables that were presented to adults and students. The following non-negotiables were key to making the gathering truly student-centered.

  • Student voice matters.

When discussing learner experience, or generally any aspect of design education, student voice must be present and celebrated. It is not enough to simply solicit voice, it must be empowered and diverse in selection from all aspects of the community. Example: solicit the voice of the student leader while creating positive tension of perspective by securing voice from students that may not currently have a voice within certain conversations.

  •  The knowledge is in the room.

The greatest mistake that can be made when facilitating, or better described as “guiding” conversations about learning is to not recognize the knowledge in the room. Seamlessly connected to number one, all voices combine, when inspired with confidence, to illustrate experiences that go beyond the traditional conversations and truly move into learning as a lifelong pursuit.

  • Our past and present have great relevance in designing our future.

Recently, whenever presented with an opportunity to bring people together on any given topic, we tend to kick things off with a question and for this gathering, we asked each participant to identify an interesting fact that no one in the room would know. As we began to share out, there was not a single response that was not connected to some aspect of a learning experience. After further reflection, there was also not a single fact connected to formalized learning. These rich examples that ranged from experiencing hurricane Katrina to “designing the minivan in 5th grade” were incredible and as presented to the group could launch of half day of “unpacking learner experience without walls.”

  • Student voice matters.

As often the case, this repeat of “student voice matters”  is intentional to deliver a point. Last Spring, we were fortunate to participate in an LX Summit at One Stone in Boise, ID. With similarities and differences, the common ground and most exciting overlap in the two separate events was firmly delivered through student voice. As we are pretty consistent in our celebration of One Stone, the tried component of their success is found in their creation and continued promotion of student-driven learning. This above all else will demand momentum in creating the future of learner experience.

Learning surrounds us. From the embrace of experiences beyond the walls of a school or classroom to advancements in technology that allow us to acquire knowledge at unprecedented speeds, our reality continues to change and evolve. Over the course of the day, we were able to uncover what we know about the Future of LX, it is now.


They returned from their walk and talk, and with a subtle request for creativity, noticed they were still heavily engaged in conversation. Provided with butcher paper, a collection of markers, and the reflective task of capturing the experience – the teams went to work. As illustrated below, each group took a different approach, which ultimately aligns with the first celebration of powerful LX.

LX is personalized and translated through the experience lenses of the learners involved.


Each time we gather a group, one identified consistency (originally viewed as a facilitation flaw) is that it is difficult to bring the whole group back together. By continuously mixing the groupings to promote expanded networks, participants gallery walked the collection and engaged in the task of identifying light bulb moments in the form of celebration or clarifying questions. As we facilitated the activity, the depth of conversation was extremely personalized and sparked additional commentary based on participants epiphanies.

LX is limitless and not bound by time. It transcends a class period or even a school year to evolve into a continuum of reflections on each experience.


Over the course of the next couple of hours, we explored models throughout the US to include a mix of private, charter and public options, highlighting LX through multiple lenses. Each model provides whole group dialogue, processing various aspects of each model and generating questions that provide a platform for deeper learning.

LX is owned by the learner and the community where they reside. It is not one sizes fits all – it is nimble and pivots to meet the needs of the learner.


We explored a presentation by Christy Brandt and Ryan Prosser of Jason Lee Middle School around creating LX for the whole learner. Well known for their emphasis on developing partnerships to increase learner experience, they provided insights into their relentless approach to bridge building within the community to provide outlets for all students throughout their school. They also shared system elements of their shared philosophy of the nationally recognized Tacoma Whole Child Initiative (TWCI) and transformation being delivered on a larger scale for the approximately 30,000 students Tacoma serves.

LX is each and every whole child. It is not designing to the middle, top, nor bottom – it is providing experiences that spark opportunities for each student to progress on the journey of learning for life.


The group was also fortunate to hear from Juliana Finegan from The Learning Accelerator as she shared a variety of resources (free) housed within their Learning Commons app. This resource, in addition to tons of information on blended and personalized learning, provides an opportunity for learners in a variety of roles to access everything from personalization tools to playlists for professional learning.

LX is sharing new learning and celebrating as a larger learning community when learners, of all ages, find those light bulb moments.

The future.

As we concluded our time, we provided a blank “canvas” for design. It did not look like students working with educators nor educators teaching students. It was self-designated groups of learners, rolling up their sleeves, asking tough questions and designing the future LX. As learners with varying skill sets and capacities within the systems where they reside, we must continue to reflect on the experiences that support students in dreaming and designing learning experiences. LX is now.

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Adam Kulaas

Adam is a learning design consultant. He focuses on capacity building and is known for his work in coaching, learning design and leadership development.

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