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It’s time to focus on learning experience design

If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that understanding the whole student matters. Since March of 2020, billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of person hours have been spent enabling remote learning access, rolling out strategic student supports—particularly around mental health—and providing emergency aid for students struggling with basic needs.

All the while, the committed educators focused on meeting this moment embraced a clear truth: Maslow trumps Bloom on learning journeys. Whether its early learning, K-12, higher education, or job training, we have been forcefully reminded by COVID to focus on the whole student experience if we want our learners to begin, continue, and succeed on their pathways to and through education.

Even pre-pandemic, a holistic student supports approach was becoming an essential feature of student success initiatives, particularly as the focus on student completion took hold over the last decade. However, much of this work has been anchored in strategic outreach and advising reform. With what we’ve learned and lived through over the last two years in rethinking instruction and student support with learner experiences at the center, we are now challenged to embrace this perspective in a more fulsome and integrative way in the learning process itself. Put simply: now is the time for learning experience designers.

From Instructional Design to Learning Experience Design

“Great designers are great empathizers. It’s what separates a design that has soul from one that’s simply well-realized.”  – Paul Backet, Design Educator

Traditionally, learning designers placed instruction at the center of their work. Indeed, the dominant degree received in this discipline area over the last few decades has been a Masters in Instructional Design—including at WGU. However, advances in UX, gamification, and online learning have revealed the need to place learning experience at the center of this work, with a special admonition to better understand and empathize with the needs, wants, and lived experiences of our changing learners—e.g., first-generation, diverse, privilege, poverty, trauma, working, or parents—and what their experiences are with the full program, instruction and support. 

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