From PhD to Learning Experience Designer

Chela White-Ramsey works full-time for Stitch Fix as their Global Training and Communications Manager, where she heads up a global team of learning experience designers. Her PhD is in Human Resource Development, and she is passionate about organizational development, career development, and career training at work.

Careers in learning experience (LX) design – what is it?

Learning experience design is a combination of instructional design and user experience (UX) design. Instructional designers analyze learning needs and create content that addresses skills and performance gaps. UX designers anticipate what a user might need and provide experiences that are relevant, friction-less, and meaningful. Chela describes learning experience design as the center of a Venn diagram, where instructional design and UX overlap. “LX design focuses on the learner journey, and ensures that it is relevant, enjoyable, and informative,” she says.

From idea to prototype: A day in the life of an LX designer

No two days are the same for an LX designer. Broadly, a day in the life of a LX designer is composed of identifying performance issues and skills gaps that need to be solved with learning experiences. They set goals (or learning outcomes) based on the problems identified, and then use internal data and partner with stakeholders to determine gaps and identify metrics.

LX designers empathize and brainstorm. They ask, “Who are we designing for? What do they know? How do they like to consume information?” This is called designing a learner persona, a representation of the person you’re designing for. To build learner personas, the team also speaks with current employees about their goals, frustrations, and challenges.

Spending this time brainstorming is essential to building a prototype. LX designers build a “scrappy” version of what they’d like to have the final program to look like. Depending on how much time the team has, they will work together to implement feedback and build up the prototype until they have developed a minimal viable product.

After the minimal viable product has been produced, the team tests their product against the learning outcomes originally set. They invite testers to experience the prototype and get feedback on the learning design. They make changes to the prototype and measure the effectiveness of the overall training, before partnering with stakeholders to review metrics.

What will I need to learn to be an LX designer?

Many PhDs might need to build technical skills in eLearning authoring tools such as Storyline, Articulate, and Rise, as well as in screen recording and video editing. Depending on where you work, you might need to design for audiences that won’t be sitting right in front of you. Virtual instruction and remote delivery are essential skills in this field, and it is easy to learn how to use Adobe Connect, Zoom, or Camtasia.

Even though PhDs might be well-versed in teaching and pedagogy, they should hone their skills in design thinking (Chela recommends Sprint (https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Sprint/Jake-Knapp/9781501121746) by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky, and Braden Kawitz), and should practice with virtual sketching tools (https://www.sketchapp.com/get/).

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in LX design, consider building knowledge in experiential learning, Agile product design/Scrum, and adult learning. If you’re worried about your technical knowledge and skills, Chela reinforces the notion that it’s about knowing how to analyze and interpret data within the parameters of the project.

Common job titles

LX design is an emerging field and job titles vary. Chela says that positions that fall under LX could include:

* Instructional Designer
* eLearning Developer
* Learning Experience Designer
* Learning Technologist
* Design Technologist
* Experiential Education Facilitator
* Learning Experience Facilitator
* Curriculum Designer

Some other titles include: trainer, training specialist, facilitator, remote learning facilitator, or learning & development specialist. Rent her video to find out which companies are actually hiring learning experience designers right now!

LX Design: You might already be doing it!

PhDs are well-versed in identifying problems and brainstorming. LX designers are required to analyse data, write problem statements, collect data via surveys, focus groups, and interviews, make inferences based on data, and collaborate with partners. Regardless of their academic discipline, PhDs can do all of these things!

When considering a career in LX, try to identify situations during your graduate career in which you were able to empathise and brainstorm. Did you manage interviews or plan focus groups for your research? Did you conduct qualitative data analysis, or brainstorm problems to solutions? Don’t forget to think about the times in which you’ve hypothesised outcomes. All of these skills become essential in the prototype stage. You need to be able to problem solve, create a project outline, collaborate and receive feedback from your peers, and communicate your design to team members or stakeholders. Communication skills are key. You have to be able to summarize your results in layman’s terms, or make complex ideas easily understood.

Still in graduate school, but working toward this field? Try to build opportunities where you can lecture and facilitate, and develop learning outcomes. Highlight your skills in virtual and remote group instruction, learning management system administration, and times where you volunteered to design presentations, workbooks, and course instructional materials.

Beyond the Professoriate Community Members attend events like this for free each month and access replays free for two weeks. Ready to launch your next great career? Join the Online Career Hub for PhDs.

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