Although "learning architecture" and "learning experience design" are ideas that have been growing over the past several years, events in 2020 are driving them forward at an accelerated pace. It is important not to think of "returning to normal" as meaning "returning to 2019". At the risk of reciting the obvious, this article looks at how things have changed, and what we in L&D organizations need to do to adapt and adjust.

As the pandemic and economic conditions continue to drive organizational practices, we have discovered that:

  • Classroom-based, instructor-led training is no longer the default option for learning and development
  • Virtual classroom delivery practiced as a simple transition from delivery in a traditional physical classroom does not work well
  • Long hours of instruction delivered through conferencing software is exhausting
  • Working from home involves dealing with many distractions and work/life imbalance

At the same time, we are realizing that learning must be less about driving completions than about developing competence. Employees have their own set of criteria for satisfactory, acceptable learning experiences in this current environment of change and uncertainty. They expect learning to be relevant, accessible, engaging, and current. A few years ago, we saw a "serious eLearning manifesto" defined, but even that document requires some tweaks now as we adjust to the post-pandemic normal. We need to drop the "e-" to begin with, of course. But L&D must provide our users with what they need, when they need it within their workflow, and our product needs to be searchable as well as packaged in a way that recognizes the constraints on the user's time, especially the likelihood of interruption and the need to time-shift its consumption.

Architecture and experience

Learning activity is moving from a formal sequence of instructor-led "teach-study-test" to a self-directed process of "find-learn-do". To support this, our job in L&D has become one in which we create the resources and identify the learning path, shifting from courses to experience.

Learning architectures are "unifying and coherent systems based on a thorough planning process and leading towards a definite goal." At the same time, learning architectures can be complex and confusing. To be a successful partner to others in your organization, you need to be able to clearly explain your system to your stakeholders.

The key to creating this understanding is learning experience design. As Marty Rosenheck expressed it, "Learning experience design is about designing that optimal set of experiences or challenges providing the right feedback, guidance, and content at the teachable moments along the way." This requires a balance between formal and informal, self-directed learning, real experiences but guided in a systematic way to develop proficiency.

Putting your system together

One resource that will be helpful to you is The Learning Guild's research report, "Less Content, More Learner: An Overview of Learning Experience Design" by Jane Bozarth.

You will also find Linda Daniel's session 301"Learning Experience Design and Architecting Human Solutions" helpful at the December 2-3 Understanding Learning Trends Online Conference.

Register now for this online conference and discover how you can implement today’s best practices! If you are interested in attending this online event but are unable to attend on either December 2 or 3, register anyway and you’ll receive access to the recorded sessions and handouts after the event.

You can also get a Learning Guild Online Conference Subscription to access this and all online conferences for the next year, plus much more.