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When you’re creating an online course, it’s easy to get tunnel vision and focus solely on your content.After all, the content of your online course is the most important thing to your audience, right? Well, maybe; however, for those folks who decide to invest in your online course, they’re looking for more than raw content. They’re looking for a transformative learning experience, one that will help them get from where they are now to where they want to be in the future. This is true regardless of the topic of your online course.

While the content of your online course is the foundation of what you’re providing, it’s the experience you build around your content that will make it engaging and effective. And this is where the principles of Learning Experience Design (LXD) can help.

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What is Learning Experience Design?

In the world of learning and development, the concept of Learning Experience Design is relatively new. And for the last several decades, much of the learning industry has primarily focused on applying solid instructional design principles when creating learning content.

However, more recently, there’s been a shift towards designing for the total user experience, rather than just the content alone.

So, to put it simply, learning experience design is a combination of instructional design and user experience design. It is a user-centric approach that involves designing learning experiences that help students accomplish their learning objectives as easily as possible.

To understand Learning Experience Design, let’s break down two key components of it:

  • Instructional Design is the practice of creating learning content that drives behavior change.
  • User Experience Design is about creating a consistent and intuitive experience.
  • Learning Experience Design goes beyond the content itself expanding the scope and focusing on the total learning experience before, during, and after it occurs.

How can you apply LXD to your online courses?

So, if learning experience design is about going beyond the content, then how can you incorporate it into the design of your online course? Well, the truth is, much of it depends on the desired learning outcome of your online course, the nature of your audience, and much more.

How learning experience design is applied will be unique from one course to the next, and that’s the point!

However, here are some universal best practices you can implement.

  1. Create a user-centric learning experience

When designing your online course, remember it’s your learners who are the heroes, not the other way around! You are Yoda, and your learners are Luke Skywalker.

As a result, every design decision you make must be what’s best, not for your content, but for your learner.

You can incorporate a user-centric learning experience by:

  • Empathizing with your learner’s needs, challenges, pain points. Do this by incorporating that language into everything from your course landing page, to your marketing emails, and course content.
  • Creating an inclusive learning experience. Do this by recognizing that each of your learners are unique and comes with their own experiences. With every design decision, consider your learners’ diversity, including their age, race, gender, ability, language, and culture. Consider Universal Design for Learning (UDL) best practices that give every student an equal opportunity for education that meets their needs.  For example, make your video lessons accessible for hearing impaired students by add SRT files to your video lessons for subtitles.
  • Encouraging social engagement. Do this by creating a learning community to complement your online course. This enables social learning opportunities for your learners to share their knowledge and expertise with you and each other. Sometimes the best learning experience you can create is when you let your learners collectively solve their own problems.
  • Pick the right learning experience for the job. Do this by picking the best format, length, style, and sequencing of all the learning milestones involved. Try to optimize for Cognitive Load – in other words making it easier for students to learn by optimizing your course content and packaging. Consider whether or not student transformation requires a lengthy course, or a series of bite-sized microlearning.

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  1. Create a media-rich learning experience

Your online course is an opportunity to incorporate multiple forms of multimedia, which can help your learners better engage and connect with the concepts you’re trying to teach.

If you create a text-only course, then you might as well send a PDF or eBook instead.

You can create a media-rich learning experience by:

  • Showing your learners what you’re trying to say. Do this by incorporating images, graphics, and explainer videos that illustrate the concepts you’re trying to explain. This can help engage your learner and make your content memorable. 
  • Letting the content drive the delivery method. Do this by pairing the right multimedia for the concept you’re teaching. For example, if something is best understood when it’s demonstrated, then use an image or video to demonstrate it. 
  • Creating a blended learning experience. Do this by delivering your content in multiple formats and forms of multimedia. Include downloadable job aids, discussion questions, practice files, stories that build context, etc.

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  1. Create a hands-on learning experience

Hopefully, you’re creating an online course to help your learners do something differently in their lives or with their careers. Either way, if walking away with some extra knowledge is all your learners do after completing your course, then it wouldn’t be effective.

Your goal should be to create a transformative experience where your learners walk away with new skills they can immediately apply in their lives.

You can create a hands-on learning experience by:

  • Designing activities that put skills into practice. Do this by creating tutorials, challenges, and practice assignments. For every concept you’re trying to teach, think about how you can create opportunities for your learners to apply those concepts.
  • Putting skills into the context of the real world. Do this by incorporating case studies and scenarios into your learning content. This will help your learners understand how they can apply their newly-acquired skills in their own lives.
  1. Integrate Reflective Learning Practices

One of the key aspects of Learning Experience Design (LXD) is to ensure that learners not only acquire new skills but also understand the relevance of these skills in their personal or professional lives. To enhance this connection, integrating reflective learning practices into your online course can be highly effective.

Reflective learning encourages learners to think critically about what they have learned, understand how it applies to their own experiences, and consider how they can use this new knowledge moving forward. This can transform a passive learning experience into an active exploration of knowledge.

Here’s how you can create a reflective learning experience:

  • Prompt Self-Reflection: After each module or lesson, include prompts that ask learners to reflect on what they’ve learned. Questions like “How does this concept apply to your personal experiences?” or “Can you think of a time when this knowledge would have changed an outcome?” can stimulate deeper thinking.
  • Encourage Journaling: Provide a digital journal or workbook where learners can record their thoughts and reflections throughout the course. This not only aids in retention but also allows learners to see their growth over time.
  • Facilitate Peer Discussions: Create forums or discussion groups where learners can share their reflections with peers. This not only helps in reinforcing their own learning but also exposes them to different perspectives and insights.
  • Incorporate Case Studies: Use real-life case studies that require learners to apply their knowledge and then reflect on the application process. This helps in bridging the gap between theory and practice.
  • Offer Feedback Loops: Provide opportunities for learners to receive feedback on their reflections, whether from peers, mentors, or instructors. This can help them refine their thinking and learning strategies.

By making reflection an integral part of your course design, you help learners to internalize and apply their new skills effectively, leading to a more transformative and impactful learning experience.

Related: What So What Now What (Reflective Model & Examples)

  1. Utilize Gamification to Boost Engagement

Gamification involves using game design elements in non-game contexts to improve user engagement, organizational productivity, learning, and more. By incorporating gamification into your LXD, you can make learning more interactive and enjoyable.

  • Incorporate Challenges and Rewards: Introduce challenges within your course content and offer badges, points, or certificates as rewards for completing them. This can motivate learners to progress through the course.
  • Leaderboards: Use leaderboards to foster a sense of competition and community. Seeing where they stand can encourage learners to engage more with the material to improve their ranking.
  • Progress Bars: Visual progress indicators can give learners a sense of achievement and a clear understanding of how far they’ve come and what’s left to accomplish.
  1. Implement Microlearning Techniques

Microlearning involves delivering content in small, specific bursts that learners can easily consume and remember. This approach respects the learner’s time and cognitive load, making it easier to learn and retain information.

  • Short Lessons: Break down complex topics into short, focused lessons that address a single concept or skill.
  • Infographics and Summaries: Use visual aids like infographics to summarize key points, which can serve as quick references and reinforce learning.
  • Interactive Elements: Include interactive elements like quizzes or flashcards in between video lectures to keep the learning experience dynamic and engaging.

Related: How to Make a Microteaching Lesson Plan

  1. Foster a learning community

Learning is a social activity, and people often learn best when they can interact with others. Building a community around your course can lead to deeper learning and engagement.

  • Discussion Forums: Create spaces where learners can discuss course material, ask questions, and share insights.
  • Peer Review: Encourage learners to give and receive feedback on assignments or projects, which can enhance understanding and provide new perspectives.
  • Group Projects: Facilitate group projects or study groups that allow learners to collaborate, which can build a sense of community and shared purpose.


  1. Continuous Feedback and Iteration

LXD is not a one-time process but a continuous cycle of improvement. Collect feedback regularly and be prepared to iterate on your course design.

  • Surveys and Polls: Use these tools to gather learner feedback on various aspects of the course, from content relevance to user interface.
  • Analytics: Monitor how learners interact with your course. Look at metrics like completion rates, quiz scores, and common drop-off points to identify areas for improvement.
  • A/B Testing: Experiment with different versions of content or course structure to see what works best for your learners.
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The Bottom Line

Incorporating the principles of learning experience design doesn’t mean you need to be an expert in instructional design, adult learning theory, or anything like that – there are many learnings from these disciplines that can go into good LXD.

It’s simply a matter of taking a learner-centric approach to how you design your course content one that helps them move from where they are today, to where they want to be tomorrow.

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This guide was originally published March 2021, and was updated November 2023 to be even more useful.