What is Learning Design? A Detailed Overview

May 21, 2024

“Learning” is conventionally thought to be achieved through attending lectures, receiving and reading course materials, doing assigned homework, taking tests, and earning grades.

Traditional education typically focuses on how an instructor or other subject matter expert chooses to deliver educational content.  In order to create highly engaging and effective learning, anyone providing learning has to shift toward a focus on learning design.  If you’re asking, “What is learning design?” — you've come to the right place. Read on to learn more about this important topic and why it is crucial to your learners’ success.

What Is Learning Design?

Generally (and unsurprisingly) learning design focuses on the learner. Who are they? What do they want to accomplish? Where are they coming from? How do they like to interact with others? Which tools and resources will be best for their learning process? In addition, what can learning science show us about how different people acquire skills and knowledge?

Instructional methods are only effective if the learning experience enables learners to truly understand the material and reach their goals. Learning design lets us understand the learners’ needs and design experiences to meet them.

Individuals learn in different ways. No single learning design approach will meet everyone’s needs and goals. But there are some important learning design concepts to help create a foundation so that you can begin building the right opportunity for your learners.

Learning Design Concepts

Learning design encompasses many factors for building optimal learning experiences. Whether you’re designing an online program or a hybrid course, focusing on the needs of the learner, defining learning objectives, choosing the right delivery method, and other considerations will set your learners up for success.

List Your Target Audience's Needs

Different learners have different needs, but who are you trying to reach, and which needs are you trying to meet? In other words, who is your target audience? How do you want to help them? Why will this learning experience benefit them? Keep this target audience in mind as you design and build your learning experience.

You want learners to be able to apply the skills and knowledge they gain from this opportunity. That might mean career training, professional development, contributing to their community, fulfilling their educational goals, or some other measurable outcome. Your organization knows your audience best. Take the time to outline what they want to accomplish. Ask current learners and individuals who have completed the experience why they chose this opportunity and what they gained from it. You might also offer a questionnaire to incoming learners and gather information about who they are and what they hope to gain from the learning experience.

Define Learning Objectives

Once you have determined your target learners, define the goals you hope to help them accomplish through this learning experience. What do you want them to be able to do with the skills and knowledge they’ll gain? Aim to provide resources and insights that produce tangible benefits from what they’ve learned.

Choose the Program Delivery Method

You also need to decide how the program will be delivered: in person, online, or through a hybrid model combining the two. A hybrid approach allows everyone to learn on their own online while offering interaction between learners in a physical environment as well. Engaging online courses often have a variety of opportunities for remote learners to communicate and share in a digital space.

After selecting the delivery method, list the resources your learners will need. For example, what online platforms will they need throughout the experience? How will they access the discussion board?

Other Learning Design Concepts

In addition to these important factors, you’ll need to consider many other matters. What learning content will you use? How will you administer assessments? How will you ensure an inclusive and accessible environment?

Remember, implementing learning design into your learning experience is a continual process. Even after you’ve mapped out these goals and strategies and put them into practice, in order to sustain your success, you should use data and learner feedback to keep improving the experience.

Benefits of Learning Program Design

Learning design has a number of benefits for both learners and instructors. And these benefits often shine best through online learning experiences.

Not everyone can handle the lecture approach. Many learners retain knowledge better by learning at their own pace. Online learning experiences lend themselves to self-directed learning, which lets everyone learn on their own time, when it’s most convenient.

Online learning experiences also allow learners to choose their own paths. In traditional education, learners are forced to sit through material unrelated to their goals or that they may already know. With online learning, they are free to progress based on personal interests or needs, which is much more likely to keep them engaged.

Perhaps the biggest benefit is that learners will more easily retain what they learn. One study has shown that students retain 25% to 60% more information learning online. This may be due, in part, to the fact that their minds are more stimulated when doing their own research and developing their own concepts.

Learning design generates greater opportunities and engages learners. Implementing a learning design approach by developing online learning experiences helps people build their practical skill sets, creating real-world benefits for each learner — and the world.

Partner with Learning Design Experts

So, what is learning design? As we’ve seen, it’s a method to engage learners through designing and building learning experiences around their needs. And with the help of experts, you can create that opportunity.

Studion helps to create custom learning experiences suited to your target audience that reflect your audience and organization. We’ve distilled our best practices across 350+ learning experiences into 5 ingredients we call High Engagement at Scale. Whether you’re a nonprofit, business, higher education institution, or other learning provider, we’ll partner with you to create transformative learning experiences that enable your learners and your organization to thrive.

This post was originally published on April 11, 2022 on extensionengine.com.

Does your learning experience meet High Engagement at Scale benchmarks?

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