The student experience is expanding beyond the traditional classroom. Learning Experience Designers seek to develop innovative ways of engaging and empowering students in these new learning environments using a multidisciplinary, iterative, and learner-centered approach.

A Blend of UX and Instructional Design

Let’s start with what a Learning Experience Designer is not. We’re not Instructional Designers or User Experience Designers, but we do use many of the same skills. For instance, an Instructional Designer often designs specific courses and curriculums. The LXD goes beyond effective course design to create the entire end-to-end student learning experience. This might include designing the learning environment or considering how the design might support students’ emotional needs (e.g. motivation, confidence) as learners.

Like Instructional Design, User Experience Design provides only half of the equation for what goes into creating an effective learning experience. A User Experience Designer relies on a user-centered design process to identify user needs and design a positive experience for that user. As Learning Experience Designers, we also use the Design Process to better understand our learners. However, an LXD is not only responsible for designing a positive experience, but also for helping the learner meet their learning objectives.

WGU Labs: Elements of Learning Experience Design

The LXDs at WGU Labs combine principles from Learning Science, Design Thinking, and Social Emotional Learning to improve the learning experience. Let’s take a look at each of these areas and how we apply them in our work.

Graph showing three circles interconnecting at the center. Each circle reads: Learning Science, Design Thinking, SEL, together merging to form LX Design.

Learning Science

Learning science relies on research about how learning happens, and how we can better enable learning in and out of the classroom. It draws from disciplines such as instructional design, pedagogy, psychology, cognitive science, neurology, and more. Learning science goes beyond making sure students score well, to helping them solidify their knowledge and apply the material.

TimeCoach is a recent project where our team applied principles of learning science. TimeCoach helps students understand the role time plays when learning something new, and use that knowledge to succeed in their classes. Students complete one module of TimeCoach each week for five weeks. This format allows them to immediately apply the concepts, then reflect on what they learned in the following week. For this study, our LXD team recorded how students intended to apply their learning, then assessed how well the student adopted their new knowledge using an established framework. As students internalized the new information and applied it in their lives, TimeCoach created powerful changes in the ways students thought about learning. Students became more confident, committed to better study habits, and became more patient with learning difficult material.

Design Thinking

Design Thinking is an iterative process that creates innovative solutions to address specific audiences’ challenges. We outlined the design thinking process with five phases: building empathy with learners, analyzing findings, coming up with as many ideas as possible, exploring ideas in an iterative way, and tracking product experience on a larger scale.

Our design team applied Design Thinking while collaborating with our client MajorClarity, a career and college readiness platform that helps middle school and high school students explore future careers. First, we interviewed subject matter experts in different career fields to understand the daily routines and tasks they perform on the job. Incorporating the interview insights helped us identify learning objectives, which led us to step back and think of how to assess students’ learning and how to support them. Then we created the initial prototype and tested it with our target users. Evaluating their feedback helped us decide how to iterate going forward.

Social Emotional Learning

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is the core of learning, which supports learners’ academic achievement. SEL is fundamental to Learning Experience Design and includes five key competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.

The MajorClarity platform focuses on responsible decision making as a core learning outcome for students to achieve after exploring multiple career pathways. To help students make constructive career decisions, our design team created scenario-based activities that walked students through a storyline. In these storylines, students either imagined themselves in a role, or helped the main character in the story analyze job-specific situations and solve problems. At the end, students reflected on their learning experience. Modeling those teachable moments helped engage students and improve the effectiveness of their learning.

As new technologies and environments emerge, LXDs will lead the design of those learning experiences. Perhaps the most important role of the Learning Experience Designer is to create experiences which not only help students learn, but also kindle and support a love of learning. LXDs achieve this through understanding students and their challenges. The secret sauce is the learner-centered design process, through which Learning Experience Design continues to improve education.

Dawna Kelley is passionate about empowering people to improve their lives, and believes in education as a catalyst for change. Dawna has worked in the local community to hep learners grow technical and business skills through volunteer work with TechStars Start-Up Weekend and with the ProductHive Mentorship Program. As a Learning Experience Designer, she leverages her previous experience in designing human-centered physical spaces and project management to create tools which help students level up and achieve their goals. When not designing epic stuff, Dawna enjoys exploring local food, trails, and art events.

Hankun He earned her Master’s degree in Systems and Information Engineering focusing on Human Factors from the University of Virginia. After collaborating with clients from various industrial fields to learn and craft their products, she knows the value of a product stems from user involvement throughout the entire product life cycle. Now, she works as a Learning Experience Designer at WGU Labs using research-based methodologies to look for quantitative and qualitative evidence to support design decisions. Find out more at