Why Learning Experience Matters

Learning is a lifelong process. The experiences we have while learning play a crucial role in shaping our understanding of the world around us. In this blog post, we will explore the concept of learning experience, why it matters, and how learning leaders can design more effective learning experiences to create positive learning environments.

What is a learning experience?

A learning experience and a learning activity are not interchangeable terms. While a learning activity refers to the specific content or module that a learner is participating in, a learning experience encompasses a broader, more subjective perspective. It pertains to the individual’s personal journey while engaging in the activity, rather than just the activity itself.

A well-rounded learning experience should captivate the learner, align with their needs, and effectively impart knowledge. Learning experiences can manifest in diverse settings, ranging from instructor-led training in traditional classrooms to virtual learning environments featuring live instruction, video modules, simulations, and just-in-time resources. These experiences can be tailored to individual learners or can cater to groups, with the ultimate objective of empowering learners to achieve their upskilling or training goals. By helping learners to situate concepts into familiar contexts at work, they are more apt to transfer and apply those skills in the workplace.

Why does learning experience matter?

The design of learning experiences is the foundation of effective learning. In an increasingly complex, hybrid, and competitive business landscape, providing employees with high-quality learning experiences has never been more important for productivity and retention. The numbers bear this out. The Association of Talent Development (ATD) reports that employers who invest in training see a 24% higher profit margin than those who spend less on training and go2HR reports that 40% of employees will leave their companies within the first year if they do not receive proper training.

Fostering positive learning environments for employees can make them more productive, effective, and satisfied in the workplace. On the other hand, offering insufficient or poorly designed learning experiences can lead to disengagement and frustration, which may impact retention and overall morale.

How challenging should learning experiences be?

Overcoming challenges helps us grow. But how challenging should you make your learning experiences? Established theories of adult learning show that the most effective instruction is just challenging enough to keep learners engaged without getting frustrated. The science of learning also shows that the most effective learning experiences are framed in a way that allows learners to understand the relevance of the learning goals they’re pursuing.

Designing effective learning experiences is a balancing act between acknowledging what learners already know and determining how much new information to provide.

Lev Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) model states that cognitive development – that’s learning! – happens in that space between the things learners can do without assistance, and their potential to do new things. ZPD provides the space for optimal learning to occur where content builds upon their prior knowledge and experience and challenges them just enough to interact with new concepts without leading them to frustration.

Providing context for your learning, and letting learners know why achieving the goals of that learning is important within that context, is necessary for creating an effective learning experience. John Bransford calls this ‘anchored cognition’ – and his work shows that solving real problems leads to better outcomes than solving abstract problems. Learning experiences that help learners make connections with familiar contexts, enhance comprehension, retention, and transfer of skills.

Keeping these theories in mind when creating a learning experience can help you assess how to best engage with learners. In the next section of this blog, we discuss more tangible elements of a positive learning experience, such as levels of engagement, needs alignment, accuracy/accessibility, learners’ prior knowledge, delivery methods.Viewing these elements through the lenses of ZPD and Anchored Cognition theories can also be helpful for instructional designers looking to craft learning experiences that are challenging, fun, and effective!

How to improve the learning experience

There are many factors that contribute to a positive learning experience. Some of the most important include:

  1. Levels of engagement: Learning experiences should be engaging and interesting, to capture and hold the often-fickle attention of busy learners. The first step toward driving engagement is monitoring it, so make sure to leverage the reporting features of your LMS to understand how engaging your current learning materials really are. Common KPIs for measuring engagement include completion rates, course progress, and grades. Once you know your current engagement rates, you can use that data to improve materials that might be lagging. Instructional designers leverage a variety of instructional methods to boost engagement, such as interactive simulations and multimedia elements.
  2. Alignment to learner needs and goals: Learning experiences should be aligned with learners’ needs and goals. Conducting a training needs assessment involves identifying your organization’s learning needs, collecting relevant information about skills gaps and learner performance metrics from appropriate data sources, analyzing the data, and making recommendations to bridge the knowledge gaps within your organization. This kind of analysis can help you develop learning experiences that are more relevant to the duties, experiences, and needs of your target audience.
  3. Accuracy and accessibility: To ensure an effective learning experience, all learning content should be accurate and up-to-date, and delivery methods should be effective in helping learners access the information they need, when and how they need it. This may mean providing bite-sized microlearning content, just-in-time resources, or one-to-one mentoring opportunities, depending on the goals and needs of your audience.
  4. Learners’ prior knowledge and experience: What does the learner already know about the topic? What skills do they already have? No one wants to take a course that regurgitates their existing knowledge back to them. To avoid boring experienced learners, you’ll want to ensure that a learning experience is bringing new skills or competencies to the table.
  5. The delivery method: How will the learning be delivered? Will it be online, in person, or a blend of both? Many instructional designers create custom learning paths that guide each learner through a course – module-by-module. This helps learners acquire knowledge at their own pace. Setting up prerequisites contributes to the success of custom learning paths by ensuring that learners have completed the necessary modules before they can proceed further down their path.

For even more insights about building learning experiences, make sure to check out another recent blog post about what makes a good learning experience.

It takes intention, planning, and continued analysis to create the kinds of learning experiences that foster engagement, retention, skill development, and employee growth. This can be achieved by creating challenging yet fun learning experiences that are relevant and memorable. Ensuring that your learning experiences are tailored to the individual learner’s needs, goals, and preferences increases the likelihood of successful outcomes.

By embracing these principles and continually seeking to improve your organization’s learning experiences, you can empower your learners to achieve their full potential and thrive.