Enhancing Learning by Mapping the User Experience

For as long as I can remember, my passion has been about explaining things to people. Just ask anyone who’s known me for more than a day or two, and they’ll tell you — sometimes with the pejorative “know-it-all.” It’s not about inflating my ego, though; I just want to share the information!

But if I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that most people don’t want to be “explained to,” especially on the job and even in the guise of training. However, most of the training we make — especially e-learning — is just that: spewing a lot of information that, while correct and possibly even interesting, isn’t going to be retained. This is not a new revelation, and we all know the basic reasons why: the content is not focused on just what the learner needs on the job, and it’s not provided at the time and place the learner needs it.

Enabled Performance Is Workplace Learning

Fortunately, the rise of mobile delivery and its facilitation of just-in-time performance support are giving us an exciting way out of the addiction to the explain-and-test model of learning. It’s also leading instructional designers into what can seem like uncharted territory. But if we embrace the concept of learning as performance enablement, we can borrow best practices from the world of software development — user experience (UX) design in particular.

UX design tells us that we must start any project by looking at it from the user’s (learner’s) point of view. Instead of determining what we think they ought to know, we find out what information they need to handle typical tasks, issues, or pain points on the job. This is not too different from needs and task analyses, but it goes a step or two further by creating an experience map.

Experience Maps Lead to Effective Performance Support

Experience maps can be called different things: use scenarios, journey maps, or storylines. Whatever the name, you create them using these steps:

  1. Experience_MapDefine one or more user personas — characteristics of the typical person(s) who will use your learning asset, including both personal (education, experience, job responsibilities) and environmental (work location, workplace distractions, demands from others) factors.
  2. Determine key tasks, issues, and/or pain points each user persona will face on the job.
  3. Map the experience, showing how each user persona will interact with the learning asset to handle the key tasks, issues, and/or pain points within the work environment.

Naturally, you should interview and observe actual users to create your maps! Think of your map as a story, with a plot that includes a protagonist, action and conflict, a climax, and final resolution.

An experience map can take many forms: table, flowchart, diagram, storyboards, or comic strip. It can be rough sketches or a very refined presentation. Whatever the form, the key to a good experience map is defining what your learners will need, why they’ll need it, and how they’ll use it. This in turn will help you to determine your content scope and instructional strategies and to design the information architecture, user interface, and navigation.

Where to Start?

A good place to start learning more about experience mapping is Joyce Hostyn’s blog, “Designing Change,” in particular these posts:

Here’s a more academic look at experience mapping by Chris Risdon at Adaptive Path:

You’ll see that experience mapping can be applied anywhere, not just to software design. See if you can apply these concepts to your next learning or performance-support project, no matter what form it takes!

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