How Employees Learn

What Is Learner-Centered Design?

Instructional design was how we used to create learning materials when learning was still a bit boring and difficult. Now we use learning experience design, which brings learning to life and makes it really interesting. 

Learning experience design is unlimited, like a blank canvas on which anything can be painted. The objective is to create learning experiences that truly captivate the learner and make the enterprise delightful so they learn to their best ability. 

According to a study, when students are engaged, motivated, and feel less stressed, information flows freely through the affective filter in the amygdala, and they achieve higher levels of cognition, make more connections, and experience “aha” moments. Surprisingly, this does not come from quiet classrooms; it comes from classrooms with an atmosphere of exuberant discovery. When the content is relevant to their lives and experiences and the atmosphere is energetic, people find learning easier. Stress, boredom, and anxiety are cognitive inhibitors. This is what brings us to the question: What is learner-centered design, and why would we want to know?

What is learner-centered design?

Learner-centered design puts the learner’s experience foremost in the design of the learning materials. It’s a learner-centric approach that creates a relevant, engaging, and personalized experience out of learning content.

Learner-Centered Design Theory

The beginnings of learner-centered design theory were written by Soloway, Guzdian, and Hay in 1994. Their theory has since been built on and adapted. In 1996, Zharias and Poulymenakou developed a comprehensive prototype to be used for eLearning. The design had five focus points: allowing learners to discover things for themselves, having clearly defined learning objectives, using informative feedback, designing to gain the learners’ attention, employing visual elements to enhance meaning, and facilitating social learning. 

Current learner-centered design theory creates a motivational learning experience suited to each individual. Fundamental to learner-centered design theory is the concept of scaffolds. These scaffolds are worked into the software to support the learner. Examples are hints, explanations, and encouragement to help learners gain a better understanding. Additionally, scaffolds are built in as questions that help learners process and throw back information. 

Focus on the person, not the process

Learner-centered design focuses on the individual who will be learning; the content and interface are created around what they will think and feel when learning. We don’t create the materials and then deliver them to the learner; we put the learner first and create the materials around their experience. When the LXD (Learning eXperience Designer) is creating the learning materials, they have to be so focused on the learner that they have to think of every eventuality for every individual. For example, accessibility is a requirement for many learners. This has to be thought of, and there are ways LXDs can ensure access for all. Designing for the learner and their unique cognitive load will ensure a successful learning experience. 

Discussing learner-centered principles

There are four principles that create an effective learner-centered design experience. 

#1 Context

Learning content and tasks should be relevant to the learner and their lives. They should be able to relate to content and connect personally with what they are learning. This is where eLearning training for the workplace shines—learning about the job you are doing is highly relevant and engaging, thereby producing amazing results. 

#2 Construction

Learners should be able to connect their own experiences with new content. New information should build on prior knowledge. Keeping a digital record of what has been covered is a great way to ensure time is saved and only new materials are offered to the learner.  

# 3 Conversation

Social learning facilitates deeper learning. Learners should be able to discuss the subject matter with a trainer and with other learners. eLearning is great here as interfaces can facilitate chat rooms and forums where learners can easily and comfortably discuss anything. 

#4 Collaboration

If the learner is exposed to others’ ideas, it can shape the learner’s own ideas. It will help them develop, test, and analyze ideas, although they will still form their own. Working together on assignments and contributing equally towards the outcome builds collaboration skills and exposes learners to ideas they may not have considered before.    

Examples of learner-centered design

Some examples of learner-centered design are a user-friendly interface that learners can navigate with ease; the use of video that is explanatory and interesting; graphic elements that bring the content to life; learning tips and suggestions that relate to the learner personally; group discussion forums where learners can collaborate with a mediator; content and advice that relates to their current job roles; current tasks and assignments that build from previous tasks and assignments; and the ability to create one’s own schedule and work at one’s own pace.   

What is the meaning of a learner-centered curriculum?

Learner-centered curriculum is when the learner participates in the decision-making of the design process and chooses parts of the learning experience for themselves.

For example, it gives the student the ability to choose which activities and learning experiences they want to participate in and which assignments they want to complete. The most basic principles of even the early learner-centered curriculum theories were freedom to develop naturally, interest in the work as the primary motivation, and the teacher facilitating the discovery and learning process.

These early theories were a result of dissatisfaction expressed by learners. This brought the focus to the real needs and interests of the students. Who better to serve as guides?

Fundamental to a learner-centered curriculum is its flexibility. Rightly so, as people are not machines. Learning should provide the flexibility to make choices and have room to explore and discover. 

Infinite inspiration

Looking to the learner when we design learning materials will result in great returns. People are infinite sources of inspiration, and focusing on the individual experience will ensure better learning experiences for all learners and fulfillment for designers and educators. When students are enjoying the process and are successful, everyone involved thrives. Mark van Dorn said, “The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.” The art of teaching truly comes alive in learner-centered design.

The answer to the question: “What is learner-centered design?” has been answered theoretically here, but it means so much more. It means the experience of learning and gaining knowledge has been transformed into an intensely enjoyable, exhilarating adventure. It has put the quest for knowledge back on the map. It has facilitated an inspirational way to fulfill that lifelong quest.