Can LXD Do for Learning What the iPhone Did for Connection?


When Apple launched the first iPhone, they did more than give consumers a new way to make a cell call or send a text. With a single product introduction, Apple not only put a mobile computer in the palm of a consumer’s hand, they completely changed the way consumers could connect with others and the world around them. In a sentence, Apple gave consumers an entirely new experience and it changed the way we engage in our lives.


A similar evolution has been happening in education. And it too is changing the entire experience for learners, and the way they engage with learning.


First, a back to Apple and a little history.

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he employed a design thinking mindset to steer the company’s vision in a new direction. Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford breaks design thinking into five distinct actions:

  • Empathize with your users

  • Define users needs and problems to clarify your challenge

  • Ideate, “go wide”, generating many solutions to user needs

  • Prototype something a user can interact with and respond to

  • Test the prototypes and solicit user feedback.

In design thinking, the user and/or user experience is part of every phase of development. When Jobs brought this approach to Apple, rather than enter product development through new products, the new vision set the path to new products through the users and their experiences. It was anchored around the following:

  • People’s needs and desires, rather than only the needs of the business

  • Building empathy by helping people to love Apple products

  • The design rather than the engineering work; designers consider both the form and the function of the product

  • Building simple yet user-friendly products rather than complex hard-to-use products

Similarly, in our industry, design thinking plays a significant roll in learning experience design (LXD) and is a foundational difference between instructional design (ID) and LXD.

Instructional design plants its focus on the content and what will be taught in order to impart specific knowledge and skills. Most instructional designers follow a systematic approach and specific protocols to developing materials and assessments. For example, one approach is the ADDIE model: Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate.


In contrast, instead of a content focus, learning experience design puts the learner center stage for every design decision, holistically examining the learner’s needs and the context in which someone is learning, That is, the experience of how a learner will engage with the content and which experiences will yield the greatest success are what drive the end result. Not the content and how it’s taught. To do this, LXD requires a more iterative approach, including the design thinking model shown above: empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test.


“I believe learning experience design is the turning point for higher education.”


If the iPhone - and all the innovation that’s come from the mobile devices industry since it’s launch - is any indication of what design thinking can do for improving a user’s experience, it stands to reason we’ve only just seen the tip of the iceberg in our industry when it comes to using LXD to improve learning. Especially when we think of what advances in adaptive technology and artificial intelligence can do for improving learning at the individual level.


I believe learning experience design is the turning point for higher education. To truly meet learners’ needs now and into the future. To inject wonder and excitement back into learning. To fostering engagement and mastery. To reverse declining student retention rates and give students a solid return on their investment of time and money. And most of all, for those of us in this industry to fulfill our responsibility to make a lasting and positive impact on the generations of tomorrow.