In our inaugural podcast episode we talked about what we mean by ‘Learning Design’. In the second episode of our podcast series, Adventures in Learning Design, Tim and Laurie explore what a Learning Designer actually does. This is an abridged version of that conversation. To hear it in full, check out the episode on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or on our podcast homepage.

A Learning Designer advocates for the learner

Similar to a Product Manager role, a Learning Designer needs to be the voice of the end user, making sure that all decisions and resources are directed at delivering them optimum value. That means spending time interacting with end users through asking questions, observing, and generally getting to really understand them. Central to that is uncovering their motivations and vocally advocating for these in all of the decisions that happen throughout the development of the course. 

A Learning Designer … designs

There’s a lot of creative DNA in there. A Learning Designer needs to think about how they might solve a particular learning challenge or problem given the resources or time available. This more often than not requires them to think really creatively. What can be learned from what’s been done before? What can be learned from what’s been done in completely other domains or industries? 

The LearnJam team working up a set of learner personas, 2020

A Learning Designer brings an understanding of what makes effective learning …

This involves being an advocate for the research and the evidence about what actually works in learning. This becomes all the more important when dealing with a really vocal stakeholder who has a clear idea about what this learning solution or learning product needs to do in terms of commercial imperatives, but which might go against what works in learning. Part of the Learning Designer’s job becomes bringing that vital understanding to the table. 

Consider this example client convo:

“You know those 20 minute videos that you want to have in every lesson with each video covering 10 different topics with really loud background music? Actually, that’s not recommended from a learning point of view and here’s why …

Instead, I recommended we take that 20 minute video, break it into three four-minute chunks. We should mix up the format a bit to avoid repeating the same style of video and reduce extraneous cognitive load by removing intrusive background music.”

… and backs up their rationale

This speaks to the “design” aspect of a Learning Designer’s role. When something is designed, then every element of it has been considered and is there for a reason. A challenge for a Learning Designer is to be able to look at any element of the final product and explain why it needs to be like that. 

For example: “Here’s why we’re asking a question that doesn’t require learners to actually input an answer. We want to activate schemata by asking them to reflect on past experiences. This will help them to connect the concepts of this course to a mental model that they’ve already got.”

A Learning Designer prototypes content

A Learning Designer needs to be able to think about what content is required to deliver on the key outcomes. What does it need to do? What might that look like? They need to be able to create something to exemplify where they see the course proposition going. This may include pulling together exemplar texts, activities, concept check questions, audio, video, or anything else  that a learner will engage with throughout their experience.

A Learning Designer manages the project

A Learning Designer often operates as a project manager, in that they’re responsible for different outputs, timelines and expectations. They need to ensure that the project components all make sense and that all relevant information is flowing freely between all the parties concerned.

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