DM from Keith: Hey I’m looking for some input. Got a minute? I’ve been asked to take on a role that combines staff capability building in edtech with “exploring innovation”, whatever they mean by that. Specifically we are looking at new tech, tools, platforms and workflows for students and teachers.
DM from me: What do you need?
DM from Keith: They want to call it Team Leader Digital Learning. I hate that title. I think the role is much more complicated and anyway, you can’t really separate digital from f2f. Even distance students have a physical space. Got any ideas?
DM from me: My thinking is this: it is not about the interfaces and touch points, it is about the experience.
DM from me: Borrowed from Marc Hassenzahl: ““Experience is not about good industrial design, multi-touch, or fancy interfaces. It is about transcending the material. It is about creating an experience through a device.”
DM from me: When we put together the LMS, the Adobe Connect sessions, the learning resources, the tutorials, the Google apps, the teachers, the tutors, the support services, the sum must be greater than the parts. They should all be orchestrated to transcend the material and create a transformative learning experience.
DM from me: So maybe you are Lead Experience Design?
DM from Keith: Yep I agree. I really want to work on creating an ecosystem out of parts that now often don’t work together, so we can create an experience that feels whole, simple and obvious.
DM from me: Maybe this role is more like a Lead Experience Architect in other industries? Maybe call it Learning Experience Architect. Here is a link to an Experience Architect job description.
DM from Keith: Yes, I really want to facilitate teachers and students who WANT to get their hands dirty, designing thoughtful experiences to bring tech into their spaces via mobile. So much untapped potential.
DM from me: It does need to be facilitated and with methods that make it achievable for anyone and replicable across contexts. Enough pilots.
DM from Keith: All our teachers who do this kind of thing now keep it on the down-low, because they’re afraid of getting in ‘trouble’. So this role would be as much about recognizing and highlighting that kind of stuff, and telling people it’s ok. Showing people how it works, and emphasising that anyone can use those ideas/experiences and adapt for their own.
DM from me: Nice. And it would be great to get the opportunity. If you can change the role title, it will immediately say to everyone what your priority is and that it is more than “e-learning support”. It may also get you in earlier in the process, not after crucial design decisions have been made.
DM from Keith: I think I’m gonna try re-writing it and pitching it as a much more experience-centric role. I don’t wanna see this current push for innovation devolve into yet another edtech pilot that’s essentially an expensive tech demo.
DM from me: Excellent. 🙂
The above is based on a conversation I had this afternoon though the names have been changed. However I have had this conversation with several colleagues who like me have worked in education technology for a long time. I’ve had it in Twitter messages, at conferences and during long car rides. We’ve seen LMSs come and go, worked on countless pilot projects and perhaps 200-300 course designs. We all know how to orchestrate the LMS set up, learning resources access, well-designed learning activities and facilitation input from the lecturer so that the potential for a meaningful learning experience occurs, without overloading the facilitators. However, we are often brought in too late in a project to change the design or the products through which the designed interaction is delivered.
This kind of role, designing for experience and facilitating the team that develops the products and services to deliver it, is very common in other industries. It is called an Experience Architect. You coordinate all the parts while not a user or a subject matter expert.
It is a rapidly developing field. Recently I was lucky to visit Michigan State University which has launched a degree in Experience Architecture (XA) under the leadership of Dr Liza Potts, with the first 6 students to graduate soon. This departments and these students are leading the way.
From the Experience Architect job description I sent to “Keith” here are the key criteria:
- User experience planning and development
- Responsible for the execution of strong interaction design and visual design principles
- Facilitating dialog around end-user requirements and business requirements
- Guiding clients through key design engagements
- Performing user research
- Driving innovative solutions within platform constraints and technical limitations
- Developing interaction models and conceptual frameworks of experience
- Researching interaction design trends
- Researching technology trends
The emphasis above is mine. Do these criteria sound familiar? Some of your senior e-learning experts have been doing this work for years. However, you have probably been underusing them.
One of the hottest business books this year is X by Brian Solis. He writes about “disruptive technology and its impact on business and society. Beyond the technology itself, Solis looks at new ways to humanize it, drafting articles and sharing research on how it will apply.” In case you hadn’t guessed, the X stands for Experience.
Education will need experience architects as core roles sooner rather than later. It does need to humanise the interactions with its systems. Rather fortuitously, it already has senior e-learning people and education technologists who have been trying to build meaningful learning experiences in LMSs, Google Apps for Education and other tools for the better part of two decades now. Until now they’ve had no career path inside of our institutions. However, these wonderful people have exactly the right background in technology, pedagogy and fully understand our learners, our staff and organisations to become the learning experience architects we need. They just need a little upskilling in experience design methodologies. Oh and to be let off of the academic lead.
In the mean time, I think it is a good idea if some of those talented and experienced colleagues I’ve had conversations with start thinking of themselves as Learning Experience Architects.