How to Take a Learning Experience From Miserable to Memorable

learning experience

Imagine you own a travel business. You decide to specialize in trips to Europe. It’s up to you to define the itinerary and make all decisions regarding what a group will do. Now imagine two groups of travelers and two trip purposes. One trip is for educational purposes. This trip is targeted toward low-income youth ages 16-18 who have never even flown on a plane before. The other trip is a Spring Break experience for affluent families. These families will travel with school-aged children from 5 to 17.

If you are a savvy travel planner, you will know one trip plan won’t fit both groups. You will take a lot of time to build a clear picture of the typical traveler in each group. This picture will inform your decisions about each trip:

  • Advance information and travel guidance
  • Duration
  • Cost
  • Modes of transportation
  • Amount of free time versus structured time
  • Accommodations and the amenities required
  • Meals
  • Destinations within Europe and within particular countries within Europe
  • Activities (sight-seeing, recreation, daily itineraries)

The purpose and target travelers for each trip are different. You cannot create a successful “one-size-fits-all” trip. At best, you make one group happy and the other miserable. At worse, you fail to meet anyone’s needs or wants. Either scenario probably harms your travel business’s long-term growth.

What does this have to do with learning?

Learning is a journey. It can be successful for both learners and the organizations they work for, or it can be a waste of time. Success or failure depends on how consciously you design that journey to meet a “sweet spot” between the learner, the business need, and any environmental constraints that exist.

Don’t believe me? Marketers and product developers provide ample evidence of this.

These folks have known about – and crafted – journeys for years. They recognize that they can gain customers (or product users) via the design decisions they make at each point along a journey. Let’s look at a customer journey, as an example. Every customer journey has the same stops – regardless of what brand or product is being sold. However, the design choices made to support each stop are going to differ based on the following:

  • Who the target customer (you) are and what your drivers, motivators, fears, etc. are.
  • What need or want the product satisfies.
  • The product itself (Example: a technology product versus a physical product versus a service).

The Customer Journey

Put your “customer” hat on and think about a product/service you love. Your journey looked like this (regardless of what brand or product you have in your mind):

  • Reach – You (potential customer) paid attention to a brand or product message that was targeted to YOU (Someone who fits the “persona” that marketers used to design the sales messages you attended to. That persona was created with the explicit purpose of ensuring that the right messages got crafted and it addressed a need/want you have.)
  • Acquire – You dove deeper to learn more about the product/service. You saw a good fit with your wants/needs and you….
  • Convert – You said “yes” and made the purchase. A relationship with your product or service began.
  • Retain – Your experience with the product dictates how long you continue to use it. If the experiences have been consistently good or contain lots of “magical” moments, you may become an…
  • Advocate – You love the product or service; you tell other people about it. You form intense loyalty to it and don’t even look at other products or services.

Create a Memorable, “Magical” Learning Experience

At every stage of your journey, you have one or many “moments of truth.” These moments formed your “customer experience” with the journey and the product. A moment of truth is any interaction that influences your impression of the brand or product. “Magical” moments build positive impressions of the brand or product and keep you moving forward on the journey. Miserable ones make you question the product or brand’s value. If bad enough, they cause you to end the journey.

Think about it – what are some magical moments you’ve had as a customer? What are some miserable ones that caused you to dump a product or a service? Did you ever have a miserable moment that a smart company was able to convert to magical by how they handled your complaint?

This happens with learning too. Regardless of whether we think we’ve created a learning journey, we have. Our learners experience magical or miserable moments of truth at each step of the journey. (In learning, a moment of truth is going to be any interaction that influences our perceptions of the quality and value of the learning.) By recognizing that we are indeed crafting a journey, we gain control of the journey and increase the odds that the journey results in successful outcomes for learners and organizations. Design thinking processes and tools can help us design a journey and a learner experience that hit that sweet spot between the business’s needs, the learner’s wants/needs, and what’s technically feasible and reasonable to do.

A Learning Journey: 7 Steps

Here are the steps of a learning journey. Notice that there is no mention of instructor-led training, virtual instructor-led training, eLearning, job aids, or any other tool here. These are the steps someone must complete in order to learn. The form each step takes can vary widely based on what needs to be learned, who the learner is, the business’s needs, and the environmental constraints.

No Step of the Learning Journey
1 Notice – You attend to (or perhaps seek out) one or more messages about the learning opportunity. Alternately, you may self-identify that you need to learn something.
2 Commit  – You discover how the experience will benefit you and what’s required to gain this benefit. You match this information to your capacity to learn and your desire to learn.
3 Learn – You acquire information and explore new behaviors and skills.
4 Practice – You recall information try new skills, get feedback, and consciously adjust your behaviors.
5 Reflect and explore– You spend time thinking about what you need to improve, what you did well, and what more you might learn. You consider ways to incorporate new skill and knowledge into your daily flow.
6 Repeat and elaborate – You repeat practices and do practice that increases in complexity. You continue reflection.
7 Sustain– You incorporate knowledge/skill into your daily, weekly, or monthly flow. You adjust your environment, your behavior, and your resources to ensure you can keep using knowledge or performing skill.

Across all steps, ask these two questions:

  • How can I create an experience that delights the learner at this step?
  • How can I avoid creating experiences that make a learner miserable?

Design Thinking Webinar

Join me for a webinar on how to incorporate design thinking techniques into how you think about and design training solutions. We’ll walk through a learning journey and identify the moments of truth (magical and miserable) that form the learner experience. We will also talk tactics you can use in your design to help you create “magical moments of truth” that drive your learner forward on the journey to learn and use new knowledge or skills.

Additional Resources

Want other resources on design thinking and customer journeys, in particular? Check these out. Shoutout to Cheri Lockett Zubek for pointing me to these:

Need some help crafting a learner journey or learning experience that gets results? Are there other challenges you’re experiencing right now? We’d love to discuss possible solutions.