What learning designers can learn from interaction design

What is interaction design?

Interaction Design is a field of design that considers how humans interact with technology. When you use a two-finger swipe or turn the wheel on your mouse to scroll, that’s a unique interaction you’re having with your computer.  

Interaction design and learning design converge on the desire to create meaningful and memorable experiences. If nobody remembers the seminar or SCORM activity you create, how will they learn it? In the same way, if you design an interaction with technology that isn’t meaningful, how will anybody know how to use your system?

If you want to create meaningful, memorable learning experiences for your learners, read on.

The user and types of interaction

To start, it’s important to know the basics of UX design. User Experience (UX) is not User Interface (UI) or Interaction Design, but there is overlap, so the fundamentals are important to know. While the phrase “Human-centred design” is going out of fashion, it’s important to remember the human that you’re designing for. 


  • Who are they? 
  • What do they do in their day to day work?
  • When do they interact with their learning environment?
  • How should they interact with their learning?

When designing an experience, get inside the shoes of who will be doing the learning. Will they be using a computer, VR headset, headphones, or their mobile device? Will they be speaking, listening, touching, or moving? How does the interaction with their device hinder or help their learning? 

Remember, just because a learner might have to click on all of the options to progress through a SCORM activity, it doesn’t mean they’re reading them or learning from them. Interaction design is difficult, but considering how your learners will interact with their learning can only enhance the learning design process.

Designing a solution

In interaction design circles, there’s a mantra: Design an interaction, not an app. 

Too often, when designers are presented with a problem, often their knee-jerk reaction is to develop an app. It might seem fair enough, too; most people have a smartphone, and many smartphone users never really moved on from the “there’s an app for that” mentality.

But defaulting to designing an app removes your ability to think outside the box and design an intentional, meaningful solution. It may be that the best solution to your problem is in fact a smartphone app, but it shouldn’t be the only idea you consider. In the same way, many learning designers might default to SCORM activities or a half-day seminar when there might be other ways to learn. While you might end up there, starting with fresh ideas can only broaden your horizons

So, how do we think outside the box when designing learning? Let’s find out.

Rethinking research 

Do you get to know the people you are designing for? Do you talk to them, send them surveys, or watch them work? Do you talk to their managers or shadow them?

To understand qualitative research methods, it’s important to understand the goals of qualitative research in general. Qualitative data isn’t usually generalisable. You can’t usually speak to 5 people to understand a population of 500. What qualitative data does give you is insight into the people behind the data, so you can create meaningful, memorable experiences for real learners.

Your options in qualitative research  don’t have to just be limited to interviews. They can be

  • Observation and shadowing
  • Diary-keeping
  • Cultural probes

Observation and shadowing can be as simple as sitting next to someone as they work. They might choose to explain what they’re doing as they work, or you can observe their activity for yourself. Note down any difficulties they have, or what they seem to take satisfaction from. 

Diary-keeping requires anonymous participants to recount their days, often by answering open-ended questions. This allows you to see into employees’ lives at work and understand their preferences and pain points.

Finally, a cultural probe usually comes in the form of a little gift box that allows participants to showcase their lives through creative means. Pack up a small box with a disposable camera, some stickers, a diary, some postcards and some instructions. At the end of a week, develop the film and talk about the artefacts with the participant. It’s surprising what you can learn about someone’s life with visual cues to prompt conversation! 


What have you discovered recently about your learners? How do you get to know them and understand them? Get in touch with us on LinkedIn to join the conversation.