Learner Experience Design(LXD)

Spring 2020 | Carnegie Mellon University

This is the class note of Learner Experience Design course taught by Stacie Rohrbach in the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University.

Week 1


I’ve been a student at schools for most of my life so far, learning things that I liked, or disliked for different reasons. I’d always been the students who cared about grades much more than learning processes. Until recent years, I realized that grades do not necessarily reflect how much students actually learn. Not only grading systems, but also the passive learning processes that I encountered made me doubts current education systems. I believe approaching these issues from a design perspective can improve current situations effectively.

Learning does not happen just in classrooms. It happens so frequent in life that we could not ignore it. One of the places that I particularly love is museums. My learning experiences in museums varies with different technologies that creates immersive environment, installments, or purely exhibition displays. I am intrigued by the cognitive processes, and phycological factors in learning processes, and human behaviors in museums. This excites me about designing learning experiences.

As designers, we often act as educators when collaborating with other people. Whether it is engineers, business people, or coworkers with other specialties, we often need to help them understand certain design concepts or methods within limited time. It happens not only in meetings, but also in other forms, such as workshops, and lecrures. I am always curious about how to make the learning processes fun and easy. At the same time, I feel the responsibility to do so, so that we will enjoy our design processes more, our work will be respected more, and our teams will produce higher-quality work. Therefore, learner experience design is an important skill for designers.

What topic(s) are you drawn to and why? Why do you believe the topic(s) is important? What challenges are you interested in exploring to create/improve the design of learning experiences?


My topics of interests cover a broad range of fields as shown in the image. The topics I chose are connected to my personal experiences, and interests. For example, the one on “girls in science” is connected with my own learning experience. I heard so many times that girls usually can not learn science better than boys, explicitly and implicitly. These voices are from parents, and teachers, who are usually important for our education and significantly impact our choices before we become adults. Therefore, I am wondering if we are able to create a better learning environment for girls in science using design approaches.

I am drawn to learning experience in museums. Museums are great places to learn because it is mostly active learning experiences for audiences. Each audience creates a unque learning pace and route in a museum without time and space limitations in classrooms. Also, museums utilize both visual elements and languages so that audiences obtain deeper impressions for exhibits. I believe these are reasons that people like musuems. However, it is still difficult to learn in a in-depth level in a museum, as people walk pass exhibits. I believe the learning outcomes will be more effective if audiences have more in-depth learning experiences in museums.

Sustainability is imperative and intriguing as well. There are numerous sustainable issues existing in different systems in our society. However, people do not know how they are impacted, and what kind of result their actions will lead to. So I raised the question: “How do we help people become more aware of current climate/ecological issues?”

Week 2


Since most of my questions I raised are very high level, and are not likely to be solved by a project created in this class, it is more practical to tackle a smaller issue within a topic I concerned. I decided to choose a topic that is closely related to sustainability: food systems. Food industry is closely related to carbon emission in US, especially livestock production. We even change the group name into “Sustainable Food System”.

5W+H analysis for Food Systems

Before diving into 5W+H discussion, we categorized the questions into following groups:

  • Motivations: How do people make decision about food consumption today? How do we help people change to a more sustainable diet? How do they connect food with health? etc.
  • Feedback Loops: How do we create better feedback loops between consumption and climate? How do we help people understand the environmental impact of our food consumption? etc.
  • Packaging/Labeling: What does “organic” mean to consumers/to farmers? What can you tell from tags and packaging? etc.
  • Food Touch Points: Grocery stores, restaurants, food delivery, etc.
  • Resources: When will people be most willing to share resources? What is their key motivation? etc.
  • and Learning/Curiosity, Education, Energy, Local Food Ecosystems, Food Relationships.

Note that many of the although they are all connected to different extentsThrough the questions we raised, we explored the 5W+H in food systems:

WHAT: Consumers can learn about food systems mainly through production, distribution and retailing processes. The main questions would be: how do people learn about sustainability in food system and how do they take actions. This also connects to the idea of feedback loops.

WHO: Food system is essentially related to everyone because everyone eats. However, for the scale of the class project, we might focus on university students. We may adjust user group further later as we research more.

WHERE: The touch points of learning experiences in food systems exist throughout the food production process, but mainly through purchase, consumption, packaging/labeling.

WHEN: After talking to Stacie, we summerized two modes of when: “pushing” and “pulling”. Pushing is when users passively receive information at touch points of food systems. Pulling is to reinforce information for people who already actively search for it.

WHY: One thing that standed out was feedback loops when we discussed “why”. Giving clear understanding for the impacts of users’ actions can motivate users to keep engaging in learning processes.

HOW: How do/will people learn about sustainable food systems? We summarized a list of mediums:

  • Documentaries
  • Parents, friends, schools
  • Social media, Ads
  • Evidence of change
  • Museums
  • Articles, and research

Food systems is a very interesting angle to learn about learning. It covers many aspects of our daily life, and it is a subject that worths life-long learning. I look forward to study learning theories, and researching more on the topic to eventually tackle a problem.

What did you learn from the decoded experiences shared in class?


Today in class, each of us shared various learning experiences that we found intriguing. I shared an exhibition that I personally experienced — Barbican Digital Revolution. This is an exhibition on the history and transformation of digital creativity. It includes works from artists, musicians, filmmakers, designers, and game developers to show how digital culture permeates every single aspect of modern life.

Through demonstrating the actual digital devices or tools, the history of digital products are demonstrated vividly. Also, audiences are able to grasp how digital products transform our lives, and how the interaction with devices has been changed with technological transformation. Many interactive installations are able to stimulate different senses, so that audiences experience complex and subtle emotions, which help audiences remember their experiences easily. For designers or media artists, this exhibition could give them inspiration on the application of certain technology in creative ways.

Week 3


Today in class we had a great conversation on our stakeholder groups, and raised some assumptions which are great directions for further research.

One of our stakeholders is freshmen, because they are the group that do not have much cooking experience, and their perspectives for food systems may be not solid. So another stakeholder that impact freshmen most is university dinning services, restaurants, etc, which could be both educators, and learners. Local food providers are another stakeholder groups that could potentially act as educators.

For freshmen, their hopes/aspirations/needs are:

  • tasty food,
  • healthy food,
  • surviving,
  • accessible and cheap food,
  • social food life;

and their fears/concerns are:

  • not skilled enough to cook,
  • trying new food,
  • lack of quality food,
  • poor dinning experience,
  • not having an impact.

For university dinning services, restaurants, etc, their hopes /aspirations /needs are:

  • good quality for good price,
  • allergen friendly food,
  • employee quality of life,
  • food safety (food, environment, …),
  • nutritional and cultural diversity;

and their fears/concerns are:

  • sunk cost into existing system,
  • disinterest of students,
  • number of staff,
  • bureaucracy/politics.

For local food providers, their hopes/aspirations/needs are:

  • food diversity,
  • reducing waste,
  • sustainability,
  • cultural identity of Pittsburgh,
  • existing thanks to profit,
  • technology that makes life easier;

and their fears/concerns are:

  • not having an effect,
  • entering an opaque college system,
  • access,
  • disinterest of students.

What have you discovered about your learners/stakeholders? What have you gained from class activities and exercises this week?


This week, we explored existing stakeholder again because one of the stakeholders — local food provider — is not specific enough, and closely tied to other two stakeholders. So we brainstormed and mapped out various groups related to food systems on campus, and eventually decided to choose residential education.

Residential education is a group under Student Affairs at CMU, who is also in charge of dinning services. Consequently, the three stakeholders — freshmen, residential education and dinning service — are closely related.

Then, we mapped out the conflicts and agreements within these groups. Some of the major conflicts are:

  • DS & RE are fear of students’ disinterests, but students generally have limited time and availability, especially when freshmen are overwhelmed with new information;
  • Students are fear of trying new food from DS, which is a barrier for DS to increase food diversity; However, DS believes that any change to existing system requires extra effort and cost;
  • There’s no ownership by food service staff over food delivered or experience provided; For students, quality of food provided by dining services doesn’t inspire confidence and enjoyment;

The similar goals of all three stakeholders are:

  • They all want students to obtain sustainable food skills and life skills;
  • They want to keep student healthy;
  • They want to bring students sense of belonging.

Based on the assumptions we had for our stakeholders, we are going to investigate and verify through more research.

Referencing your learning gaps diagram, what are the challenges you plan to tackle? What types of challenges are they? What ideas do you have for approaching them?


After mapping stakeholders’ relationships, and identifying major themes among them, we started to define current problems and imagine our preferred states, which is our goals for stakeholders. Then, we brainstormed how we could bridge the gaps.

Throughout the process, we came across different situations where we need to pull/push learners. In some situations, it could be both. This would be a constant consideration for us overall in the design process.


Starting from freshmen, we tried to emphasize the way they think, the challenges they face, and their life in general through looking back at our own freshmen year, and talking about the changes in their lifestyle when most of them experienced dramatic changes in their environment. Then, we connect these changes back to their diet habits. We found out that most of the problems that freshmen experience are due to skills, and motivation gaps. For example, learning food skills is not a priority for them compared to other learning. Also, there are cultural differences in food, which can be a challenge for international students to maintain the same diet when studying in the US, and for local students to learn. Some of the key assumptions we made, and needed further justification were lack of resource, and support system.

Our preferred states for freshmen are that students are able to actively learn, maintain, or improve their sustainable way of diet, and evaluate it with their peers, too. More concrete preferred states are that freshmen are applying their learning by shopping mindfully, they are engaging in and creating community food events, and they learn food skills gaining agency over the sustainability of their actions.

To bridge the gaps, we looked into both the content and the channels or mechanisms that could help freshmen build the knowledge and mindsets. Some of the interesting ways are mandatory cooking class with sustainability education built in, and community garden and farmers market on campus.

Dining Services(DS)

For dining services, we not only considered the food and services they provided, but also the conditions of their employment, management, and their brand image, etc. Some key assumptions of the problems are low cohesion between management and employees due to high employee turnover, transactional relations between freshmen and DS employees, and lack of diversity in food on campus.

We imagined ideal stages for dining services, such as no funding restrictions, sustainable food sources, and a better image on campus. Furthermore, we thought about how dining services would interact with freshmen, and how they position themselves on campus. From these perspectives, we come up with dining services’ preferred state, which includes 1. students and professionals in DS co-create and execute, 2. DS cultivate students’ sustainability skills, 3. employees communicate efficiently and effectively, 4. DS act as Trusted Advisor, 5. DS has a long-term profitable business model.

From our analysis, the gaps in DS are mostly environment and communication gaps.To bridge the gaps, we thought of these questions: What are better ways for dining services to communicate with students? How do DS change its own environment or surrounding environment, such as its brand image? From the questions, we are able to generate a few ideas that later became our focus: desirable student work/volunteer opportunity, ownership from food staff, entrepreneurship elements (pop-up trials owned by food staff), and change DS image /function on campus.

Residential Education (RE)

Many assumptions or facts for this stakeholder group came from (or conversation with) Nick as an RA on campus. Many gaps are from problems related to motivation and environment, which fits the nature of issues with food systems. One of the assumptions we need to verify is that RAs lack sustainable food skills/habits.

The preferred state for RE has many overlaps with preferred state for freshmen, and DS, and involves the role of RAs, and students’ interaction with the space of residence. For example, residents create their own sustainable food event, residents have a new relationship with food and their dorms, residents identify shared space as their own, and residents demand only sustainable food source in dorms. Also, RE should equips RAs with right sustainability training under ideal circumstances.

Based on the problems and goals for RE, we come up with many activities to engage residents and educate them on sustainability in food. Among all the activities, we are especially interested in three of them, which are plant parent competition between residents, weekly roster for student clean ups with rating system or prize, and sustainable food pop ups hosted by RAs.

After the bridging-gaps activity, we got deeper understanding for each stakeholders, and obtained a clearer vision for future teamwork. This is very helpful for thinking through the 4MAT Learning Cycle.

Based on Wiggins + McTighe, what ideas are you developing for helping your learners acquire the knowledge that you believe is pertinent for them to gain?


Currently studying Interaction Design in School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University

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