Experience design for training: creating a map for better outcomes

When developing a learning program, training teams often spend their time focused on the “Who?” and “What?”. That makes sense: the first thing you need to know is who you’re teaching and what they need to learn. Many trainers consider the “Why?” too, which helps them to include valuable context for their learners as part of the course. However, training teams typically don’t put as much energy into nailing down the “How?”, “When?”, and “Where?” of their programs. Without providing a solid answer to those questions, it’s nearly impossible to deliver content in way that really resonates. Incorporating user experience design for training programs might see you take a slightly different route: journey mapping.

Next up: Use communication to boost long-term change


Journey Mapping

Journey maps are frameworks used to break a process down into manageable components or steps. You can then consider each of those components from a number of different angles—for example, what the user needs to know, do, or feel; what tools they will use; or what needs to happen “behind the curtain” to enable the learning process.

Journey maps can be simple matrixes with steps of the journey laid out on the horizontal axis and the questions or angles on the vertical axis. They can be complex visual maps made up of user vignettes. Or they can be a bunch of sticky notes on the wall. It’s not the journey map’s form that really matters. It’s the thoughtful consideration of how users will move through the process, get information that they need, and interact with tools, systems, and people in order to accomplish their goals.

Interaction design and experience design teams rely on journey maps to complete projects of all kinds, from designing appointment-scheduling apps to creating wayfinding solutions for Disney World. But journey maps are often left out of the training manager or instructional designer’s toolkit—and it’s time to change that! Creating journey maps for a single topic or for an entire course helps training teams ensure that they carefully consider the following important factors:


User preferences

We wrote about using personas for training programs a couple of weeks ago. Creating personas can empower your training team to hone in on what your learners really need from the curriculum. Users typically have preferences on content delivery methods, lesson timing, duration, and scheduling. They may even have opinions on who they take their training with or how the room is arranged. Don’t dismiss these preferences! Someone who can’t hear the instructor, doesn’t feel comfortable in a room full of strangers, or is hungry because the training has (yet again) been scheduled over their break time won’t be able to learn effectively.


Content and delivery alignment

Not all content is created equally, so it shouldn’t all be delivered in the same way. When time and resources are limited, training teams can be tempted fall back on using the same method for each course they create. But matching the learning delivery method to the material is certainly possible to do without spending tons of time, energy, and money. Thoughtfully exploring content delivery platforms can give your team insight to align the content to the delivery method. There are plenty of options between interactive eLearning, facilitated peer discussion groups, or self-directed reading and writing exercises. Achieving that alignment will help your users connect to and retain content better, which of course is what it’s all about.



To get learners to truly engage with your content and get the most out of your course, it’s not enough to remove barriers such as distractions or physical discomfort. You have to create an environment for success—and increasingly, that means tapping into what neuroscience tells us about how the brain takes in, stores, and retrieves information. You can then use journey maps to help you weave those scientifically-proven insights into your training programs.

For instance, studies have shown that frequent retrieval helps the brain move content from short-term to long-term memory. As a result, including frequent and progressive testing in your learning program can help dramatically improve learners’ retention. Similarly, the concept of cognitive priming suggests that completing activities like puzzles and word-association games before training helps activate learners’ brains, preparing them to record specific types of information. Making use of these neuroscience theories in your training programs is a no brainer! (see what I did there?).


Using Experience Design for Training

So if you’re ready to take your training to the next level, grab your Post-its or fire up Excel and begin by thinking through the steps of a learner’s experience. Map out all the major phases and small events they will go through from the moment they’re first introduced to the training program, to selecting and scheduling courses, to attending sessions and following up. The journey map may or may not be linear; it might have branches or loops, and that’s OK. You also might not own the entire journey, since aspects of a learner’s experience might touch on change management, performance management, and compensation and reward activities. But if you take the time to at least start documenting those connecting parts, you can then reach out to the team who does own them and ask them to help you flesh out those parts of the journey map.


Results and Support

Once you’ve identified all the steps of the learner’s experience, it’s time to think through the details. I like to think through this in two stages: results and support.

  • Results, look at each step of the process and write down what you want the learner to know. This might be the lesson’s content, or maybe just when the training is. Then make note of what you want the learner to do. Do you want them to take notes and ask questions, or study the materials at home? Lastly, write down what you want the learner to feel at that point of the journey. Do you want them to feel empowered, or reassured, maybe even surprised?
  • Support, make note of the people, tools, and resources you’ll need to accomplish each step. Do you need someone to record each session and distribute the video? Software for registering participants? A room with comfy chairs arranged for small discussion?

Finally, once you’ve completed your map, go through it several times and see where you can iterate and improve. Does each step flow smoothly? Are there redundancies or gaps? Where will learners get lost?


It’s all about the process

Journey maps are tools to help organize your thoughts and see both the big picture and the details clearly. Like personas and other design thinking tools, the final artifact is not the most important part of the exercise. The process and the thinking behind the journey map will help you more than beautiful illustrations or fancy color-coding schemes will. Make sure to be thoughtful and thorough in your process. Then, take your map and use it to design a better experience for your learners.

Now you need to communicate the process. Watch: Visual Thinking in Meetings