A teacher helps his student with a presentation.

5 strategies to improve the learning experience for K12 students

Bring lesson plans to life and transform your instructional practice with these tips

From retailers to restaurants, advances in user experience (UX) are transforming nearly every facet of our lives. Customer satisfaction is shaped by more than just the content, products, and transactions that take place. It is influenced by the way customers feel and experience those interactions.

It’s a natural outgrowth of what some economists have called a burgeoning “experience economy,” and it’s happening in education, too.

In the education context, there is a similar shift happening as we focus less on content alone or on how instruction is delivered (i.e., instructional design) and embrace the importance of the learner’s experience (i.e., learner experience design).

The learner’s experience can transform teaching and learning

We know that students are more than capable of exerting free will to decide what experiences they buy into in the classroom. While higher ed has incorporated learner experience design into curriculum development, we’re now beginning to see a shift in K-12 education moving away from content that is simply digitized and moving toward digitalized learning, where digital technologies can create interactive, or even adaptive, learning experiences that can transform teaching and learning in the classroom.

Related: So you think you understand UDL?

This shift draws upon principles from learning science and practices borrowed from UX in other fields to create educational journeys that are not only effective, relevant, and informative—but enjoyable too.

Of course, learning experiences don’t start and stop with a student’s interaction with content. Teachers can now design experiences in the classroom that augment digital tools in much the same way that they create learning experiences around texts or other traditional classroom activities.

Using tech to improve the learning experience

Finding the right technology and designing your classroom UX is about bridging the divide between analog and digital learning. It’s about bringing lesson plans to life and transforming instructional practice that may give rise to new pedagogies, while never forgetting that how students experience learning is just as important as the content itself.

Here are five strategies that I use in my classroom, rooted in an Instructional Design Framework, that other teachers can use to bring powerful learner experiences to their classrooms.

1. Customize content

Personalization for students begins with personalization for teachers. Great learning software provides teachers with agency in their classroom to be creative and make the classroom their own, often through authoring tools.

I enjoy using software that incorporates authoring tools because it allows me to embed my own content into lessons and provide intentionally stylized curriculum that my students recognize as mine, which creates a more personal connection between me, my students, and the material.

Over my nine years in the classroom, I’ve created more than 1,000 lessons using the authoring tool in Odysseyware. It allows me to make allusions to ideas that are relevant to my students’ lives, and sometimes my students give me suggestions about what they want to see so I can incorporate that into the next lesson.

2. Backwards design

Although it may seem counterintuitive, I design learning experiences for my students by thinking backwards. Using backwards mapping, I set specific goals around the big concepts my students need to learn, and then decide which evidence will show that students have mastered those concepts.

With backwards design, I am also able to craft what kinds of data a lesson will give me at the inception of a lesson rather than the end so that it is more actionable; therefore, when I need better data, I can design a better lesson to ensure me and my students are making productive use of our time together.

3. Blended engagement

One of the benefits of this modern age is that teachers are no longer bound by a single source or medium to provide content, allowing them to curate information from a variety of sources and create a balance of interactive and collaborative activities. I try to incorporate videos, recorded lectures, podcasts, simulations and other tools into my lessons to broaden perspectives on a given topic and give students new ways to engage with the content that may be better suited to their varied learning styles.

A digital curriculum does not mean that students need to sit behind a computer screen all day long. We can design learning experiences that have students developing collaborative research, giving presentations, engaging in peer-editing discussions, reading books, performing experiments, and even attending lectures. I often enjoy using programs like Kahoot! to create games and quizzes that reinforce the material we cover in ways that help foster creativity, collaboration, and communication skills.

4. Relevance

I’ve found that no matter which technology tools we use, students want to know why they are learning something, and with good reason. Just as consumers want to know why a product will be useful, students are more engaged when they know how they can apply the knowledge they’re gaining.

I take the time to include background knowledge and mini-lessons in my curriculum so that students can see why they are learning about specific concepts and information, and how they connect to other topics they’ve learned or will encounter in the future. It also helps create a narrative for all of us and see how we are building a set of knowledge over time together.

5. Pick the right partners

In the rush to digitize content in the K-12 space, the connection between student learning and learner experience has often been overlooked and teachers aren’t always familiar with the attributes that make digital content effective or the right fit for their classroom. As a result, teachers may need some guidance in learning how technology can unlock opportunities to transform what teachers do within analog classrooms.

My best advice is to look at the research and select educational software with strong foundations in learning design that offer a variety of pathways for teachers to create the best possible learning experience.

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