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Designing the Learning Experience

Darren Hood
Dan Hasan

What's in this episode?

Today's conversation with Darren Hood saw us explore the role of design in the learning experience. As a veteran UX/LX designer who made his first webpage in 1995, Darren eats, sleeps and breathes design, and that definitely came through. We touched upon the need for empathy and curiosity in educational design, the similarities between business and education UX, and even looked at the design of FeedbackFruits Tool Suite.

pocket casts

Hello, thanks for tuning in to the Learning Experience Lab, where today we're looking at things from a design perspective. Our guest today is Darren Hood, senior LX designer at Michigan State Uni, who was brought to my attention via my colleague at FeedbackFruits as someone that might be interesting to have on the show. Thanks Abdulla. Now learning experiences are obviously something I'm into, but design is a pretty new area for me, so I was keen to find out the ins and outs of Darren's perspective. By the end of it, I had a whole new outlook on why design and user experience thinking is a fundamental and sometimes overlooked aspect in pedagogy. So let's jump right into our conversation, which I started by asking Darren about his current occupations.


[Darren] Let's see! In the daytime, I'm working as a senior learning experience designer at Michigan State University. And when you say like sometimes today, the question mark will appear over someone's head, and they're wondering, what exactly are you doing, because you could talk to Tim, what I what I've seen thus far is that you can talk to Tim, LX designers, and you might get four or five different perspectives. So in general, and the way that we're looking at it is that LX, and I work in what's called the Hub for Innovation and Learning at Michigan State University. And we touch everything in this the way that I have been viewing LX from 2013 forward is that everything from the time that someone is exposed to the brand, all the way to the point where you are enrolling, or you are applying for admission, you're enrolling in classes you are trying to get situated, and living at the dormitories you are engaging in the classes you're engaged with on campus or school related activities all the way through graduation, all the way back until the alumni funnel, very holistically. And I tend to view LX from a CX perspective. Matter of fact, I see LX as the CX of the academia world, where with UX, you're talking about the engagement with a specific resource or solution. And then CX bookends that I see LX is doing the same thing. I've come across a lot of people when they talk about LX they're really just interaction designers or sorry, not interaction but instructional designers with a little bit more responsibility. But we are that first example. We do everything. So that's what I do today. In addition to that, I'm also in academia, from a more direct perspective, because I am an adjunct professor at Kent State University. I'm an adjunct professor at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan. And so I cover a lot of ground when it comes to experience design as a whole. And I just have the honor, I'll say as being an educator, as well.

[Dan] Okay, so you said that's what you do during the day? And what about the evenings? Because you said to me, that you or at least I'm inferring that you eat, sleep, live and breathe LX, UX?

[Darren]  Yes, I do. I never stop. I never stop if I, I could go to the zoo, or go to visit someone at the hospital. And I'm studying the way finding. I go traveling, and I go to different airports around the world. And I love studying there, how you come back to way finding. Again, I love studying how easy it is to remember where you parked how easy it is to navigate through the airport and how the systems are structured. And I'm taking all types of notes. And my favorite was when I went to a zoo, I won't name the zoo. And they have since fixed their Wayfinding here but they're here in the States. And the Wayfinding was atrocious and they had a sign I can't remember if we talked about this before I needed to go to the restroom. And I couldn't remember where the restrooms were. And it pointed to the right and said lions are this way, tigers are this way. And then it pointed straight down and said restrooms that is probably one of the funniest examples I've ever seen of of god awful Wayfinding and how important it is to take experiences and and try to optimize them whether it's in academia, whether it's using a website, a mobile app, whatever it might be, it's just but I'm always into things like that. I also podcast. I have a podcast that is number one right now in that network, with at Michigan State University and actually half of my listenership is actually overseas . It's so I've got a pretty nice global audience there. So I'll happy about that about to celebrate our one year anniversary too

[Dan] Excellent. I just saw that you released your 50th episode for the podcast. Yeah, congratulations. Okay, I wanted to ask apart from helping us to find the restroom. What exactly makes you care about design so much? What got you started with design?

[Darren] Oh wow. It's hard to say I got started in design as a whole. Because I've really can't when I look back at my history I can't track when I first really got started with design when I started. When I started paying attention to things of that nature, I can say that I started doing research when I was 10. I absolutely hate spiders. I detest spiders, I understand they're important to our ecosystem. But I'd rather they do their thing outside of my home, at least. I'm not not a fan of them. I don't want them in my bed. I don't want them in the corner of my room. I don't want any of those things. But I did report I was still fascinated, though. And I think, and maybe this is really it, because I had a conversation with someone yesterday about things that drive design, and one of the key factors is curiosity. And as much as I hate it, spiders, that curiosity made me dig. And I went into the encyclopedia that at that time, we didn't have the internet, we didn't have, we didn't have Wikipedia, we'd have these things. I went to the encyclopedia, and my mother got me subscriptions to National Geographic magazine. And I would have these pictures, I still remember to this day, a close up, which got me into photography as well. This close up of a wolf spider's face, that when I opened that page as a child, and that spider's face filled the entire page, not through the magazine, up in the air, because it scared me half to death. But it didn't kill my curiosity. And I actually, I feel comfortable with it by saying that it is not what I think about it. It's curious. Curiosity is a major driver. When it comes to designing experiences, what can we do better? What problem are we trying to solve? One of the biggest assets that any designer can have is a really heightened sense of curiosity, that inquisitive nature that's off the charts, because that's going to drive success and design as well as innovation. Hmm, so yeah, I'm comfortable with that, really? I've never thought about that before. Yeah, that's probably when the seed was first planted, then then later on, I start modifying things and, and that's when you start to see the ball rolling?

[Dan] And how much does curiosity play into your, your everyday motivation and drive for design?

[Darren] It's always, how well did I do this? How much curiosity helps me put together scenarios that helped with the auditing of an experience? I'm really big, I don't hear a lot of people talking about that. But I have a very auditory mindset. I want you to work towards design. How well are we trying to solve? How well did we accomplish that? And most notably, I will, if we don't have time, in many cases, nor is it practical to put together formal personas. But I still do it anyway. Even if I don't put them together for the team to see them. I have personas on every project that somebody says we don't have time for. Okay, well, you don't have time for it. But for me, I need to know, who am I designing for? How would they use it? What are their mental models? And then outside of that, I'll come up with 50, 100, 200 scenarios. And then I use those to audit the experience. That helps me to, to approach things from a more diverse perspective. It helps me to look at things from multiple angles, I mean, just an exorbitant number of angles, to examine something because that's what's going to help me make sure I don't mean to ensure that my design is as foolproof and and and as successful as possible. And I want to optimize that it's access and so auditing, will it work this way? Okay, this works this way. Let me try it another way. Let me look at it from here. Here's this one off. When we're looking at data, we tend to throw out the outlier. I want to bring the outlier in. I don't want to necessarily make the outlier. The main focus of what I'm doing from a design perspective, but I do want to consider it, I want to be aware of it to the extent that I can at least answer questions when they come up when I'm talking to stakeholders when I'm talking to clients. So we've got this mean, or this average approach. And then we've got the outlier approach and I've got x number of scenarios associated with each audit, everything based on that. And then I'm comfortable going forward and I had somebody asked me the other day, tell me about something where you failed. In your designs, and I said, I did, and to somebody that to somebody that comes across as arrogant. And so I quickly had to combine because I know where we're gonna go. When I said that I said no, if you are painstakingly just incessant, when it comes to the pursuit of excellence, whether it be something that you may miss, every given time, because no matter what you design, you're always going to miss something, something somewhere, however, we're the executions successful, did they achieve the goals? I find it hard to believe that some people feel that they fail more than they do. Or they really are realistic. Because if you know the requirements, and you know your users, and you understand their mental models, then you design something based on all of those things. What did you do, did you really fail? Or are you just going to go back? I mean, we start iterating and working on the next version of it immediately. So it's not a failure, if there's something that's not accounted for, unless you saw it, and ignored it. Unless you do so I'm looking at it from them from an angle. And so I did what we were supposed to do. I turned over every rock 10 times and tried to find things, even when we're working in an agile environment or moving fast, there still needs to be attention to detail that is completely uncompromising. Hmm. And even when they don't know it, if I have to do things on my own time, to make sure that we're turning those rocks over 10 times, then I'm gonna do it. And so, yeah, that's my comment. I have a I have a saying if you touch it, excel at it.

[Dan] And has that always been your approach?

[Darren] It actually has? Okay.

[Dan] I need to rephrase that question. Not what's been your biggest failure, but what's been your biggest aspect of growth, or something that you've changed in that you've noticed over the years?

[Darren] The biggest change over the years, which is I think that's a phenomenal question. And it's something I think a lot of up and coming designers need to know is that when you first get started and experienced design, we'd all have not have a concept that this is an ego free arena, we did not understand that thick skin is required. And when I first started doing experience design full time, you put a lot into it, what I just described, you put a lot of effort into making sure that you do things the right way, only to have somebody act like it's nothing, and just blow it off. And so when you first get started, and that happens to you, it's mind blowing. Nobody ever told you it was gonna happen. I tell people, now, that is going to happen. But nobody ever told me that it was going to happen. And when you put forth a lot of effort, just to be ignored, and to have people do something whimsical. Excuse me, it actually has a really severe impact on you to the point where I know people who've walked away from the discipline because they just couldn't take it. That's where I've had my biggest growth. And I'll never forget a conversation I had with a former manager who it floored me so bad that I walked away from that particular company, because I had in my mind, okay, well, that's only like that at this company. I'm going to go somewhere else. And I ended up leaving somewhere leaving that company for a very short period of time. And I had a conversation and I was going to come back and he gave me the talk of my life when it came to that shift, because I wouldn't know till I could have walked away from UX at the time and never returned. But he said he talked to me about something that he referred to, and I still embrace it to this day. Healthy conflict was what he said. He talked to me about healthy conflict. And when he broke it down how that there's going to be conflict. But conflict is not bad. If somebody doesn't steep things from your perspective, even when you're when you're representing an Expert voice. If somebody doesn't see it from your perspective, don't worry about it. It's your job to represent. This is what it grew into what he told me. It's my job to represent, to advocate for users. It's my job to do that work with the business in mind and in the process of doing that, once I've done that, I've done my job. I do not own the design, they're pretty much unless the UX person is the owner of the company. We do not own the design, whether it's LX, whether it's CX, whether it's UX, no matter what, we don't own the design, but we're there to provide expertise. And I have found now after working full time for 16 years, and doing the work overall, for 25 years, I have found that it's my job to be the expert voice to not be married. I've learned that through this as well. You're not married to the design. And once you have provided the expert opinion, and the expert recommendations, your hands are clean, and you move on to the next project. And that's it, but don't be married to it. And that's the biggest area that I've grown in. That's helped me to be. It's really helped to optimize my mental health to optimize my perspectives. And it took the roof away from my ability to grow, I feel as an experienced designer, because if you get wrapped up in what people say about what you recommend, or you're going to get boxed in, and the frustration will eventually overtake you. And if you know for those who don't understand it, like I've seen many who have and they walk away, they can't. They can't take it anymore. Many people don't understand it at all, and it stops them before they get started.

[Dan] Yeah, indeed. So how has this journey that you've been on? fed into what you now do? as a learning experience? designer? How, and how did that transition happen towards learning experience? And how is it different?

[Darren] I actually the sort of takes me back to the beginning a little bit as well. I designed my first website 1995. And right around the same time, I started doing instructional design work like going all the way back to my early career way before experience design came into play. No matter what I did, I would always end up training someone. And I of course had no idea what that was going to turn into. So about the same time that I started designing websites, I'm working for a company where I'm a desktop support person, I'm going out fixing people's computer problems and that turned into answering software questions. And that turned into starting to take on training for the company. And and the HR was helping so much when it came to training, that the HR department wanted me to move from it into HR, and I and I got our first full time training gig. They also are the ones who helped me to further my goals. And I thought that was the way my career was going. And I got four instructional design certifications, including a master trainer certification, I'm thinking, Okay, this is the direction I'm going, I'm loving this training thing. But at the same time I had in the evening, I had this, this web design business. And that's where I was using what we now know as different user experience principles to get that work done. Eventually, I ended up getting a Bachelor's in IT. And then I'm thinking that I'm gonna love what I'm doing with education. So I'm going to go after a master's in education. And that's going to be the direction of my career. But I really loved what I was doing with a web design. And I said, You know what? Things are really, I think things are really changing. I actually helped establish a web design department. And one of the companies where I worked, I designed 23 websites for them. I did all of the UX work, I did all of the interaction design work, all the interface design work, I even designed logos. And I started thinking, you know what, this is the direction I need to go. So the learning experience related things, the instructional design took a backseat. But it didn't go away. I still continued to train people. I still continued to help out in that arena. And over the years, I started noticing the intersect between UX we came to and by that time we came to refer to it as UX. But I also started calling it LX and I actually missed the boat on this because I started talking about LX in 2013. I started seeing, as a atter of fact, I transitioned into UX, because of the strong knowledge base that I had from an instructional design perspective. I saw direct parallels. I was doing task analysis in 1999. And then when I transitioned into UX task analysis helped give me a strong understanding of micro interactions and micro experiences. They helped me to optimize the designs that I was working on. So, it is very easy. And I thought moving from instructional designer to to UX was perfect, because a lot of the tenets I found to be the same, you need good information architecture, you need to have strong interaction design principles, because I was doing a lot of web and computer based training, as well more so than instructional lead stuff. I was doing more web. And in fact, I was a, I was on the advisory board for captivate when it was with macromedia. So for anybody who's using Captivate, I was still in that product today, basically, so that that's how much I was in tune with those things. But the principles were the same. So it was easy.

[Dan] So it's not that you've gone from the drain UX to LX, it's that you've always been doing Alex in some aspect?

[Darren] Basically, I just expand, right? It is my view, and especially from CBT and CBT, as we call it. perspective, we need to make sure that what is the flow in the learning experience, are we I was the one that was making sure when I would do the CBT work, I actually designed a solution for a company that was sending salespeople to train on software to help manage credit unions across the across the United States, I developed the CBT. That helped that was so successful, that the sales people stopped traveling to do the training. It all went from in person to CBT. But it was the implementation of the principles that I still use today as a UX person that came into play, I conducted usability testing of all the CBT courses to make sure that they were going to be received properly once they were distributed. So before I was doing the UX stuff, I'm doing these things, and did the tasks covered. Because I had to get the subject matter experts to understand the task properly, or the training wasn't gonna work. When we nailed it,

[Dan] What's the contrast of the cinemark to academia? Because I personally see the world of business and institutional academia as two distinct animals. But from what you've said, it seems like you're applying a lot of lessons. Is there a gap? And what does that look like?

[Darren] I mean, some people might see that there is a gap. I saw it as at its core, I saw it as the same. I can definitely see where someone will feel the cedar to get. But I think that the gap has to do with the deliverable, and the overall goals, it's time to do that kind of work in a corporate environment, what you're doing is tied to profit, it's tied to employee experience, it's tied to a training that I did for one company was strictly to help them overcome attrition, they had too much attrition. And so I put together an entire set of courses, to help people to understand the business a bit more, so that they could take more pride in being there. And that was part of the strategy and helping to overcome the attrition. So that's where the goal, the goal shifts in academia, people are on the path to obtaining a degree. And the degree, the purpose of getting a degree is to help them function in the real world. So in understanding all of these goals, those have to be kept in mind as you're designing the courses. That not just we can't just help them to get through this course. I need to help them to have confidence when they're out of school. And that's in my mind. I don't know, I don't think everybody is doing that. I think a lot of people do things where it's wrapped into that immediate goal that is very short sighted that it's, it doesn't have the long term perspectives in mind. I do think that you need to make sure that you're covering the long term perspectives that they get it now they get it for the moment, they get it for the course. And you're also helping to, to plant seeds and broad can be very, very sound when it comes to the long term. And then they will always see that course. And that experience they had in the course was valid and valuable, which turns back but now that that's going to help with whether people like it or not, academia is a business too. They don't like to look at it that way. But there's a BX as I always say that CX plus YX equals equals BX, the brand experience is always based on what Once you've done with the other channels of the experience, so if you throw LX in there with academia, which is going to take the place of CX in my mind, then LX plus UX equals BX the brand experience people are going to love or hate a an institution, based on the experience that they had the course the admission, the dormitories, the food, food, the the the way that the teachers interact, the whether or not the teachers were empathetic, or because that's a part of LX that people Miss, are we putting empathy into our, our experiences and academia? Because when you don't, especially today with social media, somebody is going to get out there and tell everybody? How great or how terrible you are?

[Dan] What do you mean by putting empathy into our courses?

[Darren] The instructors need to humanize the learning experience. You know, don't don't look at this. Every student has a student number, but don't look at them as a number. They're human beings. I've had courses before and in all the teachers I've had my entire life. Don't know this. But I have, to me, every learning experience I've had, it's about the teacher every lesson within the course not just the course. But every lesson within the course, how well it is structured, the way that the instructor will support you throughout the course. The way that references any reference materials will help you once the course is over. Empathy has to be interwoven, and all those things. So it's the way that the buggin the way that the instructor engages with you the way that they provide feedback and when I was getting trained for, for my certifications, they always told us that good instruction consists of three components, presentation, application and feedback. And so how strong is that presentation? How thorough is it? How accurate is it? How trustworthy? Is it? Is it structured in a way where step by step? That's where the task analysis comes in? Step by step, were they actually given what they needed to understand and perform the tasks that are building that level of expertise and acumen that they signed up for the coursework in the first place? And so when you're empathetic, you understand what their goals are, you understand what their challenges are, you understand what their anxieties might be concerning that subject matter. And so when you put everything together, when you put that coursework that experience together, when you, when you take all these things into consideration, you can design the course in such a way where it doesn't just give them the information like a robot. That's that robotic instructional design, we just, this is what you need to know. And you need to know it, if you don't get it then too bad. That's not empathy. Some people are challenged by certain subject matter, some people have certain issues that they have to overcome. One of the biggest issues associated with empathy is that I'll take a topic such as statistics, it is like one of the least favorite, favorite topics on the planet. And ironically, I have taken for my memory serves me correctly, at least three, but I believe four times is about to be the fifth time that I've taken statistics over my entire academic career. And I have not one time, had some sad someone actually taught the course. Even though I had instructors, and I have never had instructional design that was put together in a way that was reflective of this massive anxiety that exists all over the world. When it comes to, to statistics, it is a very arrogant subject. That statistics is the only subject I've ever seen, where every time they go to present a concept. Oh, this is ANOVA. And ANOVA was created by John Jelly Bean in 1942, and I'm not the name and the dates are incorrect. I'm just trying to make a point. I'm trying to learn this, I don't care who created it. And I don't care when it was created. Why do you meet those are the types of things that narcissists do. And so it's a it's a, it's a, I've been doing some research on narcissism recently. And I can say that I feel safe that that statistics is not as heavily it's a necessary thing. It's a great thing. I've loved statistics since I was a child, and would take the newspaper apart and write down information from box scores to create statistics. I did that as a kid. That's how I entertained myself. That's one of the ways he did it. But what I've seen in the presentations, they're never cognitively friendly. So this is the reason I don't go on a tangent about statistics. The, this is an arena that is like, practically void, it's almost extinct. When it comes to bringing an empathetic approach to designing the core, the experience is like learning. instructional designers aren't really getting involved. From what I've seen, learning experience, designers aren't getting involved, and nobody cares that nobody's learning.
And then when you get a teacher, who in some cases doesn't really want to be teaching the course, then it's gonna get even worse. And now empathy is pushed even further away. When you get teachers that say, hey, this class, this subject matter isn't, is an anxiety point. For many learners, I need to watch how I approach it. The instructional design, I had a course recently, the teacher was not empathetic, the instructional design was pathetic. They knew it all the way up to the dean, they knew that the course design was terrible. And they were and I had it expressed to me. But if that's the case, I had another teacher saying the situation. Instructional Design is bad. But the teacher was empathetic. And so the teacher shifted the way that they approach the class. That's what's neat. That's one of the things that's needed. Yeah, academia, you need, and you need to know when to be empathetic.

[Dan] Right? So I've taken away two things from the value of an LX perspective to cost design. And yeah, that's the most that empathy speaks for itself. You've just explained it very well. And a question comes to mind, how much empathy can an instructor put in when it's lacking from the user interface and experience side? But the other thing that I took away was that the learning experience is useful because it looks at the holistic picture. It's not just what's happening in the course, what are the learning objectives, activities, but how is that experience happening from start to finish?

[Darren] Yes, yes, it is true, what is called a true learning experience, definitely holistic if we, if somebody is looking at the learning experience, and that, that analysis, that analytical eye, that lens is only focused on the course, that's still instructional design. Because it's limited to that, but the learning experience, which a lot of people in academia, I think people are starting to think about it this way, the view has to be broadened. Because the learning experience cannot possibly be limited to the classroom.

[Dan] No, what is this? This overlap isn't there between learning experience design and instructional design? As someone who's kind of dabbling in instructional design, I see the importance of the learning community of opportunities for collaboration, but perhaps they are centered on achieving results for the end goal of getting those grades passing that was and how much of that is then going. Okay. Before in the branding of the institution, how much of that is going on after in the development and consolidation of career skills? Yes, socialization of work readiness, career readiness?

[Darren] Absolutely, absolutely. And so when we broaden and look at it that way, the students when they're the instructors will get less flack from the students because they feel more supported. Enrollment goes up. So the brand has, it looks different people look at that institution with, but they've got what I like to call the warm fuzzies when they think about that, and that's the reflection of the BX or the brand experience, because of all these things. And a lot of people could put together a well designed course, great teacher. But if things are happening on the campus, that make that students feel unsafe, or make them feel alienated, it will translate into the classroom, coming through the door of the door gate of that student now, because now they're bringing all the anxieties, and the annoyance and the frustration factors, the pain points that they're experiencing outside the classroom, are not going to be reflected potentially in the work that's being done. And so the work that's being done is no longer a reflection of that student's accuracy or commitment. It's actually more or more of a reflection of the of the all the different anxieties and the other elements, which is why LX needs to take all those other things into consideration because if, if it's not things are not going well Then you could have some some attrition you could have, you could have students and decide to leave the school. You have students who no longer feel confident, and they could keep other people from wanting to, to attend the school, they could go online and write a writing review. And how many people are going to see that review. I've heard about that before, where people will read a review that someone wrote, but that's that person. I mean, people don't in general don't know how to write reviews, the average person doesn't know how to write a review. But that doesn't stop 2000 people from reading that. So now you've got an issue, because you've taken something that is a subjective experience, but presented it with an objective eye. Yeah, or what looks like an objective eye when an objective review is based on a set of standards that you really are going to subject multiple institutions to, whereas the subjective eyes, this is what happened to me. And this is what I think the people write what happened to them and presented as if everybody needs that as if it's going to happen to everybody. And that's not necessarily the case. So we need to be aware of those things.

[Dan] Yeah. And I think no one can deny that the role of institutions or universities is really changing. Hybrid learning as digital learning becomes more a thing as an employee, employers require different degrees, skills, qualifications from people. So yeah, I mean, you've convinced me honestly, and it's not really hard to see the picture that universities need to start looking at this holistic experience. And not just one single aspect of their course design of their program structure of their instructional design, implementation and adoption.

[Darren] Yeah, you just made me think of something too, I say, cuz, at the core of learning experience, it is instructional design. And I have come across institutions that really sorely lack so you have some institutions that are starting to get on board and it is spreading. And the the degree programs and LX are starting to pop up. If an institution is just getting their feet wet, it's okay. To start at the instructional design level. If that's where you need to start, there's nothing to lose in making sure that instructional design is solid.

[Dan] Yeah, I think a lot of institutions are just opening that door and starting to see what's going on.

[Darren] Yeah, cuz if the learning if that experience is bad, nothing else is gonna matter. You're gonna have the greatest mascot, you can serve, you're leaving home every day in the cafe. It's not it's not going to overtake the fact that the learning experiences that and all of my bad, all of my worst experiences in my academic career, most notably from 2003 till today. Yeah, that's a bachelor's degree, 2 master's degrees. And grant certain educational technology, starting a doctoral degree over three times because you can't transfer those courses. So I'm four classes away right now from my dissertation. But I started that back med doctoral. There are three types. So from 2003 to 2021. My worst experiences are always with one of two things or a combination of the two bad instructional designs, which I usually do not get a good grade if the instructional design is bad. I don't and I'm an honor student everywhere I've gone from is cum laude, something all the way up, or a teacher that is completely I mean, like somebody put us or put in a needle and sucked all of the empathy out of them. And when you get a combination of the two, it's just, you just got to try to make it through.

[Dan] Moving away from negative experiences, terrible teachers and instructional design. You mentioned the last time we spoke a little bit about FeedbackFruits, I just wanted to ask what had you seen about the tool suite already?

[Darren] When I saw it, when I was first introduced to it, I fell in love with it not just as an instructor, but also as a student. I saw several things, most notably, I love how I facilitated collaboration. I love how it inspired us and almost from a gamification perspective, in a sense, because the notices were there, the things were prominent, the way to engage were prominent. you're encouraged to get to give feedback. The interface was clean. It was highly scannable from a UX side of things. Very easy for the AI to move around. The calls to action stood out: The notifications and the status statuses associated with the students have you looking at it as a student, or if you're looking at it as an instructor, the different status elements, the flags, everything just popped. I mean, this thing was so critical. I ran back to Michigan State to Kent State, I hope that if they ever see that, please, please sign up for FeedbackFruits, immediately to, to get these because I think it really, really enhances the way that students interact with one another. And I think it really helps enhance the way that instructors are engaging with the students. And so anything that optimizes and makes the learning experience better, it's a must have for me, absolutely, very supportive. Cognitively, it helps people so there was no additional cognitive load, it didn't generate any mental chatter, the UX was off the charts. The CX of it was off the charts to me, and just just a huge win and mega kudos to those who are behind this application because of the potential that it holds. And the impact that it can make. And I have never seen anything like it in my travels. And it's huge, because what FeedbackFruits are attempting to address happens to be a huge pain point arena, in, in academia, particularly online learning, and that is what it's phenomenal because people don't like engaging in giving feedback. Sometimes. A lot of times, I'll see students that when it comes to giving someone else feedback. They don't want to do it. Yeah. Then there is, people don't want to say something bad about someone else, where they're afraid to say something that a lot of people have to have the experience of being exposed to a lot of constructive criticism. And, and understand the value point of it, that it's not personal. And there's, you know/

[Dan] When it comes back to what you said, conflict isn't intrinsically bad. Oh, right.

[Darren] Yeah, it does. It does. If we, if we look at the one of the things I tell people a lot and look at the content, don't ascribe a voice or a tone to it. Look at the statement for what it is. And if people can learn to separate because we I think we the average person by reflex assigns a tone to what we read. We've been reading books and things like that. So we were kids. And we get into this digital arena, that we're reading emails all over the place, we're reading reviews on Amazon, and we and we look at movies or things that we assigned tone yes to things. And sometimes we assigned the wrong tone. And then now the message loses its potential value. But if we separate the two, it helps us to be more constructive. And when we look at that, well, you know what? That is correct. And they said that, and then we start, then we shift, we have a paradigm shift in our cognition, that really helps make us. It blows the lid off of the potential we can have in our transformation as individuals. So I think FeedbackFruits helps with that, because there is a challenge. In doing that, we don't like to admit it, but there's a challenge in doing it. And we all you might be comfortable with it, I might be comfortable with it, but these three other people may not be. So when you are talking about empathy, again, when that empathy is taken into consideration in the design, it will impact how the design is deployed and implemented. And so realizing that these people have this Wow, why do they feel like that? Well, let's ignore that. The fact is, they do feel like that. So let's just approach it from that angle. Now we can get something done now we can innovate.

[Dan] While I'm sure if the design and product team at FeedbackFruits are listening, they'll be puffing their chests up. But yeah, I know for me, I hear the term is engagement, collaboration so many times every day that they filter into a part of my unconscious where I stop paying attention to them, they become buzzwords, keywords. But yeah, the tools, FeedbackFruits tools, try to be built around facilitating the opportunity and a good interface for collaboration, for engagement, for interactivity. And yeah, it just seems so general for me to say these things because I've been saying it every day for over a year. But yeah, these are essential parts of a learning experience, right? Engaging with the material. What did you say those three things, assessment, reflection and?

[Darren] Presentation, application and feedback and I didn't. I didn't go over them. I can be real quick, if you want a presentation it is how you give people the information like if you watch a video on YouTube, that's a presentation application. is when you have an opportunity to practice what you gained during the presentation. So that's when you start to build the confidence, because you actually start to do what was communicated to you during the presentation. The feedback is when someone with authority figures in that experience. Now, lets you know, Oh, you did? Well, here, here, there's five segments, you did well on one on two, on three on four, you could improve on five. And this is where you could improve. Now we've run full circle, that's that whole presentation, application and feedback circle, that all learning experience. It says direct learning experiences, looking at the actual course activity, that balls around that. And so if the presentation is good, okay, we're good there. If the application the person gets the exercise, and we've properly designed the exercises, that give them a chance to apply what was in the presentation, and we hope that the presentation was thorough, because if not, they're gonna fail that application, then the feedback is going to be dysfunctional, because you're criticized on something they really weren't informed on what to do. So the feedback, and that's where feedback fruits, of course, aptly named application comes into play, because now people get the feedback. And now the FeedbackFruits is helping people in that full circle engagement for each one of those learning frames, and I'm real old school, that I'm calling those frames. That's what they were called back in the late 90s 80s, and 90s, teaching frames. So we look at each teaching frame. And we're segmenting those, and we want to optimize each one. And FeedbackFruits is dynamite. helping facilitate that, and I love you, said the word facilitation. And I was thinking fostering, FeedbackFruits, fosters collaboration, it fosters dialogue, it fosters communication, and all of those things, energize. Those are key, energizing points for education. Without those things, there will be no education or person, there's going to be guessing. And then eventually, you run into a feedback loop. And if that feedback loop is not constructive, then you're not going to get everything you needed to get. So within academia, we have put together these academic institutions to fertilize the learning process. So those things need to be there, everything else happens. Everything else is happenstance. But we have purposely put together this institution so that we can give you here's, here's these 20 topics, and each one of them consists of 8 to 10. Frame learning frames, if you will, off the top of my head. And in each one of those learning frames, you have multiple, multiple instances of presentation, application of feedback. And that's where feedback is where I think FeedbackFruit fits in, and touches on that area where feedback is happenstance or is dependent, dependent upon simple discussion forums, or it has people give feedback, but it doesn't really track things or give you those indicators or any metrics that help you to understand how things are flowing, where FeedbackFruits does. So now the metrics are informing you. That information helps everybody to know exactly what's going on. And maybe I need to step something up, maybe I can pull back a little bit, or just to know that you've checked off the boxes in a proper way. I think that it really helps do that. I look forward to one day looking up and seeing FeedbackFruits in my list of tools. That's going to help me get my job done. As an instructor.

[Dan] Me too. Do you have any takeaway message for instructional designers? It dm us who are just hearing about UX and LX for the first time in this context? And who might be hesitant to adopt a new tool suite to adopt, to hiring people such as yourself? Who are experts in this field? What's your message to them?

[Darren] I think that one of the big things is that I'll go all the way back to my bid on curiosity. I'm wondering, I'm hoping that people are curious or God. I'll repeat that, hoping that people are curious. I'm open if people are curious, that I will have at least art or foster some curiosity. Maybe people want to learn about UX a bit. And I challenged them to do that. It can be a tough area to navigate to a great extent. But there are a lot of good resources out there and people can tap into them. And you can learn about UX and how it fits. There are more and more resources associated with LX that I've seen that are starting to pop up. And again, your person will have to navigate those waters carefully. But they are out there and you as you continue to to learn about some of these other elements, and you're really engaging in innovation at that stage, even if it's on a personal level, but it will start with us as individuals. And when it starts with somebody as an individual, then that energy again, then transitions to a group. And then that energy transitions from the group to the institution. And then when it hits that level, then we can start to foster paradigm shifts, and we can enhance the lives of the learners. So for that reason, I hope people will just take the curiosity and let it run from there because the ROI out of curiosity is off the charts. And it will all have always been off the charts since the caveman made the first round wheel or whoever did it. Ever since then, it'll be funny. If we ever found out that the reasonable wheels were square. That'd be fun. But yeah, that curiosity goes a long way. It's actually listed in my model for emotional intelligence of curiosity is one of the elements that's there. You won't see that with a lot of authors, but I do include it as part of, of emotional intelligence, so goes a long way.

[Dan] Yes. And for those looking to foster a paradigm shift towards curiosity, make sure to check out Darrin Hood’s podcast world of UX for more insights into UX and LX, thank you so much for joining me, Darren. That's all the time for today. So thanks.

[Darren] Thanks for having me today, Dan. I appreciate it.


So, after our chat we kept talking about design a while longer, and I got really excited about some of the places I'd seen these processes in motion. Specifically, the design team at FeedbackFruits give us weekly sneak peeks into all kinds of in-development features, giving all of us in the team some appreciation for the detail that goes into shaping and positioning every part of the learning experience for those using these tools. Point being, these sessions show us the intricacies behind design choices which have a huge impact on the user, and the brains behind all that could do with being picked apart. On that note, I would love to get our senior designer, Felix connected with Darren, because that would be a conversation worth listening to. In the meantime.

Well, there's also something coming up in May which I want to mention, and that's inspirED 2021. On the 26th and 27th we're hosting an event bringing together higher education leaders, sharing strategies, resources and ideas, and we're excited to see hundreds of teachers and instructional designers already signing up. We've also got speakers coming from The Wharton School, Boston and Cornell University, and Texas A&M International, and possibly more still to come. I might even be co-hosting a small session myself about automated feedback, which I'm super excited about. If you're looking for a window to some of the greatest innovations in pedagogy today, and you've got time to spare on those dates, you should sign up right away as I can promise you'll take something away from it. Plus it's free registration and it'll be loads of fun and really probably the best way to kick off your summer. Links below as always. Considering the time, I'll let that be my sign-off today, thank you listener for staying with me, you are appreciated and your questions, comments and suggestions are too. This has been the Learning Experience Lab and I'll see you next time.

Further readings and references:

You can find out more about Darren's publications, including his podcast, 'World of UX' here

Darren Hood

Senior LX Designer at Michigan State University

Darren is the Senior UX/LX Designer at Michigan State University, as well as adjunct professor at Kent State and Lawrence Technological. He hosts the ‘World of UX’ podcast as well as making regular appearances on other shows and at other events in the field.

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Dan Hasan
Content Creator, FeedbackFruits