user experience in instructional design

How UX can help instructional design to stay at the forefront of elearning

User Experience (UX) design and User Interaction (UI) design have become buzzwords in elearning. At Saffron, UX is an integral part of our learning design, and we’ve even published articles to help you level up yours.

Traditionally, UX has been the domain of designers and developers. Instructional designers, after all, are content-focused. We think about how we structure it, how to make it interactive, behavioural and fun. But a lot of instructional design fails to consider UX as a whole. In my opinion, we are missing out.

What does UX have to do with instructional design? I think it has everything to do with it. It goes without saying that good UX without good content won’t have the effect and impact that we are all looking to make with our learning. But marrying it together has the power to transform.

Shifts in elearning UX

The problem with defining UX as the responsibility of designers and developers is that the learner doesn’t separate graphic design or developed interactions from instructional text. They experience the course as a whole. All the elements come together as they progress through it, meaning that the effectiveness of the instructional experience will depend on the overall user experience.

What we know at Saffron is that users want learning experiences that immerse them in realistic situations. And our clients want to see tangible outcomes in the behaviours of their employees. Simulations achieve both. eLearning is moving away from the design of courses towards the design of authentic experiences. This shift puts the focus on immersing the learner in situations which are realistic to their context.

This means that in addition to thinking about the instructional experience of the course and how learning outcomes will be addressed, the instructional designer also needs to create a context for the learner that is realistic to them and immerses them. The instructional designer is becoming more actively involved in designing the user experience of the course.

Peter Morville’s user experience honeycomb can help us champion the experience of the learner. This model has been around for quite a while, but I think re-examining can help us keep up with recent shifts in elearning. So how can thinking about the user experience honeycomb help make the right kind of impact for 21st century learners?

The UX honeycomb

According to the user experience honeycomb, in order for a user experience to be meaningful and valuable, information must be useful, usable, desirable, findable, accessible and credible. There is no shortage of blogs that talk about how the model relates to instructional design. But I want to do something different. I want to think about how some aspects might have expanded their meaning as the world of elearning is advancing.

UX honeycomb


This is a central aspect for IDs and it may seem like an obvious one, but let’s push ourselves to think further. Apart from the content being useful and relevant to the learner, this aspect can help us think about how information might only become useful to the learner when they use it to change their behaviour. For example, a summary screen of soft skill development areas might be less useful than a personalised action list that the learner has created for themselves. In today’s world of information over-load, we must ask ourselves how we can design instructional experiences that allow the learner to make use of the information we deliver.


We should see our instructional design as central in shaping the usability of a learning experience. In the end, our text is what lets the learning interactions come to life. Making the learning interaction smooth and intuitive is key. However, in the light of recent shifts in elearning, we have to think of usability in a wider context. How does the content structure and the learner’s experience of the course narrative influence the usability of the course?


Have you ever thought about text being desirable? Probably not, but I think this can really change the way we approach writing it. The course text must be emotionally appealing, engaging and appreciative of the identity of our learners and the organisations they work in. It is about more than just content delivery – it’s about appealing to the community that we are trying to break into with our learning.


It is obvious that our work as IDs adds to the overall credibility of the learning course in that the content must be accurate and reliable. However, given the shift away from elearning courses, we have to ask ourselves how a learning experience can be credible. The simple answer is that the narrative and scenarios have to be realistic. Creating behavioural change can only happen when the course is immersive, and the narrative is the main element that drives this.

The way forward

Re-thinking these aspects can result in a more user-centred, holistic approach to instructional design that can keep up with recent development in elearning. In the end, the content we develop brings the learning interactions and course design to life – it is what binds everything together. So, we shouldn’t see instructional design as separate from the user experience design – we need to be actively involved in shaping it. This way we can continue to develop 21st century elearning that excites the learner, provides a satisfying user experience whilst delivering on the behaviour outcomes our clients wish to see.

Nowadays learners have multiple digital experiences every day at work and at play, they know when a design is counter-intuitive or when an experience is not well designed. They have developed the eye of a designer to a certain degree. This means we must approach things more holistically to deliver the outstanding experience they expect when entering an elearning course.