What is Experiential Design?

To understand experiential design, at its core, is to understand the difference between content and context in your course building.

Content is what most designers get from subject matter experts (SME’s). SME’s normally gather a huge amount of policy and procedure and send them to the designer to make sure that all of it is represented in the course. Sequenced content is often followed by a quiz or other purely memory-based activity.

Contextual or Experiential design takes into account who the learner is, where the task is performed, what are the common possibilities of failure, and what must be overcome. It is rooted more in problem solving and trial and error than memory.

Source: elearningindustry.com


The key to a good eLearning challenge is that it should have some real-world risk. The learner should have to overcome a real job challenge. In many ways, the challenge of the task being learned often drives the course interface. Adult learners know from experience right away if they are thrust into their real world, or if the “challenge” is to read all of the slides and then remember what they were told. This kind of false challenge is demotivating to the learner, and they will quickly find a way to navigate your gates while multitasking, and ultimately no learning will take place.

Challenges can mean many things.

Some tasks are time bound, others like customer service can face the challenge of angry customers, etc. Whatever the observable challenge is when you watch someone doing the job, make sure that it’s in your course. A football team that needs to play in a dome on Sunday might bring in speakers to practice so the players can practice in a loud environment that mirrors what they will face in the game. It’s the same with our learners.


This one can have hidden time and costs, but it does not have to. When creating activities, they should contain both the challenge and the risks of the task being performed, and with appropriate feedback. While some activities built into rapid development tools can serve a performance purpose, watch out for ones that ask the learner to “click to reveal” an object that they then have to read. Slowly revealed reading is no more interactive than providing a PDF document. Make sure your activities are real, contain relevant complexity and treatment, and aren’t just a clever way to present static content.


Completely contrary to a read and remember course, a good eLearning course delivers more learning in the feedback presentation than any of the other three areas we just discussed.

Q: Why is feedback so critical, and why is well done feedback better than the experience of a live event?

A: Feedback is personal, and it is customizable.

Think of a time you have been in a classroom and the same person answers all of the facilitator’s questions. Maybe you felt like you were falling behind but did not want to slow the class down and be stigmatized for it. Good eLearning is contextual, safe to fail privately, and provides more feedback to those who need it while skilled users can quickly demonstrate competency rather than be forced to have the same longer and more didactic experience as those new to the topic.

Good feedback is more than saying “Correct” when a learner makes a quiz selection.

Feedback allows for meaningful up skilling on the spot. Think of a time you may have failed a post quiz. You are sent back in the course navigation to take it over, but what did you learn about your gap in knowledge or skill? Likely not much. More likely you will guess differently and hope for the best. None of these scenarios lead to a performance changing moment and leaves us quite unsatisfied with the overall self-paced experience.

If you equate “CCAF” into your next experiential eLearning development plan, your chance of success will be exponentially better. Good luck!

Author: Kevin Cassidy

ELearning Instructional Designer / Developer with a formal education in television and broadcast communications, specializing in media based training, screen casting, micro learning, software simulations and documentation, video-based learning, Learning Management Systems and corporate SharePoint intranets.