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Jenae Cohn on Designing for Learning

Jenae Cohn is executive director at the Center for Teaching and Learning at UC Berkeley and, along with Michael Greer, author of the new book Design for Learning: User Experience in Online Teaching and Learning. Jenae and Michael’s book helps designers create compelling educational content. Think of it as required reading for anyone designing an online course, webinar, training, or workshop. 

Designing a platform intended to educate goes beyond traditional UX design. Jenae’s book does the following:

  • Looks at the science behind learning and articulates how to help someone be a learner
  • Helps designers understand the complex array of needs that learners have and create more purposeful learning experiences 

Learning is motivated by social interactions and emotions. In fact, the learning process is typically social, and most are motivated knowing that they’re not learning in isolation but in or for community. Designers should capitalize on these motivations. 

Tips for making online learning more social:

  • Take “temperature” checks throughout the course – for example, a poll or quiz 
  • Allow comments on shared artifacts and shared annotation
  • Prompt discussions and assign roles if needed 
  • Remember that a webinar will not necessarily create a social experience

As designers get started on creating online instructional material, Jenae reminds them to be kind to themselves. After all, designing for learners is an iterative learning process. Also, it’s critical to create checkpoints and opportunities along the way to garner feedback. With the aid of Jenae and Michael’s book, we can depart from the days of dull online courses and make them truly vibrant spaces of growth.

What you’ll learn from this episode:

  • Why typical online learning platforms are so dull and what can be done differently to make them more engaging and compelling
  • How instructional designers and UX designers can learn from one another
  • How designers can make online learning more social 
  • How designers can know if they’re meeting their goals


Quick Reference Guide

[0:00:21] Introduction of Jenae Cohn

[0:01:41] Design for Learning – Why we need a UX book for learning/teaching products

[0:05:17] Why UX designers may be surprised by what they didn’t know about designing with learning in mind

[0:08:58] What instructional designers can learn from UX designers

[0:12:14] Hybrid environments in learning products 

[0:15:07] DesignOps Summit – Oct 2-6, 2023

[0:16:13] Learning is social – how to help online learners stay engaged 

[0:24:58] How a designer can determine if their learners have had a good outcome

[0:30:40] Advice for designers moving into the learning design space

[0:33:29] Janae’s gift to listeners

Resources and links from today’s episode:

Design for Learning: User Experience inOnline Teaching and Learning by Jenae Cohen and Michael Greer

The UX of Educational Technology Community