Moving from Information to Experience: Strategies for Enhancing Learner Engagement and Success

Key Points

  • Much of our higher education system has traditionally relied on methods for opening access to information

  • Our role as educators is always changing and adapting to the needs of learners

  • Successful learning environments use information to enhance the experience of learning

The Problem Facing Learner Engagement

One of the more common concerns I hear from educators related to design and teaching for elearning is a perceived lack of engagement from students. It’s not surprising this concern is so common given that we can all likely relate to instruction delivered online that was less than interesting or decreased our motivation to learn.

While many of the following comments could be applied to all types of learning environments, here I focus specifically on entirely online learning environments.

Why is the concern about learner engagement in online environments so prevalent in today’s higher education system?

Traditionally, elearning professionals have given considerable focus to designing information that supports cognitive learning processes (Mayer, 2009).  This is an important task because the Internet is particularly well-suited for supporting information delivery and communication purposes. While the strength of the Internet gives us efficient and innovative ways of communicating and sharing information, in this case, its strength can also become a crutch for designing online learning environments that do not successfully support engaging learning experiences.

Using Information to Support Experience

The 2016 Horizon Report recently included the increasing use of blended learning designs as an emerging and important trend facing higher education. Blended learning encourages educators to examine their roles in new and creative ways. For instance, instead of the goal of online learning to be information delivery, how can we use information to support more engaging and pragmatic learning experiences that combines both online and face-to-face learning experiences? This shift from information focus to experience focus is a noteworthy trend that will shape higher education for many years. This plays out at macro system levels, but also within each and every classroom and learning space.

Comparing Two Examples

The following two examples compare the differences between information-focused and experience-focused online learning environments. I am using Learning Environment Modeling to visualize the differences between the two approaches.

This first example in Figure 1 shows an information-focused learning environment design pattern. This pattern begins with presenting information and then guides the learner to practice using the knowledge or skills delivered in the presentations. This is a commonly used model in our modern higher education system and specifically in many online courses.

Graphic showing an information-focused design pattern - sequential topics lead to an assignment

Figure 1. Learning environment model of an information-focused design pattern.

The second example in Figure 2 shows a much different approach to designing the learning environment. This is an experience-focused model. Structurally, the model begins with a practice opportunity and then guides the learner to review information that would help them complete the activity. This approach situates the learning in a greater context and allows the learner to begin making progress towards their application of the knowledge or skills right away.

Graphic showing an experience-focused design pattern - Discussion helps determine topics, from which discussion from peers and instructors can flow

Figure 2. Learning environment model of an experience-focused design pattern.


The difference between information-focused and experience-focused learning environments can often be minor from a structural standpoint. This means that we are working with many of the same building blocks in the two approaches. From a design standpoint, we should focus on how to use information in learning environments to support contextualized learning experiences. This means the goal of the learning environment should extend far beyond only information delivery. The two examples presented in this article compare the differences between these two approaches and provide a map for designing experience-focused learning environments in your own courses.



Mayer, R.E. (2009). Multimedia Learning. Second Edition. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

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