Cadence in Learning Experience Design – Part 1

Instructional design: writing for visual creatures and logical units.
March 1, 2017
Cadence in Learning Experience Design – Part 2
March 27, 2017
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Part 1: Every learning experience will have an innate cadence, but are you actively designing it?

There are various meanings for the word cadence. If you consult, the two most relevant to learning design describe “the flow or rhythm of events, especially the pattern in which something is experienced” and “the rhythmic flow of a sequence of sounds or words”.

While we can think intellectually about cadence – design for it, analyse it and map it, ultimately cadence is felt by an audience. It’s in the rhythm and fall of a song, the form and pace of a movie, the flow and intensity of the spoken word.

Cadence can feel smooth or awkward, boring or frenetic. It might be the difference between feeling satisfied or irritated. In fact, just like good UX or a good movie, if the cadence works we probably won’t notice it – we’ll just be aware of the impact the experience had on us.

If we think about cadence as the flow or rhythm in which something is experienced, it’s easy to see how any learning experience will end up with some kind of cadence. But has it been actively designedto suit the learning or performance need?


Use it or lose them

When designing we often think deeply about the needs of the business and our learners – pain points, motivations, and learning/performance outcomes. We also think about how the experience looks, sounds and reads – how it communicates with our audience. But we may not always consciously think about how the experience in its parts and as a whole might feel to the learner.

Poor cadence leads to irritation, boredom or confusion. When the cadence is just right, learners are receptive and engaged, an essential first stage in any persuasive communication or learning event.

  • As designers we can work with cadence to influence the learner experience.
  • Cadence affects how we feel about an event, creative work or product by maintaining interest and engagement
  • Our receptiveness to an experience can influence how effective it is in impact or outcomes.
  • The right cadence is one that meets the need and purpose for a desired effect.

Cadence in learning experience design

Our team often talk about cadence when reviewing a learning design (whether it be face-to-face or digital). Here’s how we understand it in terms of learning experience design:

  • Rhythm – the patterns apparent in the structure and delivery of the experience.
  • Flow – how each element connects with the previous and the next.
  • Pace – how quickly or slowly the learning content is delivered.
  • Intensity – the level of engagement, challenge or impact.
  • Resolution – how the event, interaction, lesson or message reaches closure – or not! This can be used to create suspense or intrigue, or to create a sense of completion and closure.

But wait, I hear you say, this may be all well and good for workshops, courses and products, but what about the 70 and 20 parts of the 70:20:10 model? How about performance support, job aids, social learning, communities of practice and on the job coaching?

Take another look at the five elements of cadence we just covered and I think you’ll see that they can indeed apply to all types of learning or performance support events or objects – it’s all about the lens we apply.


Find the pattern and make it work

If you’re creating learning experiences, it’s likely you’re instinctively working with cadence. Let’s take it a step further and deliberately design a learning experience cadence that’s just right – for the purpose, and the audience.

This blog is Part 1 of three posts in this series. It did start out as one long piece, but we felt splitting it into three parts had a nice cadence ????.

Keep a look out for Part 2 where we’ll get a bit more hands-on with mapping and applying the five elements of cadence in a learning experience design. In Part 3 we’ll look at the macro and the micro, and how to see cadence in your design documents.

I would love you to throw any feedback, insights or fresh ideas into the mix too – hopefully I can incorporate these into the next two posts as well.

Feel free to comment, contact us directly or let’s connect on LinkedIn.

Damala Scales Ghosh is a Learning Designer with a background in anthropology, VET teaching and multimedia. She’s passionate about learning and capability, loves to ask why – and why not – and is very fond of olives.She’s enjoying life with The Learning Hook as one of our Learning Design Specialists.

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