Cadence in Learning Experience Design – Part 2

Cadence in Learning Experience Design – Part 1
March 16, 2017
Cadence in Learning Experience Design – Part 3
April 4, 2017

Part 2: Mapping and applying the elements of cadence

Cadence is one of those chameleon-like words that can take on a different meaning depending on industry and context.

For musicians cadence is about musical phrases. If you come from a UX or marketing background, it refers to the frequency, timing and duration of digital experiences across devices and channels. For writers, cadence is about using the rhythm and tone of words to draw readers in and create meaning. Hillary Weiss artfully explains how to do this in her post ‘Don’t write words, write music’.

So how can cadence apply to learning experience design?
It’s all about the elements of rhythm, flow, pace, intensity and resolution, the impact they have on how an audience feel, and how they work together for purpose and impact.


Let’s start with the process…

We can consciously map and apply the elements of cadence in a learning experience design.
Just as most great films start out as a story outline (or treatment) that is then moulded into a flowing narrative, so too should a learning event or module begin with an outline of content, delivery format, interactions and activities, and communication devices such as audio, images, or video. We call this a high level design.

Your process may begin with a big picture architecture of the experience – you might sketch it, create a table, and flow chart or a mind map. Or perhaps you’ll start with elements of inspiration such as images on a mood board, key messages, or tag lines.

No matter where you start in terms of process, to map out the cadence of your work you’ll need to bring these together into a high level design that sets out all the major elements of the learning experience. This is where you’ll see the cadence – the rhythm, the flow and pace, the points of intensity and the resolution. Once you can see it, you can work with it more consciously.


Applying the five elements of cadence to learning design

Let’s dig a little deeper into each of the elements of cadence and explore how they apply to learning experiences.

Think about rhythm as the pattern and timing found in the structure and delivery of the learning experience

The rhythm of a workshop or class can be felt in the timing of elements such as presentations, activities and breaks. How long should each be, in what sequence and when? For a digital experience, it may be the length of each topic or lesson, how they work together and where longer and shorter lessons are used for best effect.
“Rhythm is one of the most powerful of pleasures…” writes the poet Mary Oliver, “but some variation enhances the very strength of the pattern… Within the poem, irregularities may occur for the sake of variation; they may also occur because of stresses required by the words themselves, for accuracy, for emphasis, etc. ”

Key takeaway: Create a rhythm that suits the audience, learning content and delivery format, and use variety in rhythm to break monotony and create impact.

Flow is about how each element connects with the previous and next. How do you link the previous topic to the next? Is there a logical or lyrical order that creates a smooth ride for the learner? Can you transition with a good segue?

Flow can also be created by creating conventions and being consistent with them. I select submit to complete an activity. In our group we never give unsolicited advice. We always have a break at 10.30. These certainties enable the experience to flow without disruption or frustration.

Key takeaway: Create flow by considering the best way to transition between ideas or topics, and how you can create useful certainties.

Pace is linked to rhythm, but is more about the tempo or speed with which the learning content is delivered. In a face to face setting, we may adapt the pace of the lesson on the fly for our learners if they need more time or are ready to forge ahead. We can also personalise learning in digital products by designing for learner control over pace.

In any delivery format, you can also use pacing for impact. Add a fast activity at the mid-point to pick up momentum and energy, or slow down and allow space and time for reflection towards the end of a lesson.

Key takeaway: Design for pacing that suits the content, the learner and the stage they are in the experience.

Think about intensity as the level of engagement, challenge or impact felt by the learner. Intensity can go hand in hand with pace (fast = intense), but not always. Let’s say we give learners a complex branching scenario to complete. There’s no time limit so the pace is likely to be slow – each decision needs careful consideration. The intensity then comes from the challenge or level of concentration required. We can deliberately increase the intensity by including more viable alternative answers or by setting a consequence for a fail result.

When it comes to deciding on the appropriate intensity, take cues from the learning content and the performance outcomes. ‘Understanding Change’ will inspire a different approach to ‘Emergency Response Procedures’.

Key takeaway: Consider intensity when designing activities, challenges, tasks, goals or projects. The timing of a challenge is critical too – let’s keep our learners engaged but not overwhelmed.

Resolution describes how an experience ends. Usually we’ll want to provide a sense of completion or closure by concluding the topic or leaving the audience with a key insight.
Sometimes though, the design may call for a lack of resolution. Perhaps we want learners to be left with questions rather than answers. Think about those TV series that leave us wondering and get us coming back for more!

Shakespeare tells us “all’s well that ends well”. He’s right in a way – a good ending can fix the wrongs of what came before. The greatest impact on our lingering impression of an experience comes from how it ends. But a good ending is not always about closure – we should design a resolution that suits the purpose and outcome of the learning event or product.

Key takeaway: Design each ‘ending’ for best effect – how do you want the learner to feel right now?



This blog is Part 2of three posts in this series.

Check out Part 1 where we introduce the idea of cadence as a learning experience design tool and its impact on learner engagement.

Look out for Part 3next week where we’ll look at the macro and the micro of cadence, and how to see if you’ve got the right cadence in your design.

Got any ideas, questions or arguments? Great! Comment, contact us directly or connect with me 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 our Learning Design Specialist.

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