A while back in Las Vegas I was introduced to the idea of ‘Deep Metaphors’, a concept associated with Gerald Zaltmann through a friend of mine and his friend/employer that we were hanging out with. ‘Deep Metaphors’ came about while we were tossing around the phrase ‘experience design’. Since those discussions I have read about and learned about User Experience Design which is talked about in the field of learning and development by people much smarter than I. One of the things that I enjoy doing is building out ‘content models’ that express approaches to working with content for the express purpose of designing learning interventions. A learning intervention in the way that I use it, is synonymous with a ‘learning experience’ in the most generic sense. In other words, those page turning courses are as much an experience as any other experience, they just tend not to be transformative in nature.

In the ideal world all ‘learning experiences’ are transformative in nature since I believe that most people can settle on the idea that ‘learning’ is in itself a way of discussing transformations specific to the aquisition of new knowledge, skills or beliefs. A learning experience discussed in this way is an experience that we begin thinking, believing and acting in one way and come out the other side thinking, or believing or acting in a different way. The one area where there is room for great debate and discussion is the ‘permanence’ of the transformations and to what degree must the transformations be ‘permanent’. Have we learned anything if several hours, days, years after an experience, we have forgotten or reverted back to old behaviours?

Discussed in this way, ‘experiences’ used to describe a transformative intervention that changes us is a stimulus and the ‘transformation’ or the resulting ‘learning’ is a response. This way of thinking about ‘experience design’ isn’t exactly what most experience designers talk about explicitly, but is implicit in their discussions. I find it helpful to make it explicit since it helps to focus the purpose of ‘instructional design’ to the creation of a stimulus that ought to elicit a transformative response in the target end user group. Instead of creating ‘learning’ designers should be thinking about simply creating the stimulus.

Going back to building out a content model, I created for myself a little project to design a model that uses the 7 deep metaphors I had heard about and tie that into a process focused on designing experiences that elicit transformative responses.

This paper describes both the thinking behind the model and the high level design of the model itself. The purpose of this paper is to solicit community discussion around the ideas presented here as a instructional design model that can be shared and taught to new instructional designers as an alternative to existing models.

To get the model started I thought about the types of ‘experiences’ that we can control and design around. I considered that we can essentially do one of three things. We can:

a) Design new experiences

b) Augment existing experiences

c) Support current or past experiences

Roughly speaking, designing new experiences is where we take an end user and immerse them in something that is outside of their natural work/living environment. Consider your typical web based course, flight simulator, classroom training, etc. Augmenting experiences is when we infuse an environment that is within the natural order of somebody’s work/life space with objects, virtual and non virtual, that provides additional sensory stimulation beyond what the natural environment provides. Consider augmented reality, layar technology on your mobile devices and multi player games played out over time within your work environment. Supporting experiences is what we typically call performance support. Designing supporting materials is to place objects within an environment that can be used for ‘additional materials’ but are not part of the experience themselves. Consider QR codes on museum objects used to provide ‘additional information’ if your interested, but fall outside of the museum experience themselves. However if QR codes are meant to be part of the experience of the museum, then they can be thought of as augmenting the experience.

The seven ‘deep metaphors’ this model attempts to build on are: journey, balance, container, connection, resource, control, and transformation.

Here is the model at a high level in its entirety:



Broken down by sections, it looks like this:

Starting State

All transformations are a movement away from something and arriving towards something else. If I think about transformative learning experiences two obvious factors surface which are ‘beliefs’ and ‘behaviours’. I group ‘knowledge’ into ‘beliefs’ simply because this opens the door to learning something new that was previously thought of as irrefutable (knowledge). When it comes to ones personal ‘state’ beliefs express the subjective nature of knowledge as it resides in the mind of an individual. Transformative experiences tend to make us alter our belief system or the way that we behave.

I have also added ‘environment’. There are experiences that consume us that ultimately may not change what we believe or how we behave but change our environment. The change of environment ultimately forces us to behave differently although we’re not behaving differently because of internal transformations, we’re behaving differently because our ‘natural environment’ has changed.

This part of the content model should be used to describe or characterize the starting state prior to the transformative stimulus.



New Experience – Journey

I used the metaphor of Journey exclusively for designing new experiences because I felt that the characteristics of journeys were well matched to the characteristics of designing new experiences. When I think of a journey I think about transporting somebody in an external vehicle. Whether it is a physical journey or a mental journey, there is a construct (physical or mental) that is used to carry somebody from here to somewhere else.

Before you leave on a journey, you generally pack those things that you believe at the time will be helpful to you along the journey and filter out those things that would otherwise be superfluous weight. Your pre-journey experience therefore demands that you park some items and pack others.

Everyone who embarks on a journey has set expectations about the journey. What tends to make journeys transformative is the sense that the end result of the journey was very different from what the initial expectations of the individual were.

The journey is the experience itself. It is the series of mini events along the birds eye view of the journey path that really make up that journey. The sum of all the mini experiences is what makes the journey very different than what the initial expectations were. Although journeys are a series of mini events, its hard to imagine them as separate as opposed to being one big journey.

It is generally after the journey itself where we begin to feel the transformations. Where we take stock of what we never knew, what we always knew to be true (although seems revelatory even when we knew it) and those things where we learned to be wrong.

As a designer of new experiences this section of the model provides a high level construct for helping the end user move from their starting state to some desired end state. Help the end user understand what ideas or things need to be brought for the experience to enjoy it and what to leave behind. Let end users come to their own set of expectations as these expectations will form a foundation for reflection after the experience. Design experiences as mini events and let the sum of the mini events be the experience. Allow learners to reflect on the experience and devise their own conclusions about what was meaningful and how.



Augment – Transform

Based on the definition provided above for what it is to design ‘augmented experiences’ I’ve used the two metaphors of ‘transformation’ and ‘connect’ to build out a design framework. I used ‘transform’ as a metaphor for augmenting experiences because ‘transformation’ requires an existing state. Learning itself is an integrated experience where new behaviors and beliefs are integrated into the behaviors and beliefs that are already there. Augmenting experience is a design process of using existing structures found in the natural work environment and building sensory objects into the environment that act as a stimulus to create a learning response. Augmenting an existing experience is to transform the experience into one that transforms the individual undergoing the experience.

When I focused on ‘transformation’ itself I realized that individuals who undergo ‘transformations’ travel through the following stages: ‘awareness’ of the environment, the experience of the environment, the opportunity to apply what was observed during the experience, combining new beliefs and behaviours with existing beliefs and behaviours and finally removing beliefs and behaviours that no longer fit.

The purpose for augmenting an experience is to use the existing experience itself as the vehicle to stimulate a learning response. A designer would choose augmenting an experience in this way as there are elements of an experience that provide the necessary stimulus to effect a learning response and in the end serves as a more integrated approach to driving change.

‘Awareness’ becomes an important part of transformation because it is the stage where individuals become familiar with the vehicle and allows them to begin the ‘experience’ itself. The experience is not the transformation itself and therefore ‘applying’ those things that were built into the experience potentially outside the experience itself and possibly within a similar experience without the ‘augmentation’ is important to help the cycle of transformation take hold. The integration of newly acquired behaviours and beliefs into existing beliefs and behaviours and the dropping of old beliefs and behaviours that no longer fit complete a cycle of transformation.

Designing augmented experiences that elicit a learning response requires all the stages of transformation.


Augment – Connect

The use of the ‘connect’ metaphor follows the same construct as ‘transformation’ except that the design uses the principles of connections to augment experiences. As a design practice, ‘connecting’ individuals to objects and people during an experience can be a great way to augment existing experiences. Slightly different than a ‘transforming’ experience where objects are built into the environment itself to augment the experience, connecting individuals during an experience can work on many levels, including emotional connections, outside physical connections, people, etc.

Connections in an augmented experience are still built into the environment itself, but the stimuli is driven through connections as opposed to sensory objects directly in the environment. There can certainly be a mix of design strategies used in the augmentation of experiences so do not think of connections as being one path and transform as being another.


Supporting experiences are not the same thing as augmenting experiences. Here is where the metaphors for ‘Container’, ‘Resources’, ‘Balance’ and ‘Control’ are used. The use of ‘container’ in this case is used to support the idea of packaging ‘support’ outside the experience itself, resting in a container. When I was thinking about supporting experiences the notions of balance and control seemed like a natural fit. Resources seems obvious so I won’t spend time discussing this instead lets focus our attention on ‘balance’ and ‘control’.

At the end of the day, when it comes to corporate learning, the ultimate goal is to drive performance of employees to steer a company in the direction it has set for itself through the decisions of management and those below or beside. As important as it is when we discuss learning, that we discuss the focus on creating transformative experiences, it is also important that we remember that there are boundaries to the transformation that we are after. Using ‘balance’ and ‘control’ measures as support for an experience focus the design of that experience on what the desired transformations might be. There are no gurantees that every individual walks away with the same transformative experience, in fact its unlikely anyone will experience the intervention the same way. Balance and Control and those elements that you may build into an intervention to create a minimum baseline of support for those who wander to far astray.



End State

Every transformation is a movement from a starting state to an end state. Much like the parameters in the starting state, the end state as far as a transformative learning experiences go, will deal with behaviors and beliefs in addition to a potentially altered environment.

This section of the model allows you to design and describe what the end state should look like, bearing in mind that what you are trying to do, is move away from equating the experience or the instruction within the experience with the learning itself. The experience should have been designed to elicit a response that results in people acting and thinking differently. Telling somebody to act in a certain way in general won’t elicit a transformative response. But have a person experience something where acting in the way you want them to act is a natural response and your likely going to have more success.

Use the end state semantics to clearly outline what you hope will change from the starting state.


This model is meant to help instructional designers sculpt content in a way that resembles the natural phenomenon of experiencing a transformative life event that results in deep learning. The big difference is that as a designer you are trying to manipulate events to drive experiences where those experiences that have really had an impact in our lives have for the most part been unplanned and more often than not, required no human intervention. This model borrows the key elements of those experiences to help drive meaningful learning in the workplace that have a direct impact on the performance of individuals and their participation in the performance of their host organizations.