Meet a Learning Designer and Content Strategist - Sarah Stein Lubrano

Whether leading a team, speaking to a client, or communicating to an audience, we can only get across what we want if we know how people take in information. To do this, you have to know how they learn. This is where Learning Designers come into play.

Sarah is passionate about how people learn—online and offline. We had a blast talking with her about everything from how it’s better to see how a person is brilliant rather than just labeling people as brilliant to how she is training her cat to use buttons to communicate. We also dove into rubrics and how they are the key to demystifying creative work.

Along with her online courses and consultation, Sarah is working on a book about cognitive dissonance. She’s developing a framework of understanding why it’s uncomfortable to change your mind and how to practice having better conversations.

After you read through the article, reach out to her via her contact page.

“Good thinking and creativity are about having a really clear sense of a decent version. Then, you can go and innovate.”

- Sarah Stein Lubrano -

What is a Learning Designer and Content Strategist?

When you talk to someone in real-time, you make adjustments to help clarify your message depending on your audience's feedback. A learning designer and content strategist works to communicate and help people understand ideas outside of the one-on-one interactions.

Sarah Stein Lubrano makes a career out of successfully and simply communicating complex ideas.

You can really see that in her work as former Head of Content at The School of Life — a YouTube channel "exploring the great questions of emotional and physical life" (everything from coping with emotional neglect to an introduction to Voltaire) along with 6.53 million subscribers.

An expert on accessibility in learning and adjustable curriculums, we actually met her through her intensive nine-week virtual learning design course.

Not only does she teach — she teaches how to teach.

Her passions in learning design are:

  • Educational Content Through Social Media, Especially Video and Interactive Content

  • Explication of Complex Intellectual and Political Ideas

  • Accessibility in Learning

  • Content Strategy – especially educational

  • Teaching pets — even the most recalcitrant of cats — how to communicate by pressing buttons. Well, this is more of a hobby…

Don't ask if someone is brilliant — ask how

“In order for you to learn, you have to change. You have to give up old ideas. You need to change your sense of who you are. Which can be horrible, a painful thing — but necessary."

Sarah's passionate about figuring out how people learn — and then creating interactive content that challenges those engaging with it enough that they think about the world just a little differently.

Every single person, she believes, is brilliant in some way. But every single system, of course, is not designed to show that.

"Just like when airplanes were made to be ‘one-size fits all’ – many crashed because the pilots couldn’t adjust to their specific dimensions," she says.

Sarah's system for demystifying creative work

“Success is something that can be measured in different ways — so you can choose how you're evaluated, to a certain degree.”

According to Sarah, creative work shouldn't be some mystical unknowable thing. There are ways to evaluate whether something is creatively successful whether you feel like you are creative or not.

The secret?

Make every expectation explicit.

And then write them down for everyone to see and evaluate.

(No, really, write everything down — or somehow record it. Sarah once printed out an entire education film frame by frame to see what exact part of the imagery a client didn’t like. It’s this level of detail that helps people point to exactly what they do or don’t like about a creative work).

This might sound like the antithesis of creativity – and yet any creative work is designed on some formula, whether it’s a two-minute instructional film or an oil painting on a canvas.

(Again, no, really. Think of all your favorite movies and books. Now, think about the formula they’re playing on or with).

Sarah, coming from the instructional design world, encourages us all to do what she does on every project – make a rubric.

A good rubric is vital. If there are no standards or model for what you’re trying to create, it’s very hard to evaluate a job well done.

Lucky for us, Sarah has developed a system to actually measure how a project or endeavor is going.

How to create a good rubric:

  • Step one

    • Each person involved in the project must share detailed answers to the following:

      • What are the parameters for success with this project?

      • What can you reasonably do to contribute to this project?

      • What does it take to get there?

      • What materials will be needed?

      • What does the audience/consumer want to get out of this?

      • What are examples of previous works that have been successful? What was successful about them?

  • Step 2

    • Create a checklist of expectations based on those answers. (Again, write it all down.)

  • Step 3

    • Test the rubric. According to Sarah: “The best test for a good rubric is to give it to somebody who wasn’t part of the development process and see if they can do the thing.”

  • Step 4

    • And lastly, of course, use it to gauge your success, and iterate. As you work and learn and try new things, change the rubric from time to time.


Sarah mentions metacognition — or, thinking about your own thinking — a lot, for good reason.

It requires you to ask yourself how to succeed at something.

And studies have shown that once you employ metacognition in your learning process, you learn a lot better.

(Creating rubrics, btw, encourages metacognition.)

Technology and Learning Design

If you are working on virtual learning design, your technology options are enormous. But how do you focus your efforts?

Sarah shared this quote in one of her videos by Ivan Illich’s Toward a History of Needs, “Bicycles let people move with greater speed without taking up significant amounts of scare space, energy, or time...They cane get the benefit of technological breakthroughs without putting...undue claims on the schedules, energy, or space of others. They become the masters of their own movements without blocking those of their fellows. Their new tool creates only those demands which it can also satisfy…”

Share your thoughts

What do you think about this quote by Ivan? Is this approach really as great as he thinks? Share your thoughts on LinkedIn.

Dream collaborations

“I want to work with other people that are so like terrifyingly brilliant that I like wake up in the morning at 6:00 AM sweating”

Sarah would love to collaborate with anyone trying to explain things online.

TikTok PolTik

Creating a TikTok feed for a political theory expert

Lindsay Ellis

Working with YouTuber Lindsay Ellis

High School Education

Redesigning the high school curriculum

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