25 Design Thinking Resources for Corporate Learning Professionals

design thinking

In this article, we’ve compiled 25 of our favorite design thinking resources—from inspiration and worksheets to academic research.

For learning professionals, design thinking challenges us to think about the learning solutions we design in terms of objectives, motivation, and barriers. We are so focused on solving our business problems that we don’t adequately consider the perspective of the learners who must go through the learning experience.

Join us for a webinar on how to incorporate design thinking techniques into how you think about and design your own training solutions.

Incorporating design thinking tools in the learning design process is critical to find the sweet spot between learner needs and business needs. Design thinking helps you actually identify every step in what you’re hoping your learners will do. It examines the resources required, the support needed, the “happy moments” involved in doing it, the pain points involved in doing it, and the thoughts and feelings that may be happening as someone does it. From that, you can extrapolate the moments of need and design more effective training.

These resources can help jump-start that necessary change in thinking. Each link can help you either better understand design thinking, or better implement it in your organization. This article isn’t going anywhere, so bookmark it for reference and come back whenever you need more inspiration!

Our 25 Favorite Design Thinking Resources

1. What is Design Thinking and Why Is It So Popular? – Rikke Dam & Teo Siang, Interaction Design Foundation

2. Five Stages in the Design Thinking Process – Rikke Dam & Teo Siang, Interaction Design Foundation

3. The Moment of Truth – Build Desirable Relationships with Users and Customers  – Interaction Design Foundation

4. Customer Journey Maps – Walking a Mile in Your Customer’s Shoes – Ditte Mortensen, Interaction Design Foundation

5. Design Thinking: Level-Up the Learner Experience – Sharon Boller, Bottom-Line Performance

6. Change By Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation – Tim Brown, HarperCollins Publishers

7. Human-Centered Training: One L&D Trend to Rule Them All? – Steven Boller, Bottom-Line Performance

8. Build Your Company On a Problem, Not a Solution – JL Rawlence, Concept Bureau, Inc.

9. How to Take a Learning Experience From Miserable to Memorable – Sharon Boller, Bottom-Line Performance

10. The Principles of Service Design Thinking – Building Better Services – Interaction Design Foundation

11. The subtle art that differentiates good designers from great designers – Quovantis

12. The Mobile Mindset: Designing Great Mobile Learning Experiences – Jake Huhn, Bottom-Line Performance

13. A Virtual Crash Course in Design Thinking – d.school, Stanford University

14. Prototyping in Design Thinking: How to Avoid Six Common Pitfalls – Rikke Dam & Teo Siang, Interaction Design Foundation

15. Design Thinking = Method, Not Magic – Stanford University Webinar, YouTube

16. The 2018 Learning Trends Report – Sharon Boller & Steven Boller, Bottom-Line Performance

17. The 7 Factors that Influence User Experience – Interaction Design Foundation

18. Learner Experience Design: Discovering Tools & Ideas for Orchestrating the Learner Experience
Joyce Seitzinger, RMIT Online

19. Learner Persona Worksheet – Sharon Boller, Bottom-Line Performance

20. Why Learner Personas and Learning Design Go Hand-in-Hand – Sharon Boller, Bottom-Line Performance

21. UX Mapping Methods Compared: A Cheat Sheet – Sarah Gibbons, Nielsen Norman Group

22. Personas – Why and How You Should Use Them – Rikke Dam & Teo Siang, Interaction Design Foundation

23. Customer journey mapping: The path to loyalty – Stuart Hogg

24. Design Thinking for Learning Innovation – A Practical Guide – Arun Pradhan, DeakinCo.

25. Mapping Experiences: A Complete Guide to Creating Value through Journeys, Blueprints, and Diagrams – James Kalbach, O’Reilly Media

Need some help crafting a learner journey or learning experience that gets results? Are there other challenges you’re experiencing right now? We’d love to discuss possible solutions.

How to Take a Learning Experience From Miserable to Memorable

learning experience

Imagine you own a travel business. You decide to specialize in trips to Europe. It’s up to you to define the itinerary and make all decisions regarding what a group will do. Now imagine two groups of travelers and two trip purposes. One trip is for educational purposes. This trip is targeted toward low-income youth ages 16-18 who have never even flown on a plane before. The other trip is a Spring Break experience for affluent families. These families will travel with school-aged children from 5 to 17.

If you are a savvy travel planner, you will know one trip plan won’t fit both groups. You will take a lot of time to build a clear picture of the typical traveler in each group. This picture will inform your decisions about each trip:

  • Advance information and travel guidance
  • Duration
  • Cost
  • Modes of transportation
  • Amount of free time versus structured time
  • Accommodations and the amenities required
  • Meals
  • Destinations within Europe and within particular countries within Europe
  • Activities (sight-seeing, recreation, daily itineraries)

The purpose and target travelers for each trip are different. You cannot create a successful “one-size-fits-all” trip. At best, you make one group happy and the other miserable. At worse, you fail to meet anyone’s needs or wants. Either scenario probably harms your travel business’s long-term growth.

What does this have to do with learning?

Learning is a journey. It can be successful for both learners and the organizations they work for, or it can be a waste of time. Success or failure depends on how consciously you design that journey to meet a “sweet spot” between the learner, the business need, and any environmental constraints that exist.

Don’t believe me? Marketers and product developers provide ample evidence of this.

These folks have known about – and crafted – journeys for years. They recognize that they can gain customers (or product users) via the design decisions they make at each point along a journey. Let’s look at a customer journey, as an example. Every customer journey has the same stops – regardless of what brand or product is being sold. However, the design choices made to support each stop are going to differ based on the following:

  • Who the target customer (you) are and what your drivers, motivators, fears, etc. are.
  • What need or want the product satisfies.
  • The product itself (Example: a technology product versus a physical product versus a service).

The Customer Journey

Put your “customer” hat on and think about a product/service you love. Your journey looked like this (regardless of what brand or product you have in your mind):

  • Reach – You (potential customer) paid attention to a brand or product message that was targeted to YOU (Someone who fits the “persona” that marketers used to design the sales messages you attended to. That persona was created with the explicit purpose of ensuring that the right messages got crafted and it addressed a need/want you have.)
  • Acquire – You dove deeper to learn more about the product/service. You saw a good fit with your wants/needs and you….
  • Convert – You said “yes” and made the purchase. A relationship with your product or service began.
  • Retain – Your experience with the product dictates how long you continue to use it. If the experiences have been consistently good or contain lots of “magical” moments, you may become an…
  • Advocate – You love the product or service; you tell other people about it. You form intense loyalty to it and don’t even look at other products or services.

Create a Memorable, “Magical” Learning Experience

At every stage of your journey, you have one or many “moments of truth.” These moments formed your “customer experience” with the journey and the product. A moment of truth is any interaction that influences your impression of the brand or product. “Magical” moments build positive impressions of the brand or product and keep you moving forward on the journey. Miserable ones make you question the product or brand’s value. If bad enough, they cause you to end the journey.

Think about it – what are some magical moments you’ve had as a customer? What are some miserable ones that caused you to dump a product or a service? Did you ever have a miserable moment that a smart company was able to convert to magical by how they handled your complaint?

This happens with learning too. Regardless of whether we think we’ve created a learning journey, we have. Our learners experience magical or miserable moments of truth at each step of the journey. (In learning, a moment of truth is going to be any interaction that influences our perceptions of the quality and value of the learning.) By recognizing that we are indeed crafting a journey, we gain control of the journey and increase the odds that the journey results in successful outcomes for learners and organizations. Design thinking processes and tools can help us design a journey and a learner experience that hit that sweet spot between the business’s needs, the learner’s wants/needs, and what’s technically feasible and reasonable to do.

A Learning Journey: 7 Steps

Here are the steps of a learning journey. Notice that there is no mention of instructor-led training, virtual instructor-led training, eLearning, job aids, or any other tool here. These are the steps someone must complete in order to learn. The form each step takes can vary widely based on what needs to be learned, who the learner is, the business’s needs, and the environmental constraints.

No Step of the Learning Journey
1 Notice – You attend to (or perhaps seek out) one or more messages about the learning opportunity. Alternately, you may self-identify that you need to learn something.
2 Commit  – You discover how the experience will benefit you and what’s required to gain this benefit. You match this information to your capacity to learn and your desire to learn.
3 Learn – You acquire information and explore new behaviors and skills.
4 Practice – You recall information try new skills, get feedback, and consciously adjust your behaviors.
5 Reflect and explore– You spend time thinking about what you need to improve, what you did well, and what more you might learn. You consider ways to incorporate new skill and knowledge into your daily flow.
6 Repeat and elaborate – You repeat practices and do practice that increases in complexity. You continue reflection.
7 Sustain– You incorporate knowledge/skill into your daily, weekly, or monthly flow. You adjust your environment, your behavior, and your resources to ensure you can keep using knowledge or performing skill.

Across all steps, ask these two questions:

  • How can I create an experience that delights the learner at this step?
  • How can I avoid creating experiences that make a learner miserable?

Design Thinking Webinar

Join me for a webinar on how to incorporate design thinking techniques into how you think about and design training solutions. We’ll walk through a learning journey and identify the moments of truth (magical and miserable) that form the learner experience. We will also talk tactics you can use in your design to help you create “magical moments of truth” that drive your learner forward on the journey to learn and use new knowledge or skills.

Additional Resources

Want other resources on design thinking and customer journeys, in particular? Check these out. Shoutout to Cheri Lockett Zubek for pointing me to these:

Need some help crafting a learner journey or learning experience that gets results? Are there other challenges you’re experiencing right now? We’d love to discuss possible solutions.

Development Time for Corporate Learning: A Reality Check

corporate learning

A frequent part of my job is answering the question, “How long will that take?” And my answer is based on a combination of experience, data, and knowledge about the project type.

In January, ATD posted updated data as to how long it takes to develop an hour of instructor-led and asynchronous eLearning. This has led to lots of conversation and questions here at BLP and in our broader industry. Is this the formula for estimating development that we have all be waiting for?

While there is value in seeing this data over time, the authors acknowledge that the research did not gather enough information to answer key questions, such as:

  • Are these estimates for internal developers or vendors?
  • How many reviews and quality checks are included?
  • Is there a shared understanding of what the different interaction levels are? (There are no interaction levels identified for the instructor-led training.)
  • What impact does the chosen authoring tool have?
  • How experienced are the developers who responded?

Given these and other questions that need answers to validate and effectively use the data, it could be tempting to dismiss the information and say that the focus should not be on development time anyway – we should care about goals, objectives, and the learner experience. But I think that is short-sighted and not realistic for the corporate learning environment we all work in. We can’t just say, “it will get done when it’s done; you can’t rush greatness.”

Ask the Tough Questions

So, what do we do? Dig deeper. If someone agrees to create an hour’s worth of instructor-led training in 38 hours (the 2017 average reported in the ATD research), clarify what that means. And if you are the developer, ask yourself the tough questions to ensure you are going to meet the commitments you are making to the business.

Here are some things to consider.

Hours and Days Are Not the Same

Let’s say Sarah is creating a one-hour instructor-led course with the assumption that it takes 38 hours to develop. She might say, “Ok – I’m going to get that done in six business days. That feels like I’ve given myself a day of cushion.”

But then you look at her calendar:


Muffins with Mom (2 hours, including travel)


Staff meeting (1 hour)


Scoping meeting for new project (1 hour)


Dentist Appointment (2 hours)


Company town hall (1 hour)

Budget meeting (2 hours)



First, assume that Sarah can spend about six hours a day doing development work (knowing that she needs time for email, phone calls, interruptions, etc.) which means she has 36 hours available for this project.

There are nine hours of meetings and appointments already on the calendar. That takes the available time down to 27 hours. Sarah now has to find 11 hours to complete the project based on the estimate for development time. Most likely one of two things will happen:

  • She will work late to get it done, but quality will be lower because she is writing slides at 11 pm while watching TV.
  • She will miss the deadline and have to renegotiate a new timeframe that may have broader implications.

It’s Not Just About Development Time

Beyond the time to actually complete the design and development of the corporate learning, there are other factors to consider when estimating training development time.

Increase Factor*
Is this the first time you are creating this kind of training intervention? If yes, multiply estimate by 2.5 If you’re developing something for the first time, you need time to learn and experiment as well as gain buy-in from stakeholders. You don’t know what you’re getting into…expect roadblocks.
Are there clearly defined goals and learning objectives? If no, multiply estimate by 1.5 If these things aren’t defined, you are going to have well-intentioned people wanting to add new “nice to have” content into your course, which requires extra work.
Are there more than five people on the review team? If yes, multiply estimate by 2 The more voices, the more risk that there is a lack of vision or decision maker who will keep the course and team focused and on-track.
Is the content stable, available, and clear? If no, multiply estimate by 1.5 You are going to spend extra time talking to subject-matter experts, doing research and hunting down the content.
Do the developer and stakeholder have a shared understanding of what good/finished looks like? If no, multiply estimate by 2 There will be re-work and more reviews needed as the team gains shared understanding through the process of review cycles and edits.

* These factors are based on my 15 years in the learning and development industry and are guidelines, not hard and fast rules.

It Is Possible to Create Corporate Learning on a Tight Timeline

So, is it impossible to develop training quickly to meet the needs of the business? Absolutely not! If speed is required, then be sure to do these things to mitigate as much risk to the development schedule as possible:

  • Nail down the content as soon as possible and get it in writing. Make sure SMEs commit to being available for questions.
  • Protect the developer’s time. Don’t expect that person to work on several things at once. Clear as many meetings off their calendar as possible. Remember, if everything is a priority, then nothing is.
  • Review early and often. The goal should be no surprises during reviews. Stakeholders should have a clear view of what will be included in the training and how it is structured. Developers should get input along the way to avoid large-scale changes in the final stages of development.
  • Keep the review team small. Keep the review team limited to the key stakeholders and SMEs who are decision makers. Identify a single person on the team to make final decisions when the larger team disagrees.

Want to learn more about how to estimate training development time? We’d love to chat.

When Games Go Small: 4 Mobile Learning Game Design Principles

Mobile Learning Game Design

The education game market continues to grow rapidly, and mobile learning games are the dominant force in this market. Newzoo provides the insights for the generic games market; the Serious Play Conference released its annual report showcasing the huge growth specific to the education and corporate training sector. The compound annual growth rate in the U.S for corporate learning games will be over 20% between 2017 – 2022 and about 35% globally with the U.S. and India being the top two markets for serious gameplay. Newzoo predicts the overall mobile game market across all game types will grow 40% between now and 2020, a significant growth increase.

Want to learn more about mobile learning games? Access our webinar recording of When Games Go Small: Mobile Learning Game Design Do’s & Don’ts.

So it makes sense for L&D personnel to consider what space a mobile learning game (aka one intended for play on a smartphone) might occupy in their company’s learning and development portfolio. A smartphone game is not just a shrunken version of a PC game –  just as a limo is not just a bigger mode of transport than a unicycle.

The user experience and design aspects one expects from a limo, and the intended use of the limo, differs widely from that of the unicycle – even though both are modes of transportation. So it is with a learning game. The use case for a smartphone game differs from that of a PC game, and the user experience should be different, too. L&D people need to think about this. When learning games go small there are four quadrants of design skills involved.

It’s highly unlikely that a single individual will possess skills in all four quadrants. It’s also very likely that if you opt to go the route of a mobile learning game, you will need to pull together a team to create that learning game. Understanding each quadrant helps you assemble the right team and do a good job evaluating the game design the team evolves.

Here’s a quick definition of each quadrant followed by a checklist of factors to consider within each quadrant:

  • User Experience (UX) Design – the framework and navigation design of your game; this framework makes it easy to learn, easy to use, and easy to add/build onto it if you need to roll out future enhancements.
  • User Interface (UI) Design – the graphical “look and feel” of the game; it provides the aesthetics and helps create a mood or “feel” to your game (light-hearted, scary, humorous, intense, etc.). Lots of people think UX and UI mean the same thing. They don’t.
  • Instructional design – the design and structure of the experience to meet specific learning needs for a specific audience or audiences.
  • Game design – the design of the play experience; it includes the core dynamics of your game, rules, and game elements that all work together to enable players to achieve a game goal and have fun doing it.

Instructional Design Checklist

Does your game:

  • Have a clear learning goal and measurable learning objectives focused on a specific learner?
  • Tap into learner motivation?
  • Manage cognitive load by eliminating irrelevant or extraneous content?
  • Provide relevant practice?
  • Give specific, timely feedback?
  • Trigger emotion that can help with long-term retention of learning content?
  • Provide spaced repetition to help with long-term retention of learning content?
  • Use story(ies) (again, for help with long-term retention of learning content as well as involvement during learning experience)?

Game Design Checklist

Does your game:

  • Provide players with an intriguing goal or challenge?
  • Match the interests or player types of your target players?
  • Stick with one or two core dynamics?
  • Provide clear rules?
  • Use appropriate game elements from ones such as chance, strategy, cooperation, competition, aesthetics, theme, story, resources, rewards, levels?
  • Make the scoring relevant, motivating, and understandable?
  • Balance game complexity and difficulty for your player and the time you anticipate them playing it; not too easy or too little complexity, but not too hard or too much complexity either.

UX Design Checklist

UX best practice is that you design to the smallest screen. This means that your design supports these attributes on the smallest phone size players are likely to use. We draw the line at the iPhone 5, which is 1136 x 640 pixels or 4-inches diagonally. Good UX means you:

  • Have legible text.
  • Have touchable targets that a typical adult finger can easily succeed at using.
  • Cut the clutter.
  • Focus on one key action or use per screen.
  • Make the navigation intuitive.
  • Make the experience seamless if intended for multiple devices.
  • Cater to contrast.
  • Design for how people hold/use their phone.
  • Minimize the need to type.

Attend to the small things to make a big difference.

UI Design Checklist

This checklist is the smallest, yet the aesthetics or “look/feel” of your game has a major impact on uptake and continued gameplay (which translates into best learning assuming you executed well on the instructional design checklist items). When creating your UI design, make sure your UI is:

  • Consistent. Treat every button of the same type in the exact same fashion. Treat all screens of a single “type” the same way, etc. Use fonts and text labels for things consistently.
  • Designed to your user – and not to your personal preferences. Example: While you may love anime art, your corporate user may find it insulting or trivial.
  • Not reinventing standards; use what’s common and comfortable. There is a thing called “heuristics” for a reason. (Note: UX/UI heuristics are often bundled into a single list.)
  • An enhancement of the focus and not the focus of your game experience.
  • Forgiving of user mistakes with lots of prompts and helpful guides.
  • Clear on giving users feedback about what to do and where to go.

Want More Information?

If you want to know more, here are some great resources:

  • Attend my May 2018 session at ATD ICE: When Games Go Small on Monday, May 7th. I’ll share numerous examples and you’ll have a chance to practice using the checklist.
  • View a recording of a companion webinar to this post – When Games Go Small: Mobile Learning Game Design Do’s & Don’ts.
  • Download a handy checklist for each quadrant of design.
  • Check out my book, coauthored with Dr. Karl Kapp – Play to Learn: Everything You Need to Know About Designing Effective Learning Games, published by ATD Press 2017.
  • And/or reach out to us if you have any additional questions.

Chatbots and Virtual Assistants in L&D: 4 Use Cases to Pilot in 2018

Tech analysts predict that 2018 will be a big year for Artificial Intelligence (AI) in all its forms. We’ve reached a point where the virtual assistant on our smartphone can usually understand what we’re saying, devices powered by Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant can be had for as little as $50, and app developers can leverage powerful conversational AI platforms created by Amazon, Google, IBM, and Microsoft (among others) for their own applications. We’re asking chatbots to check our credit card balance via text message, schedule meetings for us, and even act as graduate assistants.

AI has many exciting implications for training and L&D professionals. While some are still a bit farther in the future, I’m particularly excited by the potential of chatbots to enhance and improve learning in the near term. We know how to talk, and we know how to email or text message: chatbots allow us to get questions and answers in convenient, familiar ways.

In our upcoming webinar, Learning Trends in 2018: Present Realities vs. Future Possibilities, we will provide an in-depth analysis and discussion of the trending tech and training solutions.

The technology is here, the devices are readily available, and there are plenty of use cases where chatbots make sense. With proper up-front design and reasonable expectations, you can skip the gimmicks and implement a chatbot that solves problems and improves the learner experience.

By doing so, you’re moving your organization one step closer to a future of AI-driven learning.

AI? Machine Learning? Chatbots? Let’s clarify terms

When I say AI, I’m not talking about killer robots taking over the world. We’re at least decades away from self-aware AI, with no clear roadmap for getting there. Today’s leading AI researchers focus on using AI to automate basic tasks, perform sophisticated data analysis, and spot trends.


Respondents to our 2018 Learning Trends Survey cited interest in a few interrelated areas of AI: Artificial Intelligence in general (37%), machine learning (44%), and chatbots (31%). Let’s break them down in simple terms:

Artificial Intelligence 

AI is a broad field that focuses on the development of computer systems that perform human functions. Andrew Ng, Chief Scientist of Baidu and prominent AI practitioner, notes that any task humans can perform with one second of thought or less is a candidate for automation using AI.

Machine Learning

Machine learning is a subset of AI. It’s generally based off of an algorithm that gets smarter over time the more data you feed it. For example, the posts you see more of in your Facebook feed or the types of songs you hear the most on Spotify are driven by machine learning. Now, computers can even “see” images, categorize them, and spot patterns. It won’t be long before you are able to take a picture of your living room and get personalized furniture recommendations from a computer, for example.

Side note: Machine learning holds a lot of promise for L&D… if we can get the data. The big barrier preventing L&D from adopting learning approaches driven by machine learning will be figuring out what data matters and how to collect it at scale from diverse sources.


Chatbots are simply computer programs that can understand natural language patterns (written or spoken) and provide useful responses. Years of advances in AI and machine learning, particularly speech recognition and natural language processing, are what make it possible to build a chatbot that can be useful for simple tasks. Basic chatbots have been around for a long time (just ask a child of the 90s – SmarterChild, anyone?). But it was not until recently that conversational AI reached a level of sophistication that made it useful for a wide range of things.

Google, Amazon, IBM, Microsoft, and others are making big bets on conversational AI. And the accuracy and usefulness will only increase over time. Thankfully, these companies now allow third-party developers to use their conversational AI for their own applications. Assuming you have access to a knowledgeable developer or two, you can skip the thousands of hours in data science and machine learning work and make a useful chatbot relatively quickly.

A Word of Caution

When Siri came out, it was panned by many. Apple promised the world and marketed it as if you could ask Siri anything and it would be able to help. In reality, Siri was only able to help with a very limited set of applications.

An L&D chatbot will be similarly dismissed by your learners if it fails to deliver on its promise. Don’t try to give learners a virtual assistant to help with anything and everything; focus on a single product, process, or topic you want the chatbot to support and build from there. Make sure you clearly communicate to learners what the chatbot can and cannot do, and what questions they can ask. Doing this allows you to “ship” your chatbot quickly and gauge learner reactions before making big investments in large-scale development.

And perhaps most importantly, make sure you have lots of learning content around the topic you wish to train your chatbot on! Your chatbot will only be as useful as the data you feed it.

4 Chatbot Use Cases to Try in 2018

With those words of caution out of the way, let’s explore four of the most practical ways you can pilot a chatbot in 2018.

1. Use a virtual assistant like Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant to answer spoken questions from on-the-go learners.


You don’t need an Amazon Echo or Google Home to take advantage of a virtual assistant with voice control. Both Amazon and Google allow users to interact with their virtual assistants via smartphone apps. Consider creating an app (or Skill in Amazon terminology) where learners can ask questions about a particular product or process and get quick answers. The use of voice commands would be ideal for on-the-go sales reps in need of a quick answer while driving to meet a customer, for example.

2. Answer common learner questions in a chat window or via SMS.

Similar to the first use case, you can also create a chatbot that answers common questions via text. For example, a learner could text the bot a question and receive an answer without having to log into the LMS to hunt for it. You can even program the bot to forward questions it cannot answer to your training team for further support. Think of it as an easy-to-use FAQ that allows you to make it more and more useful over time.

3. Customize a learning path based on learner’s demographic information.


At the beginning of a training initiative, a chatbot could be used to ask a series of questions about learners’ current knowledge and skill levels. Based on their responses (many of which could be from a drop-down or list of options to manage complexity), the chatbot would present learners with a customized training plan made up of your learning materials.

Depending on your target learners, this type of chatbot might be preferable to filling out a lengthy form. The data gathered also allows you to provide a training experience that is personalized to each learner’s unique needs.

4. Use a chatbot to assess learner knowledge.

A chatbot could be used to ask a series of questions, either via text or spoken word, and record learner responses. By using multiple choice questions, a “Quiz Bot” could be up and running quickly. It could provide learners with a convenient way to review content or prove their mastery of a topic. Responses can be recorded, scored, and compared against other learners to measure results.

Further Reading

Benedict Evans, tech analyst and futurist, talks about the risks of overselling AI’s capabilities. (link)

Andrew Ng gives a talk at Stanford University about the state of AI in 2017. (link)

Donald Clark describes a wide variety of potential uses for chatbots in L&D, both short-term and long-term. (link)

Training vs. Just-In-Time Resources: 5 Tools You Can Use Today

Eight years ago, I wrote a blog post on training versus learning. I was frustrated because clients often asked for “training” courses (eLearning, in particular) when what they really wanted to do was communicate information. They didn’t necessarily want the recipient to do anything. They wanted to share information with the recipient.

The rise of the LMS has worsened this situation with companies wanting to put everything into clickable “courses” so they can track that employees have completed their training. I often find myself listening to employees tell me about how frustrating it is to have to access resources from within a course – or to explain the reason they don’t use resources because they would have to go back and find the course in order to get to the resource. That’s not useful.

Where are the performance gaps?

I routinely find myself sharing this graphic on what factors influence someone’s ability to perform. This model reads left to right. Note that only one box out of eight relates to lack of skill or knowledge. My experience is that most gaps in performance relate to problems with organizational systems, processes, or problems with resources.

We work very hard to help clients distinguish true training needs from information-sharing needs to come up with better solutions to support non-training needs. I’d like to see L&D professionals get better at thinking about how the digital landscapes within their companies (and literally in people’s hands due to their smartphones) can better enable people to find and use information in the moment.

5 Just-In-Time Tools

Your employees cannot possibly retain everything you want them to know. Instead, consider what easy-to-use, easy-to-find tools you can provide to them so they can locate information when they need it. A post-training reinforcement tool increases the odds of long-term retention.

Here are tools I think are under-used:

1. Intranet search functions

Think Google and the wonderful way you can type “How do I [INSERT VERB AND PREPOSITIONAL PHRASE]? I love Google’s Year in Review videos because they illustrate that Google lets you look up almost anything. Companies need to think about how to enable employees to easily search for information on the company’s Intranet or company video library.

2. Resource Websites… that aren’t buried in an LMS

Sometimes a stand-alone website is the key to optimal usage. (e.g. insertyourprocessorproductname.com, which is often easier to find/locate than trying to hunt within an Intranet). You can create a password-protected site and set the site up to support single sign-on. This avoids users having to create a separate username and password to access your special site. Instead, they can use credentials they already have with other tools in your organization, such as Salesforce or your Intranet. If you create a website, make sure it’s responsive as well as simple and quick to use.

3. Mobile apps

Apps can be awesome reinforcers to support live or online training that is more “traditional” (e.g. take it on a laptop, click through lots of content). They can also be stand-alone resources. Lectora and Articulate both have great tools for creating these kinds of apps. Here’s one we created in Rise for QAing Storyline courses.

4. YouTube

YouTube channels allow you to create and upload your own how-to videos or interactive practice videos. There are alternatives to YouTube if privacy is a concern, but being able to go to YouTube, type in “How do I…” and locate short videos that show as well as tell is hugely helpful. We post all the videos we create on our YouTube channel. This nifty little video on creating interactive, game-like modules using Storyline 3 was a recent posting.

And here’s a new tool I think people will go nuts over if the popularity of Google’s Home and Amazon’s Alexa are any indication…

5. Chatbots

These tools can provide live, just-in-time support, letting you ask common questions and spooning up the answer for you. To see how one works, check out Rocky – the chatbot launched by Rare Carat in 2017.

To sum up…

Instead of immediately leaping to create an eLearning course, consider whether some sort of online resource for just-in-time information may be needed. The “just-in-time” tool that most of us have available at all times is our phone. Designing and building resources accessible from the phone can make your employee’s lives easier. Instead of developing training, creating a resource that is only used as needed saves you both time and money.

The Learning & Remembering Equation (Infographic)

The eLearning Guild’s DevLearn 2017 conference showcased numerous learning technology solutions. There was plenty of buzz surrounding digital and emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality, augmented reality, interactive video, mobile apps, and games. But the problem with all this hype is that sound learning science risks being ignored.

Regardless of what distribution choice you make, the requirements for learning and remembering remain unchanged. There are certain design factors you must include in your solutions for people to 1) learn and 2) later be able to recall and apply what they learned.

Our brains are wired to forget things. Today’s world is filled with so many distractions that it can be difficult to attend to anything, let alone remember it later. This infographic identifies and explains the learning and remembering equation. Use the equation to help you devise training solutions that truly help your learners recall information when they need it.

The first four factors relate directly to the learning process. The other three relate to remembering what we learned.

The Learning & Remembering Infographic

How Fantasy Elements Improve the Learning Experience

The idea of using whimsy and fantasy as part of a training program makes some learning leaders nervous. Will learners take the training seriously? Will serious-minded audiences be offended by the lighthearted approach? And most importantly, what will stakeholders think?

When it comes to teaching children, the concept of incorporating fantasy into the learning experience is well-researched. Again and again, researchers find there are benefits to adding a fantasy component, especially in learning games. (Parker & Lepper, 1992; Asgari & Kaufman, 2004; HabgoodAinsworth, & Benford, 2005).

Researcher Thomas Malone is frequently cited on the topic of fantasy and games. In the 1980’s, Malone investigated why games are fun and what makes them motivational. He conducted a study that looked at a number of games and dissected the elements of fun. Through this process, he identified three elements that make games intrinsically motivating: challenge, curiosity, and fantasy.

Fantasy checks out as an effective approach for teaching children, but what about adult learning? Is there a way to incorporate it into corporate training and see a measurable learning benefit? The short answer is yes, it’s possible and something we highly recommend instructional designers use. Here’s why:

Fantasy creates an immersive learner experience

When you hear “immersive learning experience,” you probably envision some type of virtual or augmented reality – two buzzwords in the L&D industry right now. These technologies allow learners to be at least partly, if not fully, immersed in different situations. But amidst all the tech hype, I want to take you back to the old school version of an “immersive experience” – a story. Do you remember growing up when your parents or grandparents read books to you? Do you read books now to your own kids? If you do, you know the stories in the books serve as an immersive experience for them because children are easily entranced by fairytales and fantasies!

When it comes to learning application, Deena Skolnick Weisberg conducted a study that showed, contrary to the consensus opinion at the time, that fantasy-based approaches helped children learn the meanings of words and perform better on a post-test than more realistic approaches. This is because the fantasy elements capture their attention, and in turn, may help them to learn more.

Fantasy as an Adult Learning Tool

Although our child-like imaginations may fade, the concept of using fantasy elements for learning applies to adults as well. In this articleDr. Karl Kapp discusses how fantasy elements and story can aid in adult learning. He says that by anchoring content to a story or fantasy element, it becomes more memorable and possibly even emotional. Fantasy can improve memorization by provoking vivid images related to the material.

Fantasy can be a useful way to help adult learners accept situations they’d otherwise object to as not being realistic enough to fit their specific work world. The fantasy elements make it clear it’s not supposed to be an exact representation of their world. The ability to safely explore something we’d normally consider too “out there” to be a part of is one reason fantasy is engaging. In the workplace, mistakes can be costly. Allowing people to roleplay or imagine in an eLearning course is a safe practice area that causes no harm.

Fantasy creates emotional connections

A fantasy-based learning solution can also allow someone to connect with the learning experiences and temporarily forget real-world concerns or fears. This means that they don’t think to themselves “this is product differentiation training with clients and I’ve never done well in this area.” Instead, they work within the fantasy environment, which can help them transfer those skills to the real world.

To provide even more emotional connection, you could include characters in an eLearning course that have a high degree of personal relevance. This is so you can reach people of all different ages, gender, class, race, etc. depending on your target learners.

Fantasy motivates and engages in a whole new way

A few year ago, the US Military staged a zombie apocalypse as part of a counter-terrorism summit. Zombies invaded an island that was transformed with Hollywood-style sets, including a Middle Eastern village and a pirate cove. Some 1,000 US military personnel, police, and state and federal government officials were charged with responding.

“The zombie apocalypse is very whimsical. The scenario was created to add some levity to the more dire scenarios summit-goers will encounter including terrorists roaming hospital halls shooting people and pilots trapped behind enemy lines.”

fantasy for training

Tony Gutierrez/AP; https://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Military/2012/1031/No-prank-On-Halloween-US-military-forces-train-for-zombie-apocalypse

This kind of scenario training moves simulation into a new dimension, providing real-life experience solving fictional or “fantastical”—but realistic—problems. Training that focuses just on teaching the necessary material can lead to learner boredom, burnout, and tune-out. But by merging fantasy with reality, you’re likely to be more successful at keeping people engaged in training. And the more people are engaged, the more information they’re likely to retain. On the opposite spectrum, focusing too much on a fun, novel approach can lead to training that is not linked well to learning principles. The best learning solutions will connect these two extremes.

In general, fantasy elements should reinforce instructional goals, not compete with them. Fantasies should provide appropriate metaphors or analogies for the presented learning material. That being said, you don’t need to include fantasy in every single piece of training material. At some point, your learners need to practice the desired behavior in a more realistic setting.

Design Thinking: Level-Up the Learner Experience

Two years ago I was at a CLO conference in Austin, Texas. The keynote speaker asked a question that gave me pause then – and continues to drive me now. He asked, “Is the 45-minute course you created a good use of 45 minutes of the learner’s life? Because those are 45 minutes of time that individual does not get back.”

“Learner experience” (LX) is an emerging buzz term that originated from the software world, which focuses on “UX” or user experience. The question the speaker posed at the conference goes to the heart of what an effective user experience (aka learner experience) delivers to someone, which is three things:

1. Value – A good UX is one that solves a real problem for the user. If we deliver value, we are not wasting minutes of someone’s life.
2. Ease of use – A good UX is one that a user finds easy to navigate and to understand how to use. If we make something easy to use and to understand, we are supporting value (the first tenet of good UX).
3. Enjoyable – A good UX is a pleasure to use. It engages us and, optimally, it delights us.

Typically, UX refers to the experience of using software. But it can actually go way beyond software to our experiences in the real world. This could include our experience with a utensil, attending an event, or onboarding with a new organization or role. It has huge relevance to effective learning design.

So what happened?

Somewhere in the actual practice of instructional design, we throw this equation out of balance. We allow our stakeholders to exclude target learners from the design process and trust them to “represent” the learner. Or we become boxed in by the technical solutions that someone decided were going to become the “global” solutions for every learning in every situation (e.g. the LMS, the eLearning course created via a rapid authoring tool, the webinar, etc.)

The result, too often, is solutions that are out of balance. They may be viable from a business perspective and feasible from a technical perspective, but they completely miss the mark from the learner perspective. Or, they may be awesome from the learner point of view but technically unsustainable or unviable business-wise.

Design Thinking as a Solution

So how do we get to an optimal learning experience? How do we bring the target learner back into the design process in a way that is actually feasible for a business?

Try taking a step away from the L&D world and into the world of complex problem solving and product development. Consider embracing the philosophy, steps, and tools of a practice known as “design thinking.” Design thinking originated in 1969 and really came into its own in the 1990s as a human-centered approach to designing solutions. It has been used to resolve massive human problems as well as to design software solutions or consumer products.

Design thinking evolves solutions through an iterative process of observation, insight, ideation, experimentation, and testing. Its goal is to produce solutions that find the ”sweet spot” between human needs, business viability, and technical feasibility. The end user of the solution is the focal point. Any solution devised through the process must be designed with this user top-of-mind and involved in the formulation, design, and testing of the solution.

In its original form, design thinking included five steps. Many practitioners have added a sixth – implementation – for a highly iterative process that looks like this:

Design Thinking Tools

There is a rich set of tools associated with design thinking – tools to help build genuine empathy for and understanding of the user (aka our learner), tools to help with problem definition (it’s usually not what you think it is), tools to help ideate possible solutions to the problem, and tools for testing and analyzing solutions. These are four tools I really, really love:

1. Empathy Maps

Empathy maps help people quickly form a picture of the target user and see where gaps in understanding might be. In a learning design project, these can be used to quickly help a design team form insights about learners or recognize gaps in understanding that need to be closed. There are tons of resources on empathy map developing – just google “empathy maps” to find examples and templates.

2. User Personas

A polished output of empathy maps, personas are the result of observation and conversation with users to help inform understanding of what they value, what their pain points are, what their workflow and daily reality really is (so you can design solutions that reflect understanding of this workflow and daily realities). I love Arun Pradhan’s explanation of how they craft personas and get insights into target learners. They actually involve the learners in the design process and get them to interview each other. (This is huge in terms of time savings and a much more credible way to get perspective on the target learner.)

Our worksheet lets you check to see what questions you are currently asking about learners, see a sample learner persona
and create a persona of your own.

3. Analysis Matrix

Four quadrants to plot during solution testing: what people liked, what they didn’t like, what they had questions about, and what they would change.

4. Journey Maps

Journey maps show what a learning experience is actually like for a learner, what the pain points are, and what opportunities could be leveraged. This presentation by Joyce Seitzinger on crafting a meaningful learning experience shows the evolution of a journey map. She uses design thinking to craft the entire experience.

Here’s a simple starter template if you want to try creating one yourself. The categories to plot are on the left column. The steps involved go across the top.

I love design thinking’s belief in collaborative, team-based design and experimentation. I see it as compatible with both agile philosophy and instructional design methodology. The tools and techniques of design thinking, coupled with an agile philosophy and a commitment to research-based instructional design, enable us to deliver learning experiences that:

1. Deliver value to the learner and the organization.
2. Are easy to use and understand
3. Are enjoyable and engaging.

Show and Tell: Gamified eLearning in Articulate Storyline 3

Today, it’s more important than ever to not pump out boring eLearning courses. If your content and interactions aren’t memorable, the information won’t stick. And with learners’ high expectations, you don’t want to disappoint.

While we build learning games using a variety of development tools, you’d be amazed at how far a developer can take Articulate Storyline when creating game-like experiences.

We want to highlight a recent project from our own Learning Technologist, Kathryn Steele. Kathryn created an eLearning course in Articulate Storyline 3 called “Abby Goes to the OBGYN.” The results demonstrate how an eLearning course can use game elements to simulate a learner’s journey and make the learner part of the experience.

Learning Overview

Abby Goes to the OBGYN is a learner-controlled eLearning experience. It makes a linear course feel interactive and engaging because learners are able to actively participate. In a course, active learning goes beyond passively reading content, listening to a lecture, or watching a video. It’s a learning technique that challenges learners to engage through the following ways:

  • Mental contributions
  • Hands-on activities
  • Investigation, discovery, and interpretation

By combining active learning with a learner-centered approach, Abby Goes to the OBGYN gives people the illusion that they are in control of their learning. It motivates them to learn and gives them the power and opportunity to explore.

The course also includes various game elements and mechanics that enhance the overall learner experience. For example, the use of story pulls through the entire course. The learner follows Abby’s journey as she visits the OBGYN clinic. It’s much easier to remember facts when they are part of a narrative, rather than when we simply have the facts devoid of any “story” or context around them. The course also includes aesthetics that help pull players in. They offer visual cues that guide the course direction.

Technical Overview

If you are an eLearning Developer who is highly technical or just love to know how things work…this section is for you!

Abby Goes to the OBGYN uses two important features: animated .gifs and triggers. Abby is composed of six different states that allow her to move in different directions. She can walk left, walk right, face left, face right, sit, and face backward. When the learner presses a designated key for a certain direction, Abby’s walk states are triggered to move along a relative motion path. Her static states (face left, face right, etc.) are triggered when the motion path completes. This allows Abby to start in a static state, walk, and end in a static state along a single relative point motion path. Abby’s sit and back states are triggered when the user presses a designated key and serve as an interactive trigger for various objects on the stage.

Trigger Options

These interactions are possible by using Articulate Storyline 3’s new trigger options. These triggers are “object intersects” and “object intersection ends.” Combining these two functions triggers when Abby, our object, intersects with a target. In this course, the receptionist is a good example of a target. In order to check in for her appointment, Abby must intersect with the receptionist. If you want to revert an event, you can create another event when Abby stops intersecting with a target.

Using true/false variable triggers can cause layers and objects to appear when Abby intersects and stops intersecting if her state changes. For example, if we want an event to trigger when Abby sits on an object, we create triggers that not only happen when Abby is intersecting with the object, but also when that object is set to “true.” We can use these same trigger combinations for various other interactions in our eLearning courses to show or hide layers, hide or unhide objects, and limit or control player mobility.

You can learn more about this eLearning experience by viewing the full course here.

Bonus Feature

Although you’re never directly guided to them… there are several “easter eggs” spread throughout the game that you can click. (Not necessary, but fun little interactions for those people who like to click on everything).

These items include:

  • Cat: you can click on him whenever he is on the page and he purrs.
  • Bell in the lobby: (5 times, 10 times, and 15 times). Eventually, the receptionist will take it away.
  • Picture frames: in the opening scene with the Play to Learn cover and the Blockbusters team logo.
  • Window & exam table in the patient room.
  • Fridge opens & blinds close: in the last slide with the rotating scenes.

You can also view Kathryn’s Articulate Forum post on the course here.