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 –, 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.

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.