We’d like to introduce eXplore – BLP’s new vlog series where we explore what’s possible in workplace learning.

In our first few episodes, we’ll talk to some of the speakers and workshop facilitators who will be presenting at our upcoming eXLearn workplace learning conference happening September 4-5th in Indianapolis.

In this video, we interview BLP’s CEO and President, Sharon Boller, and BLP’s Manager of Instructional Design, Laura Fletcher. Sharon and Laura discuss the future of design thinking and the value design thinking brings to the instructional design process. They also share their plans for the upcoming design thinking workshop they will facilitate at eXLearn 2019 and their new book on design thinking that will be published in early 2020.

Watch the full interview here or read the excerpts below.

1. When did you start to research and become passionate about design thinking?

View the full response to this question here.

Sharon: A couple of years ago, we had been experiencing the frustration of learners being absent from the entire training design process. Organizations were very driven by subject matter experts and content rather than driven by what learners needed. So I started doing some research and discovered Stanford’s design school. I quickly realized the potential design thinking could have for transforming how we do instructional design because we’re actually already using the same steps. The human-centered focus of design thinking can really augment what we do in instructional design and transform how we get to the end solution. It’s about getting to a solution that meets the needs of the business but also adds value for the learner.

Laura: Sharon and I kind of started to converge on design thinking about a year and a half ago. I had seen design thinking become a popular buzzword on Twitter and in blog posts. So I didn’t want to be the chump/last one to the party. As I started researching design thinking more, I realized that what Sharon said is true… There are a lot of parallels between the design thinking process and the learning design and development process. We identified some key areas we could really glean from design thinking principles to enhance our existing process.

2. What value can design thinking bring to organizations this year?

View the full response to this question here.

Laura: Across industries, if you make any process, system, or product more human-centered, you’ll start to see better outcomes. I think we often approach problem-solving in general, and learning and development design specifically, from a more organizationally-centric or bottom-line/ROI-centric approach.

I was really excited when I saw an article recently on Fortune.com where they conducted a five-year study of 300 companies. They found that the top 25 percent of those companies that were making design a priority and incorporating design thinking principles into their organizations showed drastically better financial returns than those that weren’t. So they were growing revenues twice as fast and they were growing shareholder returns 70 percent faster than their peer organizations in the study.

Sharon: Laura kind of alluded to this already, but design thinking is really not about design as much as it is about problem-solving. The goal is to find the sweet spot between the business’ needs, learners’ need, and technical feasibility.

3. Is empathy what’s missing from the more traditional design process?

View the full response to this question here.

Sharon: Laura and I have started to gravitate away from the word empathy because we realized that design thinking is truly about perspective. Empathy is part of that but it goes beyond just empathizing with your feelings to really having a bonafide understanding of your reality. That understanding of your reality is what leads to empathy. So we don’t want to just focus on “oh let me feel your pain.” It’s “let me understand your world” and then maybe I can view the situation through a different lens.

Laura: We’ve heard people get caught up on that empathy word before because people think of empathy as very touchy-feely. It feels synonymous with sympathy. But design thinking isn’t about that at all.

Sharon: Yes. So when we’re working on say, a product launch, the marketing team often drives the launch and will have lots of data and information centered around their product. But this information isn’t always helpful for the sales reps who will take the training. If you really want to understand a rep’s reality, bring them into the design process to help determine the most critical need.

4. Tell us what you have planned for the design thinking workshop on September 4th.

View the full response to this question here.

Laura: My priority for anyone that attends the workshop is to give participants a design thinking “win.” As we’ve started to focus on the learner and user experience during the design and development process, we’ve seen more and more of these wins. We have countless examples now where we’ve been able to uncover the right content, the right format, better navigation, better usability, etc. The solution feels relevant, more accessible, and there’s more buy-in especially if the learners were involved on that front end.

So during the workshop, we want participants to experience a win like that. They’ll use the tools we’ve been using. Then they’ll take the outcomes from those tools and synthesize that information in a meaningful way for the problem we’re solving. I just really want participants to take away that this human-centered process can make such a difference in the process they’re already following.

Sharon: I would add I’m particularly excited to have people craft learning journeys. The learning journey map has been the most powerful tool we’ve used. Organizations typically focus on the Learning Practice step to help someone learn something new. The learning journey map shows that there are two steps before that and two steps after that lead to sustained performance over time.

We have really embraced this internally at BLP as we roll out new initiatives. For example, we have a big leadership development initiative and we’re crafting the whole journey around that. It’s not just about the sessions that people go to but it’s about what happens before they go to the session and what happens after they go to the session to reinforce whatever skills they’re learning.

5. Tell us more about your book coming out next year.

View the full response to this question here.

Sharon: ATD approached us last fall and they had noted that we were writing a lot about design thinking and we seemed to have stories to share. So we’re in agreement and we’re in the throes of writing the book on design thinking that we hope, as Laura and I say, will be “the book” on how best to integrate design thinking principles into learning design. It’s supposed to be released in Q1 of 2020. And our hope is that it is a very practical handbook on how to incorporate design thinking methodology principles and tools into your learning design.

Laura: I can honestly say that incorporating design thinking tools and principles into the way that I design learning and development solutions has been nothing short of transformative. It’s given me a lot more confidence that we are actually designing the correct solution for the need. So in the book, I want to convey some of the wins that we’ve had. I want the book to serve as a user guide that helps you integrate design thinking into your process, whether you’re following ADDIE or using a more agile method.

The Fast Five

1. A person you love to follow on social media? 

Laura: Adam Grant. He’s an organizational psychologist at Wharton. 

Sharon: I like Amy Webb. She’s a futurist.

2. A great piece of advice you have received? 

Sharon: Don’t make fear-based decisions.

Laura: A colleague of mine always says you can have it all just not all at the same time.

3. Biggest lesson learned in business? 

Sharon: Make a plan. Be prepared to change the plan.

Laura: How important it is to align the needs of the customers that you’re working with with what you uniquely can offer in terms of a value proposition.

4. Favorite website or blog to read related to learning and development? 

Sharon: I am cheating a little bit by saying the community of practice blogs because they have several communities of practice so I can say enjoy all of those. And then the Interactive Design Foundation has amazing stuff related to design thinking and I go back there again and again.

Laura: Similarly I go back to ideas blog leave a blog called The Octopus and I get a lot of value from those blog posts.

5. App you can’t live without? 

Laura: Starbucks

Sharon: Podcast app

Join us for eXLearn 2019!

Learn more and register for our pre-conference design thinking workshop.