In my previous post, I highlighted the first two of four principles related to design thinking in learning solution development that my colleague Laura Fletcher and I have honed. This post finishes things up with a look at our final two principles.

Principle 3: Recognize learning as a journey.

Design thinking often uses the concepts of user experience and user journeys to help frame an understanding of the user’s current reality to design an optimal solution. This is also relevant in instructional design. Learning is typically fashioned as an event (an eLearning course or a workshop or webinar). But it is not an event. It’s a journey that learners can easily opt out of at any step along its path.

use design thinking

When we recognize learning as a journey, we can plan for that full journey. We can be honest about what it will take to get someone to proficiency and produce sustainable, long-term change in performance. Click here for our template of a learning journey and a deeper dive into each step of it.

Why this principle matters:

Despite the billions of dollars spent on training initiatives annually, the learning journey is often truncated after delivering an event (workshop, eLearning course). Instead, organizations must realize that repetition and additional reinforcement are critical to transfer and sustain performance over time. Not only that, but organizations often fail to help the learner notice the need for learning. They fail to drive the learner to buy in or commit to learning,

Most of us know the failure rate of training endeavors is high. But we don’t know what to do about it. We grumble about the lack of business support for initiatives, yet we don’t know how to obtain that support. The use of design thinking approaches, specifically journey maps and experience maps, can be helpful. These tools offer a visual of what’s required for change and subsequent business results.

Principle 4: Prototype before you refine.

This one sounds silly, but in teaching learning game design, I consistently see people jump to development too quickly. I think PowerPoint and rapid authoring tools are a huge source of the blame for this. It’s too easy to start developing. People formulate an idea and immediately start building their solution. They skip any sort of quick-and-dirty prototyping and user testing.

In our consulting environment, the result can be massive changes at the first review stage when subject matter experts start lasering in on content. No target user has weighed in. Instead, we are back to “are the words right” instead of “will this solve the problem we all agreed needs to be solved” and “will learners find this to be a relevant, easy-to-use experience?”

The purpose of prototyping goes far beyond whether the necessary content can be accounted for. This is where we go back to collecting perspective and minding the sweet spot. Prototyping is the first opportunity to simulate the user experience – or, in our case, the learner experience. That includes everything from format to the user interface.

Why not get the learners’ perspective before we dive deeply into development? Wouldn’t that be a lot cheaper and faster?

The ADDIE model in instructional design does not adequately address this situation. ADDIE emphasizes piloting – but a whole lot of development (and, therefore, time and money) goes into even reaching pilot stage on a solution. At that point, learners’ ability to really impact the solution is often limited to wordsmithing or adding/removing an activity. Why not create some simple prototypes and test those prototypes before going into expensive build mode? Darden School of Business has a great blog post on this and terrific examples of exactly what the design thinking process of empathizing, defining a problem, ideating, and quickly prototyping can look like.

Concluding where we began: design thinking is not a fad. It’s a well-used proven problem-solving approach with techniques and tools that L&D practitioners can incorporate into their toolbox. The fad is the use of the phrase without understanding or experience in what lies behind it.