What do instructional designers, training managers/directors, and CLOs all have in common? These roles all (should) care intensely about creating learning solutions that deliver operational results for a business.

Do you want the learning solutions you build or buy to deliver meaningful business results? If so, you’ll need to look outside the traditional box that “training” sits inside.

For example, software developers and product managers obsess over the user experience (UX) of what they create. It drives almost every decision, and the success or failure of their efforts depends on having a great UX.

It’s way past time for learning professionals to do the same for the learner experience (LX). When the LX is properly calibrated, the learning solutions you create can sustain high performance over time and deliver business results.

The Rise of Design Thinking

Unfortunately, traditional instructional design approaches are often not sufficient to create truly impactful learner experiences. This is why design thinking is on the rise with learning professionals. Design thinking helps us find the sweet spot between business goals, learner needs, and technical constraints so we can create an ideal outcome.design thinking

I continuously search for ways to improve our ability to help clients create solutions that enable people to consistently perform and drive business results. Most practitioners (but not all organizations) know that a great training solution, by itself, isn’t the answer. But getting learning professionals to understand and embrace what is required can be tough:

  • Relevant, contextual knowledge and practice opportunities.
  • Spaced repetition and retrieval practice.
  • Coaching and support as a learner attempts to transfer knowledge and skills into workflow.
  • Consistent processes, incentives that align with the behavior we tell people they need to do.
  • Adequate resources available that can easily be retrieved as part of an employee’s workflow.

My quest for answers is pushing more toward increased use of design thinking. The increasingly complex problems we seek to solve for our clients require us to visualize and consider the entire learning journey.  It is not enough to focus exclusively on mapping out the courses or events that are part of a curriculum. The instructional materials may be strong. But the client still must think through implementation and plan every step of the experience that totals up to sustained performance over time.

Designing the Learning Journey

If you begin to think through the entire learning journey and thoughtfully plan out every step of the experience, you can achieve results that will never be obtained with a focus on just one step in the journey. This is what design thinking is all about.

To that end, I’ve put months into considering and mapping out what the entire journey really is for learning, well, anything. While I plan to continue refining this map further, I think the basics are in place.  Here is the high-level structure:learning journeyOver the coming weeks and months, we will pilot use of this journey map with customers and work to help them understand the benefit of thinking about the entire journey and experience. We’ll also explore the risks of not thinking through the entire journey.  You must create excellent learning experiences and mitigate pain points at each step of the journey to achieve your desired outcomes.

The biggest risk is a journey that stops short of the final destination point. If you cannot make it to Step 6, then you’ve wasted a lot of dollars and failed to achieve the ultimate business results that drove the entire endeavor.

We have a huge opportunity to increase benefits to both learners and organizations if we move beyond the primary focus on Step 3, Learn and Practice, and also consider the impact that Steps 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6 have on the results an organization achieves. Those steps need to be as carefully planned and considered as Step 3. Use the template below to map out an entire learning journey that will…

  • Identify pain points to address at each step to ensure a journey continues.
  • Ensure there IS a plan for each step of the journey instead of just planning out and developing things for Step 3: Learn and Practice.
  • Empathize from two points of view: the learners’ and the organization’s.

How to Create a Learning Journey Map

We use the format below to create our Learning Journey Maps.

You can view additional free design thinking resources in our Design Thinking eBook. I also discuss this tool, along with other useful tools, in our recorded design thinking webinar.

Target Learners are Not Optional

The inclusion of learners in the journey mapping process is critical for innovation to happen. Unfortunately, some organizations are hesitant to include learners in the design process. It’s really, really tough to design a relevant learning experience for someone to whom you have no access. Here’s what needs to happen:

  • Observation of the target learners in their environments doing the skills that you are trying to improve. We need to understand their workflow, their mindset, what they are seeing, hearing, thinking, and feeling. From that understanding, we can begin to craft more meaningful and memorable experiences.
  • Prototyping and iteration of solutions so real learners can test what gets created early – and let us fail faster. People are horrible at predicting future wants and needs. Often what they imagine they want doesn’t stack up when what they imagined is provided to them. People need to see and try things to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Prototyping lets people do this. It leads to iteration and refinement so you build something that actually works.

The best learning solutions happen when we have access to target learners during the design phase. Better yet, target learners make excellent members of the actual design team. They can help you build an empathic view of your learners and understand the workflow, constraints, and challenges of their world. They’ll also help you identify potential opportunities. In short, access to the target learner is essential to crafting a relevant learning journey.

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