Category Archives: Design Thinking

How to Apply Design Thinking to L&D (Part 1)

To create meaningful learning experiences, it helps to have a deep understanding of your users and their lives. Most of us rely on the ADDIE process to gain this understanding. ADDIE has served us well, however, there are three key aspects of what is referred to as Design Thinking that will enable you to gain an even deeper, richer understanding of your user’s performance problems:

  • Engaging in radical collaboration with your internal team, stakeholders and users
  • Iterating quick solutions internally and externally
  • Designing, developing and testing smaller prototypes “in the field” more often

Design Thinking is a 5-step process to help you design more  useful, human-centered learning experiences. Creators Tim Kelly and David Brown of IDEO define Design Thinking as:

a discipline that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity.

Design Thinking has been primarily used in product design, but as you’ll see in this series of posts, there are parts that can enhance the process of training design.

Design Thinking consists of five “modes” or steps:

  1. Empathize
  2. Define
  3. Ideate
  4. Prototype
  5. Test

As we explore each mode, you’ll find several similarities to ADDIE. Design Thinking also has an inherent connection to the Agile methodology, which you can carefully leverage throughout your process transformation. Agile methods are great for software development, but tread carefully when applying it holistically to L&D. There are some aspects of training that’s difficult to iterate.

The main idea I want to stress when contemplating Design Thinking is for you to focus on the idea of human-centered design. This graphic shows you the three key components in human-centered design:

  • Business viability
  • People
  • Technology
The Human-Centered Design Process

You can see that they all intersect. You start with the needs of your audiences. Once you understand their needs, you can envision the opportunities your solution can offer, and then you can respond. Design Thinking as a practice evolved from human-centered design.

Mode 1: Empathy

When thinking about Empathy, let’s be clear: empathy is not sympathy! Empathy is placing yourself in another person’s shoes and feeling what the other person is feeling. You seek empathy to discover people’s explicit and implicit needs so that you can meet those needs through your design solutions. Seeking empathy for those you support fosters in you a personal commitment to their success.

To gain empathy, focus on real people and their stories. Not use cases, surveys, or inauthentic personas – but real people YOU have observed in their context. A lot of this mode is about tearing down the barrier between you and the performer. Too often, we sit in our cubicles and gather information from secondary sources on what our audiences’ lives are like. If I’m chartered to design a training solution for FedEx drivers, I will need to go on a ride-along, and not for just an hour. I’ll need to ride-along for the whole day, and maybe longer. I need to observe what their life is like across the workday, and experience multiple situations where their knowledge and skills are put into play as they perform their job. If you interview a person outside the context of real-time observation, you will get a “flavored response”. People rarely lie, they just don’t always tell the truth about what they do. You want to capture their real-life situations so your design can be informed by the truth in their tasks.

Gaining empathy involves these steps:

  • Observing
    • View users and their behavior in the context of their work.
  • Engaging
    • Interact with and interview users through both scheduled and unscheduled encounters.
  • Immersing
    • Experience what your user experiences.

The Empathy mode is not entirely different from the Analysis phase in ADDIE. However, the basic tenet of Design Thinking requires you to experience your user’s situation as deeply as you can. This leads to primary research – and is more useful for you in the long run. You won’t just rely on secondary information to inform your design solution.

What resonates the most with you about the difference between Empathy in Design Thinking and Analysis in ADDIE?

In my next post, I’ll discuss the Define mode.