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ATD Blog

2021 TechKnowledge Hackathon: Supporting Design by Humanity

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

In its second year, the hackathon held during ATD TechKnowledge 2021 took a fully virtual form. This year, the goal was to support Design by Humanity (DxH), a nonprofit design collective and apprenticeship program pairing experienced creatives with fresh faces to collaborate on real-world projects advocating for black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC).

DxH coordinates volunteer teams to design and develop training materials. Its onboarding process is somewhat manual and limited. The organization wanted to improve its onboarding experience and retention of volunteers. Our goal was to create a new vision and process for onboarding volunteers, including leveraging free and existing tools wherever possible.

ATD hosted the event through its Pathable conference platform. I co-facilitated two kickoff sessions with Nyla Spooner, DxH’s co-founder and learning experience designer. We used that time to share details about the organization and its current onboarding processes. Participants asked questions to dig into analysis and prepare ideas. During the course of a few weeks, teams and their volunteer coaches worked independently on their solutions. All teams joined the two-hour virtual hackathon check-in with the DxH team as they worked through designs.

On March 11, two finalists, Team Nyla and Team Triple Threat, presented solutions at the virtual hackathon showcase.

Team Nyla structured its solution in a microsite. Recommendations included these downloads:

  • I Volunteered, What’s Next?
  • Interactive Volunteer Resource: PowerPoint Guide
  • Frequently Asked Questions Starter Template
  • Slack Task/Project Management Integrations
  • Volunteer Day in the Life Course Outline

Team Triple Threat chose to help DxH participants and volunteers on their onboarding journey with this three-fold solution:

1. Self-paced e-learning onboarding that explains what is expected at each step of the process


2. Self-directed learning to explore available resources and encourage active use of existing resources without disrupting the workflow

3. A self-guided digital performance support resource center for quick and accessible answers to pressing questions that provides just-in-time learning and support

Their solution included an avatar course guide available to assist in real time, applied gamified knowledge checks, and adaptive content to provide volunteers with the necessary knowledge and skills to operate at DxH. They presented their solution with an Articulate Rise presentation.

When it came time to select a winner, Nyla shared that the DxH team planned to pull together a combined solution based on the work of both teams. It was a close call, but the DxH team had to choose one official hackathon winner. Team Triple Threat took home the trophy, and all finalists received fabulous prizes.


Perhaps more rewarding than the prizes, though, was being a part of this event. Participants shared this feedback about their experience:

“The hackathon was a chance to create synergy with two prominent organizations, ATD and DesignXHumanity. Within the hackathon, our group developed some unique learning experiences through unadulterated conversation to advocate for black, indigenous, and people of color. Because we believed in the mission, we pushed further to create multiple tools DesignXHumanity could leverage in their future endeavors.”
—Michael T. Sanders, Team Nyla

“Thank you and DxH for such a great opportunity. There are so many wonderful people in this industry, but in day-to-day work it can be difficult to find time to interact with them. This was a great occasion to contribute to an amazing cause and work with some truly talented folks.”
—Carrie Gauthier, Team Triple Threat

It was such an honor to have my first hackathon experience be working on a project for DxH and Nyla Spooner. I was introduced to Nyla (and Myra Roldan) through a webinar they were panelists for back in June of 2020: “The Intersection of Racial Justice and L&D.” That was a conversation I had also been having, here in Louisville (home of Breonna Taylor) and with a few colleagues throughout the nation, before the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, but hadn’t yet heard the L&D field speaking widely since. The work we do in L&D can move the needle. I truly believe that.

I was so nervous I wouldn’t be able give enough of my time (as I knew my time was limited), but the moderators said contribute how you can, and it encouraged me to participate and feel like I could still bring some value. The experience was rewarding, and I am so glad I finally got to participate with Nyla and DxH. Thank you, ATD, DxH, Nyla, Tim, Tristia, and the Triple Threat Team (named for our three-fold approach). It’s always my desire to create impactful work, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to do so with the DxH hackathon as well as to collaborate with an excellent team on the project and stretch myself during this year of intentional learning. This was a blast.
—Katie-Ryan Fotiadis, Team Triple Threat

This event would not have happened without the support of ATD, volunteer coaches, and participants. The Learning Ninjas team was honored to facilitate this year’s hackathon and participate as a team coach. We hope that you will join us in supporting the work of DxH. Learn more about what you can do to get involved.

About the Author

Sarah Mercier, CEO at Learning Ninjas, specializes in innovative learning technology and strategic implementation of learning solutions. Her innovative learning solutions have been recognized by winning industry awards, such as Best of Show at FocusOn Learning DemoFest for xAPI for Interactive eBooks, and Best Performance Support Solution at DevLearn DemoFest for Critical Success Factors training and assessment tool.

Sarah is a frequent speaker at industry conferences and business events in the areas of instructional strategy, learning technology strategy, and learning solution design and development. She is a national facilitator for the Association for Talent Development, and her work has been published in ATD’s 2020 Trends in Learning Technology, The Book of Road-Tested Activities, TD Magazine, Learning Solutions Magazine, CLO Magazine, and a variety of other training and workforce publications. Connect with her via Twitter @sarahmerci or LinkedIn at

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