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ATD Blog

Tips for Creating Better Learning Experiences With Design Thinking

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Design thinking is not just a buzzword or a fad; it’s a way of thinking that can help you be more creative, innovative, and strategic. Let’s look at the design thinking process and how it can be used to create better learning experiences for your learners.

Design thinking is a framework that encourages people to think about problems from multiple perspectives, challenge assumptions, and build empathy for users. It helps you understand how people interact with their environments—including educational settings—and develop solutions that respond to those needs.

Consider these questions:

  • What do learners need to do?
  • What problems do they experience?
  • How might they feel when they face these problems? Frustrated? Angry? Disappointed?
  • How do they solve those problems? Do they ask for help? Search online?

Listen first, talk second.

The first step of the design thinking process is to listen. If you’ve ever worked with a designer, you know that they’re constantly asking questions and making observations about the world around them. They’re always looking for new ways to think about problems and find solutions. In design thinking, this is known as empathy—the ability to understand how another person feels in their environment.

Have empathy for your users.

Empathy means putting yourself in your learners’ shoes and imagining what it would feel like if you were experiencing a problem. Interview people who’ve already been through the experience you’re designing for. Conduct informal conversations with people who’ve already completed the process that you’re trying to improve. Ask them about their experiences, and ask them what would make the process better.


Consider your users’ perspectives.

What are their values, beliefs, and priorities? How do these elements influence their experience with your product or service? What makes them unique? It’s essential to understand who they are as individuals so you can create offerings that meet their needs. Once you’ve identified your users’ needs, define them with specific features or functions. For example, if one of your users requires an easier logon method, define this need as “requests a simple logon process” or “asks for no more passwords.” Defining user needs helps clarify expectations so that when they receive a solution, they will know they have what they need.

Build prototypes quickly and cheaply.

When trying to understand your users, build prototypes quickly and cheaply. Spend more time talking with people than designing beautiful mockups. You can always make changes later if you need to, but getting feedback will help improve your product and ensure it meets their needs.


Test with real people.

It’s important to test often, especially if you’re building a new product. You’ll find out what works and what doesn’t through testing. If something isn’t working well, stop doing it, and try something else. You can also use A/B testing to see which features your users respond most favorably to so that you can optimize those further.

Solve problems creatively by looking outside the box.

When solving problems creatively, there’s no right or wrong way because creativity is not about following rules; it’s about breaking them!

For a deeper dive into design thinking, join me at ATD TechKnowledge 2023 for the session Using Design Thinking for Better Learning Experiences.

About the Author

Darren Nerland works on disruptive, innovative, and emergent digital learning technologies and methodologies, aligning key leaders and stakeholders on the implementation of learning initiatives for the enterprise. An expert technologist, he has a demonstrable track record of bringing complex learning systems from requirements through design into scalable production. Darren's experience includes working at the executive level to determine how training strategies and awareness can affect and sustain positive behavioral change. He is an accomplished and dynamic leader with strong global learning strategy and measurement experience.

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