Friday, February 21, 2020

Design thinking for blended learning

I participated in the Masterclass Design thinking for learning designers by Connie Malamed, organized by Anewspring. It was a nice experience to go through all design thinking steps in a structured way for a chosen case study. I had already experienced the value of working with personas and prototypes, but not yet followed all design thinking steps in a structured manner. Our group made a design for managers of retail organizations to motivate employees to stay with the organization for longer (we made the objective smart ofcourse - 25% longer retention by the end of 2021 :).

What is design thinking and why is it interesting for designing blended learning? 

Design thinking is an emerging trend to shape innovation in a creative way. Central is the experience of the customer / user. There are 5 steps: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test.

Design thinking has long been used to design products. However, it is quite new to use design thinking for the design of learning interventions. The differences with "regular" design processes in my eyes are:
  • Design thinking is "human-centered". Hardly a not a new element, because when designing a training or course, needs assessment is fairly standard practice when designing. Or designing together with the target group and stakeholders. Design thinking, however, offers specific tools such as personas and empathy maps. 
  • It is an iterative, creative process. Making a design in a day was great for a fast start, getting everyone on board and having the outline. After prototyping you will go back to the drawing table with the feedback on the prototype in your pocket. The iteration - refining, tweaking etc instead of sticking to decisions simply because they were made in the beginning is very appealing to me. 
  • Prototyping! This is something I will start to use more often. It seems more difficult to prototype a training than eg a new teapot. What I learnt is that you can be creative in prototyping: think of a mock-up of a new learning environment, an infographic, a video in which you explain the set-up, a role play between trainer and participant etc. The rapid prototypes ensure that you visualize your ideas. As Connie shared: with one client she hadn't made a prototype, and as a result people said very late in the process: oooooh now I understand what you were talking about! Without prototype it is very easy to talk, agree and have different understanding. 
  • There is a large toolkit with tools that you can apply. What makes me very happy is that it is not a blueprint approach, it is not prescriptive, you can choose the tools that fit your process.


My main take ways

Currently I discuss with content experts and teachers whether we have to do interviews or whether they know the target group. Connie does insist on the interviews with the target group. Although content experts sometimes know the target audience very well, there are always judgments and impressions that may be incorrect. An example is a group that appears to be digitally skilled, but may not have a sound card in their computers at work. This still has some consequences for your choices. I'm going to be stricter when organizations say there's no need to do interviews.

In addition, my biggest eye-opener was to create prototypes. What can you do to show and request feedback? In the session we had built a prototype of an online platform, and in the feedback it became clear that safety is very important. Safety to be able to practice with coaching conversations with employees. Super useful for quickly sharing your design and getting responses.

Curious about our design? Unfortunately I did not take a photo but it is a process where managers start with a study of the motivation factors by conversations with employees. Then there are face-to-face and online sessions. We conclude with gamification: prices for the branches with the longest-serving employees.

An interesting discussion in our group: would we have come up with something completely different if we had not gone through these steps? Maybe not. But now you know for sure that it is well thought out and I suspect that interviews give you a better sense of the learners' context. However, it also shows that the process does not guarantee a consistent design. It requires empathy for the design to fit reality well.