About a year ago, one of the big four Australian banks approached DeakinPrime with a challenge. We were asked to pitch for a compliance training job targeting the bank's thousands of independent insurance brokers. The initial request was very specific, calling for quotes to build 9 elearning compliance modules.
We'd been exploring design thinking for some time and Simon Hann, DeakinPrime's CEO, was inspired coming fresh off the plane from Stanford's d.school, so we decided to go in a different direction.
Our pitch tentatively suggested a few elearning modules combined with some on the job tools however, we proposed to develop a more considered solution via a deeper design process which would examine learner needs and workflows, with the call out that we might end up redefining the problem altogether.
To our delight, our key stakeholders at the bank loved this idea and gave us the go-ahead to embark on a design thinking journey. The resulting co-design approach led us to ditch all 9 elearning modules. Instead, we developed a sales portal that provided just-in-time resources, guided customer interviews, and quick search options to access tools and support.
This solution is now live to over 5,000 people and the best part is that, rather than being trained in compliance, brokers who use the platform to increase their sales are inherently compliant. (Watch this space for a more in-depth case study).
In this instance, design thinking supported us to kill training and build an innovative performance tool directly linked to learner needs. In other jobs, it's helped co-design learning and change campaigns that span tens of thousands of people.
Using design thinking hasn't always led to paradigm-shifting solutions though. I've previously written about the potential fail points of creating 70:20:10 solutions and, in that context, a design thinking process can be crucial in establishing what not to build, instead revealing simple and realistic elements that can be embedded in the workflow of our audience.
What design thinking for learning and performance looks like
For me, design thinking is about starting with empathy, designing collaboratively, and failing faster, to create innovative end to end experiences.
I explored the above summary in more detail during a recent presentation to the LearnX Conference. Click here to view the presentation for more and for a sneak peak of the three workshop process that we have developed at DeakinPrime.
While we use a design thinking mindset and tools in all our jobs, we use this three workshop process for significant learning and performance projects that lend themselves to complex blends, campaigns, or ecosystems.
Top tips to implement design thinking for learning
Beyond the model I have previewed in the presentation above, there are a number of tips to keep in mind:
1. Involve your audience early and often
Don't work off assumptions or second-hand information. Instead, go to your target audience to observe, interview, and empathise with them. The best technique I've found for this is to include them in a co-design workshop and charge that group to interview their peers for further qualitative data.
2. Dig deeper with 'why?'s
The interview process, of asking why multiple times, has been a simple yet powerful change to gaining understanding. For both peer interviews and ones that our team conducts, it's allowed us to go beyond the obvious pain point and uncover underlying needs
3. Collaborate by being visual
The cliche design thinking workshops involve countless sticky notes and cards up on walls. This is more than a gimmick; it's an efficient way to sort, theme, and share information collectively. Done correctly, using tools such as card sorts or analysis grids, involves and empowers a group to quickly cut through data and make decisions.
4. Use personas
Even if I only have two hours instead of three workshops to design a solution, I still tend to use personas. These simple characters support deeper empathy by getting personal and specific. Each job varies but some key elements tend to include how the person thinks, feels, and does around a particular issue. Their key needs, pain points, elements of their workflow and day, and how they access learning, communication and information. For some reason, I’ve found 3 to be the magic number of personas.
5. Incorporate action mapping
While I use many traditional design thinking techniques, I do incorporate a version of Cathy Moore's action mapping to further understand personas and the gaps between them and the required actions they must take to reach success. Identifying performance gaps in terms of Knowledge, Skills, Motivation/Mindset or Environment can help inform the latter stages of ideation.
6. 'Orphan your ideas'
I coined this phrase in one of my first workshops and it's one that continually resonates with participants. It stems from when I was an elearning designer and had a sign over my desk reminding me that 'I am not my module'. Similarly, people need to separate themselves from their ideas. Some ideas will get shot down in an instant, others will evolve and end up being stars, but they are not us, and the quicker we orphan them, and allow them to go their own way, the faster we can create better ones.
7. Everyone can prototype
Low fidelity prototyping can be extremely simple. At DeakinPrime we often include illustrators into the workshop process to bring ideas to life but, for often it’s enough to have participants drawing a concept model of key content, or a stick figure storyboard of a coaching experience, or a wireframe sketch of a portal including moveable sticky notes. It’s inherently rough and quick, but can provide a preview of an experience to allow us to fail faster.
8. Field testing should focus on empathy, not validation
This was a tweak I’ve only learnt recently. Initially we would engage participants to test low fidelity prototypes with their peers, charging them ’to test ideas we’re working on’. Recently, I experimented with charging them to ‘find out more about our audience group,’ using the prototypes as a conversation starter. This shifted people from defending a solution to asking more probing questions, empathising, and revealing needs.
9. The final journey map should include fail points and dependables
The culmination for the more complex jobs we work on has been a wall to wall journey map. A key swim lane in such a journey map is to consider other touch points and people. While we begin the process unashamedly empathising with our target learners, at this point we really want to empathise with the managers, delivery team, IT or others who will be called upon to play a role in the solution.
10. Draw on resources and tools
It’s great you’ve gotten this far as you’re obviously willing to learn from my mistakes and experiences, and there are countless others out there doing great work for you to continue that process. Sites like Stanford’s dschool and Ideo, while not learning specific, are incredibly generous, with fantastic tools and resources you can download right now.
11. Start small, iterate and learn
It can be intimidating to get started, so be sure to take things a step at a time. You can begin by making sure you talk directly to learners, involve them in the process, and have the means to quickly test half-baked ideas before investing much into them. Be compassionate with yourself as you make mistakes, learn, and improve.
Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/@pavement_special