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Design thinking and learning: Designing thinking and instructional design, with Connie Malamed

In this third podcast in the design thinking and learning series, we explore the relationship between the processes of design thinking and instructional design. Traditional instructional design is a form of designing thinking, but often it lacks the creative elements. Also, the ADDIE process does not have the prototyping phase that is so important for finding out if a solution is going to work. This podcast is a great exploration of design thinking in action within learning design.

Download the Design thinking and learning eBook

To go along with the podcast we have released an eBook with all transcripts of the interviews.  

The interviews are: 

  • Why is design thinking important to L&D, with Arun Pradhan
  • Learning experiences from a service design viewpoint, with Simon Goodrich
  • Designing thinking and instructional design, with Connie Malamed
  • The mindsets needed for design thinking, with Huddle

The introduction to the eBook gives an overview of design thinking and demystifies some of the terms used in the podcast, like ‘ideation’.  

 

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Design thinking and learning: Designing thinking and instructional design, with Connie Malamed

Robin:

Connie, how did you get started in exploring how design thinking works with instructional design?

Connie:

I'm always thinking about, ‘How does anything work with instructional design?’ and I guess I came upon it maybe, I don't know, five or six years ago. Probably from articles about creativity or design. Something caught my eye about it and I immediately wondered how we could apply it to instructional design. Because in all of the models that I had learned back then, there was no process for how to design. It was just a mysterious black box that you were supposed to do. I actually love that part of design, of instructional design, but I know a lot of people have trouble with it, and I understand why. Nobody tells you how.

Robin:

You mean that moment where you almost have done your analysis work and you're sitting there trying to think through, ‘Well, what instructional design work is going to work for this audience?’ Is that what you mean by the black box? Because I think that's the bit that I find always hard to explain to people.

Connie:

Exactly, yes, that black box, and what's the whole thing going to feel, look, be like? I mean, of course, now we've gone so far beyond elearning, but back then I was pretty much thinking in terms of elearning, but there's no reason why it couldn't be applied to classroom learning.

Robin:

It's interesting. I've been talking this week with someone who is a graphic designer who is interested in learning. Instructional design is probably the career direction she should be going in, and it's really interesting trying to explain, ‘Well, what does an instructional designer do?’ One of the core things is matching which instructional strategies are going to work for a particular problem. I'm really interested to hear why you think design thinking helps with that particular aspect. Because there are some people who would say, ‘Well, that's learning theory.’

Connie:

One thing I do love about this field is the fact that you can start out being analytical, and then use an entire other aspect of your intelligence and creativity to do design. There are just so many different aspects of your mind that you use, so many different types of thinking. Convergent, divergent, analytical – you name it, we do it. That to me is what makes it fun. What was the question, sorry?

Robin:

One of the Sprout Labs instructional designers calls it a Renaissance skill, because of this sort of mixture of so many different types of thinking and media. The question was how do you think design thinking helps with that process of designing the right instructional strategies for the audience?

Adding creative to the instructional design process

Connie:

I think that the process of design thinking, which of course can be interpreted in so many ways – and that is really one of its benefits and faults, that it can be interpreted in so many ways – I think the process encourages people to do a lot of that divergent thinking. The process encourages people to be creative. I teach design thinking workshops, and I see it work. I see people in small groups, and of course, they're supposed to be very multidisciplinary and in my workshops, they are not always multidisciplinary, but they're still individuals in groups with unique perspectives.

When they start thinking about strategies and approaches, the process of design thinking, especially during ideation and they're moving around, and they're putting sticky-notes up, and they're brainstorming, and I usually have people sketch first and spend a little time thinking alone. Just that whole process seems to encourage and promote creativity in people. That's something that when you learn an instructional design model – I first learned the Dick & Carey Model, then when I got out into the world, I learned the ADDIE Model – there's nothing about that in any of the models I've seen, at least the older models anyway. The newer models are better.

Robin:

Yes, and things like the SAM process from Allen factor in some of what we're talking about. But you're right about it adding a spark. There's this moment where people sit there and go, ‘Ah, actually I can have a sense of freedom.’ It sometimes takes a bit of time for people to get to that spot where they open up to possibilities. It's interesting, the notion of getting people to draw to start with and be by themselves as well as a technique, Connie.

I think that's one of the things with the ideation stage that people focus so much on the notion of brainstorming as a group, which isn’t always the best way to come up with ideas. Actually having people doing things by themselves, to start with, gets them into a different space than working in a group.

Beyond brainstorming

Connie:

Yes, brainstorming has some critics. In fact, there's been quite a bit of criticism of brainstorming if you read all the articles. I think it has to do with the fact that some people do not feel comfortable presenting their ideas to a group. Some people prefer to come up with ideas alone and then present them to a group.

The interesting thing about if you use that approach where you're writing your ideas on sticky-notes, and I know it sounds so cheesy because there are so many stock photos that show people doing that, that it's almost embarrassing to mention, but when you do that, people don't really see what your ideas are. They don't know who's writing what. So you just write and you put your ideas up there, and you're moving, and it's physical.

I think this really adds to the creative process, and it's not embarrassing for people who feel shy about speaking up. Because no one is really paying attention to what your idea is, because you're busy. Everyone's busy writing things down.

Robin:

Yes, it makes the process quite a lot more democratic and it gives that sense that people, especially those people who don't want to put an opinion forward, that they can just have this quiet moment. There's also something with brainstorming – this is the reason why I've decided I don't particularly like it, that as a facilitator I can direct the conversation. I don't think that's always good for design thinking processes.

Connie:

Yes. Also, if you have a boss in the room or supervisor in the room, people will tend to maybe not want to show their ideas if they're wild and crazy or silly. There’s that whole judgement thing. I've been happy with this approach, with a little time to draw and think alone, and then some time to put sticky-notes up.

Also, one thing I've noticed, design thinking works well in our field because the people in our field seem to be so nice and open. That's been my experience, that when it is time to start judging ideas, people are just good about it. I don't come across many L&D people who are mean or nasty. They're usually pretty nice and open and are thinking about the right solution.

Robin:

I think that's part of that nature of L&D people being people-oriented. Quite often when we're working with SMEs that are fairly technical, we do have to get through some barriers about the process and about people wanting to be critical from day one. Sometimes when we're co-designing with end users it's a bit different, I think.

Connie:

I agree.

What’s your favourite design thinking tool?

Robin:

A question I've been asking some people: what's your favourite tool with design thinking? I've got a feeling I might know what the answer is.

Connie:

Hmm. Ones I've been using for the empathy phase, yes, I think that the UX tools are just so good. Developing personas, empathy maps. Is that the kind of tool you're thinking of? Or were you thinking of actually an application?

Robin:

That was the sort of tool I was thinking of, yes. The empathy maps are fantastic. It was also interesting that you were talking about sticky-notes. I was sitting there thinking, ‘Ooh, I wonder if Connie's going to say her favourite tool is sticky-notes?’

Connie:

Kind of! It's definitely one of them, and so is paper and pencil.

Robin:

So, paper and pencil: you hinted before that there's a really interesting thing that happens at the prototyping stage as well. How do you work with prototyping?

Connie:

Before we get into that, can we get into the define stage because that's something really important. Would you mind?

Robin:

That's really okay. It's interesting because some of the other podcasts have gone quite deep into the define stage and that was one of the reasons why I was going deep into some of these other areas. It's interesting as well that you've brought me back to the define phase. Even when I asked for tools, they were define tools because the key to design thinking is really the define and understanding phase.

Designing thinking and instructional design

Connie:

Well, the reason why I wanted to just mention that for a second is because some people are concerned that there's no place to fit instructional design into this process. I think you can look at design thinking in two ways. One would be that you can do an instructional design process during the define problems stage, or you can take the entire design thinking process and fit it into, if you're using ADDIE, or any of the methods really, fit that into the ‘D’ part, the design. I just wanted to mention that design thinking should enrich your instructional design, not replace it.

Robin:

Yes, and enriching it is a good way of thinking about it. I have a bit of a puzzled look on my face. Does that mean that the process doesn't have to have learning objectives?

Connie:

I think that there should be measurable performance objectives, and in my workshops we do that during the define phase.

Robin:

Yes. I personally think of the define phase as defining the business outcomes: thinking through the context and then thinking about the gap between where people are and where they need to be. Design thinking is often used for product development or UX design and it's totally about the users. Whereas I think in learning, we actually need to have that business layer as well.

Adapting design thinking for learning

Connie:

Yes, I think that we are adapting the process, and people already are using it in many organisations. We're adapting the process to the world of learning, and it's going to look a little bit different than for service design, UX, and product design. It's going to be a little bit different.

Robin:

Yes. That's interesting because essentially, agile project management implies a lot of lean thinking, but because it's so different to lean, it's actually got a different name. For internal HR and L&D activities the design thinking process might turn into something else. It's interesting.

Connie:

It is. It's really fascinating, and I'm sure my opinions about it are going to continue to evolve. They've been evolving since I first heard about it five or six years ago. Anyway, let's get on to prototyping. Didn't you want to talk about that?

Robin:

Yes, so prototyping. You hinted before that there's a fantastic set of ways in design thinking to be able to prototype really quickly.

Prototyping learning designs – sparking new thinking and iterating fast

Connie:

As far as prototyping goes, when we're coming up with ideas, when the groups and the workshops are coming up with ideas, I give them a list just for fun and say, ‘Here are 20 or 30 different things that might work for you, and you might think up some other things,’ so that people aren't hung up on elearning. People aren't hung up on instructor-led training because there are so many options now. Usually a blended approach is best to solve a problem in general. 

People will prototype by sketching, by drawing on a big flip board and taking people through a mockup of an app. People will test out one-on-one coaching. So there are so many different ways that I see people prototyping without even hardly touching a computer. You can, you could easily do an elearning or app prototype in PowerPoint, but because it's an iterative process I think people are trying to do something that's quick. Especially, they're trying to do something that's quick so they can test it with people and then try to iterate.

Robin:

Yes, what you're talking about, the interesting thing I see happening is people start to explore an idea and say, ‘Well, we just need to explore that a bit more,’ and they naturally start to prototype. They go, ‘Well, how is this going to work if I start to sketch it out?’ You oscillate between that low-fidelity simple prototyping and ideation really quickly when the process is going well.

Connie:

Yes, you're right. The low-fidelity prototypes are pretty awesome. Then I have them test with people, and then that brings up entirely new questions. Because you have this idea in your head, and you've put it out there, but nobody else was along for the ride, so they're going to bring up things, obstacles.

Robin:

Now something I've been thinking about, and it's something that Arun talked about as well: you obviously give people a list of possible ideas. At Sprout Labs I sometimes give people a list of ideas that I think might be the right things to explore, or we actually have a series of ideation cards.

Connie:

Nice.

Robin:

Yes, some of those come from Brian Eno's oblique cards, so some of them are quite wacky. It's really interesting, because I'm starting to think back through, ‘Why did I start doing that?’ ideation and having a blank canvas and it’s easy for people, and the cards provided a starting point. But I’m wondering if this is leading the process too much?

Connie:

I know what you're saying, and I'm not really giving people ideas. What I'm saying is don't think in terms of just instructor-led and elearning. That's how most people tend to think. All I do is give them a list that has nothing to do with the scenario at all that they're dealing with. It's simply: here are 20 different things that work as learning, as performance support, as vehicles for learning.

 

It could be, I'll just make a list of perhaps coaching and apps and job aids, and just a big long list of all the things our field has come up with. Just to expand the possibilities for them. They might come up with something that's not even on that list. So that they don't remain constrained in what they're used to. That's the reason I do it.

Robin:

Yes, it's a part of that expansion to spark new ideas. It's quite nice, and it also would help a lot with people who are more the end learners rather than learning experts, as well, to be part of the co-design process.

Co-designing

Connie:

Yes. I think co-design is a whole interesting aspect that we can add to design thinking, that some people do use in design thinking. I've seen some great videos where they were designing with children about how to eat more vegetables. Co-design is just a whole other thing. Yes, it's great.

Robin:

Yes, it is a whole other thing, and actually probably I've realised if someone was getting started, it's probably not the thing to start with because it does increase the amount of risks. That starting with a smaller, contained group of stakeholders is the first step, is maybe my thought. One of the things I like to do in the wrap up stage of podcasts, Connie, is ask what's your tips and advice for people getting started in design thinking?

Advice for getting started in designing thinking and learning

Connie:

I would say to not get too hung up on the process, and to think in terms of the spirit of design thinking. The spirit of design thinking is all about coming up with innovative and creative ideas, no pressure. Don't get too hung up on, ‘Am I doing this phase correctly?’ Because if you look at IDEO's site, they've changed it like a million times. They always have different things as part of their process. I guess they find new words, new ways to explain things.

I wouldn't get too hung up on whether you're doing it correctly as much as following the spirit of design thinking. There's a real creative boost you can get from it. There's a real positivity and enthusiastic approach to design that you can get from it, and that's what it's all about, really.

Robin:

Yes, and that's a really lovely sentiment, Connie. I think so much of the time, design thinking is focused on just being about the understanding and being human-focused, but there's this really exciting part around the creative side of it. Essentially, the two people that I've talked to about L&D and design thinking both come from creative backgrounds, yourself and Arun.

Connie:

Yes, it speaks to us. I think there's a lot of people in our field who got somehow oppressed when they were kids in school. We all know that children are so creative, and they want to, they're looking for a way to get back to that primal creativity that all humans have, and I think this is one of many approaches that can help.