Design4Performance

Category - design thinking

Design Thinking for Learning Innovation – A Practical Guide

lightbulb

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 dschool, 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 & 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 on the presentation below for more and for a sneak peak of the three workshop process that we’ve developed at DeakinPrime.

While we use a design thinking mindset & tools in all our jobs, we use this three workshop process for significant learning & performance projects that lend themselves to complex blends, campaigns, or ecosystems.

If the embedded link below doesn’t work try viewing the presentation here.

Please note, it might not make that much sense without my explanation to support it but hopefully, it gives you an idea.

TOP TIPS TO IMPLEMENT DESIGN THINKING FOR LEARNING

Beyond the model I’ve 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 ‘whys’

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 2 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 & 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.

WANT MORE?

Feel free to check out some of my other work on design thinking and related topics:

Video: Learning Innovation: A Design Thinking Primer for L&D , a presentation I delivered earlier this year. Less nuts & bolts compared to the slides above, but a good starter with some background on the why & how of design thinking in learning.

Infographic: Design Thinking in Learning, now a year old this infographic still captures some key points & my key references.

Article: eLearning Modules will Die and 70:20:10 will hold the Smoking Gun, the premise behind that first case study I cited in the article of shifting from elearning modules to performance solutions.

5 Reasons Why 70:20:10 Solutions Fail (and what we can do about it)

fail

I’ll come clean from the start, I’m an enthusiastic practitioner and advocate of 70:20:10. I’ve found it to be a liberating framework that delivers performance based solutions and helps to break L&D out of the confines of… well, L&D.

In addition to the underlying mindset shift, it’s opened a treasure trove of techniques, tools and possibilities to support lasting positive change in organisations and people. But before we pop the champagne and enjoy life with crowds of continuous learners joyfully working in performance boosting ecosystems, I’ve got to admit there have been challenges.

So, in the spirit of #WorkOutLoud, here are my top 5 reasons why 70:20:10 solutions can fail (and what can be done about it):

1. Organisations have a training culture 

WHAT’S POSSIBLE

A training culture might be seen as a positive, but it pales in comparison to a learning culture. Pete Senge popularised the idea of learning organisations, which he defined as places “where people continually expand the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn together.” (Senge, The Fifth Discipline, 2006)

With greater demand for innovation, customer centricity and agility the need for organisations, and therefore people, to grow and transform has become more relevant than ever.

THE PROBLEM

Too many organisations have been struck by the blight of a ‘training culture’. L&D must take some responsibility for our role in fostering a sense of passivity, where people, hungry for development, believe that they are dependent on courses and events, but the problem runs much deeper. From our youth, schools told us that we learn about the world in a classroom, rather than presenting the world as our classroom. It’s no wonder that a culture of continuous learning can sometimes feel elusive as a result.

WHAT WE CAN DO

Companies wanting to overcome the training blight and become learning organisations have an urgent need for a more holistic (read 70:20:10) approach, of which formal training plays an important role to help introduce ideas, prime mindset, and develop conceptual frameworks, but it’s just one element of a broader on the job and social experience.

We can begin to moving to a holistic approach by:

  • Developing an empowered culture. This is a huge topic in itself but includes leaders demonstrating openness to new ideas including willingness to fail fast, and develop a culture of reflection.
  • Supporting Knowledge sharing. Leader led initiatives supporting #WorkingOutLoud can make a huge step in this direction and can be extended to support user generated micro content to develop a library of just in time resources.
  • ‘Detraining’ and reframing learning. I usually recommend a formal ‘Learn to Learn’ element as part of our 70:20:10 solutions. This might consist of a 3 minute video, or incorporated into a 20 minute intro webinar. The aim of this reframe is to introduce the principles of 70:20:10 (without using the name) and encourage people to embrace what they inherently know, that learning is something that happens by them not to them.

2. Managers aren’t up for the challenge

WHAT’S POSSIBLE

The oft quoted Learning & Development 2003 Employee Development Survey identified that direct reports of managers who are most effective at development out perform others by 25 to 27%. The same report noted similar benefits to retention, satisfaction, commitment and adaptability.

Fully engaged managers can:

  • Lead by example through demonstrating curiousity, a growth mindset and continuous learning approach
  • Coach reports to bring a conscious approach to work place development
  • Oversee stretch assignments and action learning projects
  • Help deepen reflection by fostering a habit of reflective questions
  • Champion performance tools, social enterprise networks and other social and on the job infrastructure

THE PROBLEM:

One of the earliest 70:20:10 solutions I helped design required Managers to play a proactive role in an onboarding process. Despite assurances that these Managers were primed and able to provide support, in practice a significant minority didn’t engage. The lack of executive support saw this problem grow to the point where the program was a shadow of what it could have been. This experience left me with a simple takeaway:

Build it and they will come (but only if they’ve got a switched on Manager who actively supports them).

WHAT WE CAN DO:

Having managers who are unable or unwilling to support engagement in 70:20:10 solutions represents a fundamental problem, yet it’s an all too common scenario. These days, we consider a range of options to address possible gaps in motivation and ability of Managers, including:

  • Leadership support. Ensuring there are vocal and proactive executives backing the solution
  • Marketing approach. Investing in a marketing campaign style communication plan that targets Managers as well as participants, focusing on WIIFM and key benefits
  • Leveraging champions. Identifying key Managers who are influencers to champion the roles we need them to play
  • Support Managers to support each other. Establishing group coaching for Managers with the view to seed ongoing communities of practice
  • Support Managers with on the job toolkits. Providing toolkits and micro-learning to provide just in time support for coaching conversations, mentoring and embedding a culture of reflection

3. People don’t access micro-learning or performance tools

WHAT’S POSSIBLE

Einstein once said, “The only thing you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library.” Similarly, as we break from our L&D ‘knowledge obsession’ we can move to focus on performance support.

This might involve new tools, checklists, quick reference guides and micro-learning that can be accessed just in time and just enough to allow someone to efficiently complete a task or project, while minimising cognitive load and unnecessary memory requirements.

THE PROBLEM

People might not engage with relevant micro-learning or performance tools for a number of reasons:

  • Lack of pay off. People mightn’t see a clear return on investment for their time and effort in using the new resources
  • Hassle. People might be used to a particular workflow and not motivated to change it to incorporate other tools or support
  • Time. The process of finding and accessing a ‘just in time’ tool might take too long. How long is too long? Think how long you’re prepared to spend googling an answer when you’re trying to get something done. This shortfall is usually caused by the lack of platform or technological infrastructure to simply and efficiently search, recommend, rate, and disseminate content

WHAT WE CAN DO

There are a few ways we’ve tried to address this challenge:

  • Empathise with the target audience. Using Design Thinking and Action Mapping to more deeply understand peoples perspectives, underlying needs and workflow. With these insights we’re more able to include just in time resources and tools when people most need support and in ways they would most like to access them. We can even identify common triggers or anchors that can form the basis of new habits. Where possible, such approaches are prototyped and tested before a full roll out.
  • Profile champions. We highlight champions and influencers who use the system and achieve strong results.
  • Hack infrastructure as required. We’ve found that LMSs manage training content, but rarely support just in time or performance solutions. As a result we’re currently working on two projects to deliver custom WordPress builds that incorporate a CMS style and deliver content that is just in time and just enough. We’re also looking at using xAPI to generate meaningful data and feedback from this process (call out to my talented colleague Cameron Hodgkinson, who’s spearheading this work)

4. Operations can’t handle it

WHAT’S POSSIBLE

Currently, many 70:20:10 solutions take the form of blended learning solutions, but as Charles Jennings pointed out, while this is on the right road, it isn’t the end of the journey. Blended learning is a great start but, in many ways, it’s more useful to create solutions as campaigns or ecosystems.

THE PROBLEM

Many organisations aren’t ready to logistically rollout innovative blends let alone supporting ongoing campaigns or ecosystems.

We learnt this when a blended learning solution I helped design for a large Australian company gained positive learner reviews but drew the ire of the company’s operations team. They were concerned with handling the complexity of multiple short webinars, the ‘bitsy’ nature of on the job toolkits, and struggled with hosting the suite of micro videos we’d produced (it sounded like putting them on the LMS was as effective as putting them on a USB and flushing it down the toilet).

WHAT WE CAN DO

There are a number of things we do to handle such challenges:

  • Consider infrastructure early. See the earlier point about ‘hacking infrastructure as required’. Sometimes this might be simple and low tech. For example, in the case I mentioned where the operations team struggled to rollout a blend, part of the solution involved creating a simple portal to house the videos and sending email reminders for various events from a new email address (because apparently most people ignored the ones sent via the LMS email!).
  • Empathise with operations. As mentioned, we use a design thinking approach mixed with lashings of action mapping, which focuses squarely on the learner experience. This is still where we begin but, at a early stage of the process, we now introduce operations. We reach out to the team who will be delivering and overseeing BAU of the solution and more actively explore how we can best work with them to deliver the engaged learner experience we are all seeking.

5. They won’t invest in something they can’t see

WHAT’S POSSIBLE

“Organisations with strong informal learning capabilities, including social learning, are 300% more likely to excel at global talent development than organisations without those competencies.” (Bersin by Deloitte, March 2012)

Embracing the power of informal learning is a requirement for a culture of continuous learning and sustained high performance.

THE PROBLEM

Learning is too often considered a commoditised product that must be defined, packaged and managed. Simultaneously, organisations and L&D departments often use success metrics such as knowledge-based assessments, attendance to learning events, and traffic on an LMS.

While many people implicitly understand the power of informal learning, the above factors make it challenging to fully embrace. As a result many 70:20:10 blends are pressured to bend the stick towards formal, to satisfy key stakeholder expectations about ‘what a program should be’ and to ‘deliver something tangible’.

WHAT WE CAN DO

The obvious answer here is to focus on performance rather than learning outcomes but that is unsatisfying for many, because we don’t live in a lab and the causes for increased performance are often interlinked, complex and slightly intangible.

Ironically, that’s the point.

Informal learning supports performance because at its best it’s interlinked, complex and slightly intangible. It involves people pulling learning as they need, learning through collaboration, and reflecting on experience.

On one level this should align with a ‘bottom line’ approach of many executives because the focus is on business metrics. As the late great Jay Cross put it: “Executives don’t want learning; they want execution. They want performance. Informal does not mean unintentional. Those who leave informal learning to chance leave money on the table. Informal learning is a profit strategy.”

Still, in my experience, this is one of the hardest challenges to overcome and does tend to require an initial leap of faith to get started.

Conclusion

Perhaps you’re a seasoned 70:20:10 practitioner who found this all pretty basic. I’ve got one thing to say to you, if you told me about this years ago I could’ve picked this up from the 20 instead of the 70. I forgive you, but start working out loud already!

Maybe you’re someone who’s begun to play with 70:20:10 and have experienced some of these challenges. I hope this, and the comments it might spark, contribute to you having a smoother ride.

Or maybe you’re still focused on traditional courses and aren’t sure whether 70:20:10 is worth the effort. To you I’d say beware, as the road ahead will be bumpy, and there’ll be unexpected turns and challenges. And, despite all of that, the journey is definitely worthwhile.

—-

Like it? Then feel free to share it. Use the options (left).