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Developing Custom eLearning Solutions with Design Thinking

Developing Custom eLearning Solutions with Design Thinking

In today’s hypercompetitive working environment, it has become more important than ever before for professionals to continue learning. People recognize the need to be abreast with the latest technologies and breakthroughs in their respective industries. Remaining educated is just good for business. Unfortunately, learning comes with a steep start that hinders progress.

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Member of the Board, Raccoon Gang

Sergiy has 18 years of experience in eLearning and management. Creating educational programs, career paths, online and offline courses he is making the educational world better as a co-founder of RG.

Developing Custom eLearning Solutions with Design Thinking

According to a Towards Maturity report, over 60% of learners discover things by themselves rather than from e-learning. About 53% of employees aren’t too keen on using eLearning systems. Why is it? Because most elearning modules are not user-centric and don’t address their actual pain-points. This results in lower engagement and levels of motivation, hence into less effective solutions which is a wasted opportunity. 

Instead, practitioners need to create a custom eLearning solution that puts their user’s pain points front and center. But how? 

Enter design thinking: a powerful tool in custom eLearning solutions. 

You’ve probably already come across this term before since it is commonly used to drive innovation in business. Today, it is being applied in eLearning to accelerate learning outcomes. 

Design thinking is traditionally divided into five stages: 

  1. Empathy (or understand, depending on who you ask)

  2. Defining

  3. Ideate

  4. Prototype 

  5. Test

It all starts with empathy. It’s a key part of learning that strengthens the overall experience for everyone involved – student and teacher, client and sales rep – and it all begins with empathy. 

In the context of custom eLearning solutions, empathy requires a deep understanding of the target audience’s main problems; it also requires a cursory understanding of the audience’s motivations and objectives, which may not be immediately obvious.

You could argue that the design thinking approach is a bit similar to the needs analysis, in which you are defining your target audience and describing a problem that custom eLearning solutions may solve. You may create a profile of the learner for whom you develop the custom eLearning solutions. You may also brainstorm possible ways of solving the learner’s problems. 

However, the design thinking approach adds an extra layer to this whole process. 

It requires working from the perspective of the target audience to understand their problems and learning objectives. It requires awareness about how things should be done with the knowledge of their experiences.

At first, the design thinking approach may seem a little difficult. But you can easily acquire the target audience’s perspective by simply talking to them, observing their work environment, seeing their struggles, and applying their view on how the problems should be solved – in other words, you have to become familiar with their experiences.

Let’s explore all five stages of the design thinking approach in detail, starting with empathy. 

design thinking approach

1. Empathy: To Create a Wide Spectrum of Learner Personas

Integrating empathy to create custom eLearning solutions serves many useful functions that are worth discussing:

  • Courses that put the actual learners’ pain points front and center are going to be more relevant – a key motivator that drives higher learning engagement.

  • This training session will be a lot more effective if it considers the learners’ perspective, their working environment where they will apply their new skills, and their needs.

  • By trying to seek the learners’ perspective, you will be able to create more ‘learner profiles’, each profile takes into account certain characteristics such as demographics, language, and may also include people with disabilities. It also takes into account learners who aren’t familiar with the technology. Designing custom eLearning solutions naturally results in a more user-centered appearance that is accessible for a diverse range of audiences. 

  • The design approach dumps the one-size-fits-all rule for eLearning to consider the roles of learners from a diverse range of spectrums. It does not force a person to learn something they do not need to learn. These courses can eliminate redundancies and also cover necessary information in details appropriate for the learners. This respects the audience’s time, knowledge, and experience.

To gather this kind of information, you should conduct various interviews and observations with learners. Armed with these insights, you can prepare custom eLearning solutions to create more impactful learner experiences. 

Empathy Mapping 

Empathy mapping allows us to synthesize the data collected after interviewing learners. As you conduct these interviews, also try to collect data about the learner’s thinking process and capture their feelings, then estimate how their thinking process affects their behavior. With empathy mapping, you can capture the essence of the learners’ pain problems.

The trick is to dig deep beneath the surface and derive more meaning and insights to help you get to the root cause of the issue. 

Imagine that you are a teacher who is interviewing a student, let’s call him John, to gather data and insights about his thoughts, actions, feelings, needs, and frustrations. What is John feeling right now? 

You might be able to note down things like John has ambitions to achieve his goals. He wants to be seen as an expert individual who can achieve his goals. He’s getting a little frustrated because the course provides him too much information to learn. He is feeling a little disappointed because he doesn’t have all the answers, but he trusts his background and job experience to help him pull through. 

These are just some of the aspects that could be affecting John as he tries to learn new things. Training wouldn’t help with these problems, and this is where the Design Thinking Approach helps us discover the root cause and deliver the right solutions. 

2. Define

After you have collected and analyzed data in the ‘empathy’ phase, the next step in the design thinking approach is to “Define” the learner’s problem. The goal here is to define the root causes of the learner’s viewpoint. Their problems and root causes will lead you to several solutions based on where they were found. The lack of understanding, lack of knowledge, lack of skill, and lack of motivation generate different solutions.

For instance, John is 40 years old. He is a doctor who works 9-hour shifts and often skips eating lunch because he has to meet all his patients in the day. He has a wife and children with whom he spends all his free time. He isn’t very patient and easily gets distracted. In college, he used to study with groups of students, as he found learning very boring. It’s been a few years since John has decided to go back to school.  The problem is that he hasn’t been able to fit the school into his haphazard schedule. He considers eLearning as a good alternative but is afraid he might end up neglecting his family. 

John wants to find an eLearning solution that would let him spend more of his free time with his wife and children, while still advancing his skill sets. 

If this kind of analysis is done successfully, course designers will find a pattern of behaviors that lead the way to innovative solutions aimed to satisfy the learner’s needs.

3. Ideate

After you have properly defined the learners’ profiles, the next stages involve more creativity: ideation and prototyping. We have to entertain all kinds of possible solutions.

  1. Is the user’s problem stemming from a lack of knowledge? If that is the case, then you need to determine if the learner needs to recall the information right away or if they’re better suited to ‘ready reference’. For recalling information, a memorization technique such as flashcards may be the best tool.

  2. If the learner’s need is to access reference material, then you will have to create a tool that can help with this problem and train them how to use the tool. 

  3. If the root cause of the learner’s problem is a lack of belief or motivation, then the solution goes beyond training. Something like testimonials and storytelling – and not exclusively training – will go a long way in achieving learning outcomes. 

  4. If the problem is a lack of skill, the training may require several practice sessions and a personal coach as part of the solution. 

Irrespective of the case, the key insight from this section is that the learner’s problems are complex and require solutions that go beyond what educational sessions can provide. This is why it certainly helps to do things like reflecting, brainstorming, and sketching empathy diagrams. 

custom eLearning solutions

4 and 5. Prototype and Testing

These are the final two stages of custom eLearning solutions. The goal is to give your eLearning course enough form so that you, your audiences, and other stakeholders can envision it. You can start by taking a large representative chunk of the project and sketching it. If you are creating an eLearning solution, you can start by building a small portion of the course and testing it out.

Prototyping is more than just a stage in the design thinking approach, it’s an entire mindset. If you approach your course with the belief that you can make more improvements by sharing it with your learners and stakeholders, it will become better with time – which benefits everyone.

The final stage is testing. You can compare your prototype to the learner’s constraints, requirements, and needs. Does the prototype of a custom eLearning solution include the learner’s must-haves? You may learn that in some areas, your prototype didn’t meet expectations. This is all part of the plan. Prototyping is an iterative process that undergoes constant revisions to seek out new improvements.

Once you’re done prototyping, try revisiting your learning objectives. Do content delivery and practice sessions align with course learning outcomes? If they don’t, determine if the outcome was unrealistic or if you need to completely redo the entire prototype.

It is worth pointing out that design thinking is about making improvements, so looping back to an earlier phase is all perfectly normal. When doing so, make sure you’re discussing your findings and improvement with stakeholders so they know how your custom eLearning solutions are unfolding.

The Biggest Roadblocks to Custom eLearning Solutions

We’ve taken a look at Design Thinking and how it is beneficial to custom eLearning solutions, but certain problems can get in the way. The most prominent problem is a lack of awareness of the learner’s difficulties. It takes more than just speculation to make the design thinking approach work and to achieve the elearning program’s objectives. 

It’s very easy to dismiss these roadblocks that are impossible to overcome, probably based on the assumption that they will cost too much time and money. 

But this is a fallacy that most course designers fall into. Design thinking saves time and money. It helps course creators find various pitfalls that they may easily fall into if they take shortcuts. 

Bonus Content: Design Thinking Favors Mobile-First Learning Systems

Mobile-first design systems allow learners to digest small amounts of content on their mobile phones – it intends for users to consume most of the content on the phone when they’re more laid back and have free time. It is a good idea to combine design thinking with mobile-first technology since more people are beginning to rely on smartphones and tablets. 

This isn’t to say that the traditional computer-based online learning is to be abandoned, but it does mean that learners should be able to easily switch between devices and that the experience should be smooth, regardless of the device used.  

Wrapping Up

It is worth mentioning that the design thinking approach can be applied to just about any problem or situation. More importantly, it should be applied to a diverse group of individuals, since each person sees the problem from a different perspective, not only from the field they work in but also from their experiences. Therefore, the more varied your groups, the richer your ideas, and the more successful your courses. 

As a custom eLearning solutions company, Raccoon Gang can help you implement the design thinking process using the Open edX platform to create your online course. To obtain a quote for your planned project, fill this form in.

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