We are at a critical point where rapid change is forcing us to look not just to new ways of solving problems but to new problems to solve.

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“We are at a critical point where rapid change is forcing us to look not just to new ways of solving problems but to new problems to solve.” – Tim Brown (CEO and president, IDEO)

Design thinking is the new rage these days. It has been spreading like wild fire in the business world. Though we had been following some of these discussions with much interest, and also trying out integrating the internal development process at Learnnovators in a loosely structured way around this approach, a recent article by Clark Quinn prompted us to embark on a quest to find answers to the following questions:

  • Is design thinking a new subject, at least in learning design? Or is it already being followed as part of the learning design process? Or is it something that has been around without us being aware of it?
  • What is the significance of design thinking in the context of learning design? What benefits does it offer to learning designers?
  • What are some of the interesting ways in which design thinking could benefit learning designers? How could this help transform our learning programs?
  • What are some of the interesting resources available on this subject

According to Wikipedia, design thinking stands for “design-specific cognitive activities that designers apply during the process of designing. It is a formal method for practical, creative resolution of problems and creation of solutions, with the intent of an improved future result.”

Here are a few other insightful thoughts from Tim Brown that inspired us further on the subject:

Our objective, when it comes to the application of design thinking in schools, must be to develop an educational experience that does not eradicate children’s natural inclination to experiment and create but rather encourages and amplifies it.

As a society our future capacity for innovation depends on having more people literate in the holistic principles of design thinking, just as our technological prowess depends on having high levels of literacy in math and science.

Perhaps the most important opportunity for long-term impact is through education. Designers have learned some powerful methods for arriving at innovative solutions. How might we use those methods not just to educate the next generation of designers but to think about how education as such might be reinvented to unlock the vast reservoir of human creative potential?

As we understand, design thinking is not a new subject. Today’s companies who have adopted a design thinking approach stand out from and outperform their competitors with respect to their culture. It is proved to be helpful in bringing out innovative solutions (one classical example being iPod). Some of the most significant features of design thinking include encouraging creative thoughts and ideas, promoting team work, reducing fear of failure, and ensuring user centeredness. Design thinking is an important skill that designers need to master especially in this creative economy.

Many learning experts today have started sharing their views on the application of design thinking in e-learning. Though there are divergent views, we would like to believe that design thinking is not something that we have been practicing (in its strictest sense) in learning design. It is indeed something that has been very much around us without we, learning designers, being really aware of it. A quick analysis reveals that many of the elements of design thinking are not an integral part of any of the traditional learning models that we have been following (they are based on the systems thinking approach), since they weren’t considered significant aspects of ‘learning’ or ‘learning design’. However in today’s scenario, with our renewed understanding of how people ‘learn’, all elements of design thinking gain considerable significance in learning design. We can learn by observing the companies who have successfully implemented the design thinking approach in their businesses, and the interesting initiatives that are happening in the K-12 segment.

Design thinking applies to learning designers since they deal with the crucial topic of how people learn, and design solutions for them in a dynamically evolving world. This approach will help them look at learning problems in new ways, and also to conceive, design, and develop learning and performance support solutions that are creative and innovative. This will empower them to empathise with their learners that in turn will help bring out learner-centered designs. For these reasons, we wish to see design thinking being considered a ‘responsibility’ of learning designers.

If you would like to delve deep into this subject, here are a few interesting resources that we were able to find, review, and curate:


  • The Basics of Design Thinking in eLearning: What is the basic idea behind design thinking in e-learning? What are some of the ways to implement design thinking? Read this article to find out whatChristopher Pappas (Founder, eLearning Industry) has to say. He concludes the article by pointing out the benefits of adopting this strategy in our profession.
  • Is Design Thinking Missing From ADDIE?: This is a must-read post by Connie Malamed that brilliantly points out the missing practice of design thinking from our current models. Not just stopping with that, it elaborates on an approach to incorporate this aspect into Instructional Design, and suggests some valuable resources on the subject for further reading.
  • Teaching Kids Design Thinking, So They Can Solve The World’s Biggest Problems: This is an article authored by Trung Le (Principal Education Designer at Cannon Design) in which she shares her thoughts on the significance of cultivating systems-thinking skills in children to equip them to address the complex challenges of the future. She also shares her experiences about Prototype Design Camp – a new education model created by Christian Long, a visionary educator – that infuses design thinking skills into the K-12 curriculum.
  • Can Design Thinking Advance Our Jobs as Instructional Designers?: This article by Angel Green of Allen Interactions discusses how instructional designers (who normally pay more attention to theory, documentation, and content curation than the actual product they design) could harness the power of design thinking in their work.
  • The Top 6 Benefits of Design Thinking in eLearning: This is yet another article by Christopher Pappas in which he takes a quick look at some of the most notable benefits that e-learning professionals can expect to receive when adopting a design thinking approach in their learning development process.
  • Design Thinking #lrnchat: Here is the archive of a recent lrnchat (an online chat over Twitter that is held on every Thursday night 8:30-9:30pm EST / 5:30-6:30pm PST hosted by a team of learning experts) that was hosted to discuss the topic of ‘design thinking in learning at the workplace’.


  • Build 21st Century Skills with Design Thinking: In this interview, Dr. Maureen Carroll, Founder of Lime Design and Director of Stanford University’s Research in Education & Design Laboratory (REDlab), shares her insights on integrating design thinking with the K-12 curriculum.
  • Design Thinking for Museums: This is an interview with Helen Charman, Head of Learning at the Design Museum in London in which she shares her experiences about the use design processes and methods in learning development (in the museum context) internally at her organization.


  • Why Design Thinking: Check this video from IDEO (co-produced for a workshop with Edutopia) that depicts the inspiring story of a teacher who has always been sceptical about the role and significance of design thinking in education, and her transition into a true believer and practitioner of this approach.
  • Teaching Design for Change: This is a compelling TED talk by Emily Pilloton (Founder of Project H Design) about her journey from a city-dwelling designer to a rural high school teacher who got actively engaged with her students to transform their community through design thinking.


  • The Design Thinking for Educators Tool Kit: This how-to toolkit from IDEO targeted at K-12 educators contains the design thinking process overview, methods, and instructions for designing impactful learning solutions. According to IDEO, this kit was designed after an extensive research and development effort as an answer to the design challenges faced by today’s educators in the classroom.
  • Design Thinking for the Instructional Designer (Kit): This is a paid, two-hour, on-demand training webinar from Allen Interactions which features Angel Green, Senior Instructional Strategist, as the presenter. The discussion is centered around the power of design thinking, with a walk-through of the company-designed instructor designer guide aimed at tapping into your creative power.


  • Stanford Design Thinking Virtual Crash Course: This is a wonderful virtual (one hour) crash course on design thinking worth checking out from Stanford that focuses on the process, methodology and the strategy of design thinking.
  • Design Thinking | The Beginner’s Guide: The objective of this self-paced online course from Interaction Design Foundation that starts on 14 May 2015 is to help you develop a solid understanding of the fundamental concepts of design thinking. You will also learn how to implement your new found knowledge on this approach in your professional work life.
  • Design Thinking: Innovate In Style: Here is a course from Udemy that is aimed at making you understand the design thinking innovation process that will in turn help you generate better ideas and solutions by addressing the needs of your audience in a more efficient way.

What are the other benefits you think design thinking could offer learning designers? What other resources or stories have you got to share with us?

We would love to hear from you.

Written by Santhosh Kumar

(Vice President, Learnnovators)


Published on 02-May-2015

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