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Design thinking practice

In this video, Dr Chie Adachi interviews learning expert Arun Pradhan about the key ideas and processes of design thinking.
CHIE ADACHi: Could you explain what design thinking is?
ARUN PRADHAN: It’s a process and a mindset where you are starting from a place of empathy– deep empathy– to really help reframe and deeply understand a problem. People will say, “I want this,” and if you take the time to actually empathise and see it from their world view, you can actually uncover these underlying needs. When you uncover an underlying need, you’ve got a partnership there. These people love you because you actually help them get in touch with what’s really the problem. And it also helps you– rather than brainstorming about this issue, which is what they’ve asked for– you’re ideating around this underlying issue, and getting to the core of the challenge. Then you’re actually taking a process of codesign.
When you codesign– when you actually bring the audience group along, and actually bring a multi-disciplinary approach to it– well, by bringing the audience along you’re bringing champions. You’re growing champions. You’re getting a deeper understanding, which you wouldn’t have had normally. And by bringing this sort of cross-function group along, you’re innovating. And you’re getting that innovation through diversity. So it’s huge. When you’re not designing this moment in time– this event– when you’re actually designing for context and designing for an experience, you need to design with more than one person. You’re actually failing fast. So you’re open to actually making mistakes quickly, to learn from them. And you’re actually designing end to end experiences.
You’re actually looking at the whole end to end experience, not just an event. So for me, quick failure– cheap failure, so you’re doing low fidelity prototyping– is a way to actually more deeply empathise with your audience group. Failing fast is really about that low fidelity prototype. How can you do it in a sketch? How can you do it in a mime, or some sort of paper prototyping exercise, to get that quick feedback? And if clients see you do that, they understand this is about quick and dirty– getting that quick response. So, always go to your audience.
No matter what the key stakeholder you’re talking to has told you about the job, find an opportunity to actually go directly to the audience group. And when you go to the audience group, a common mistake is, you’ll ask what do they want, or do they like this e-learning? You don’t ask specific questions. You ask them stories. You basically say, “Tell me about a time when,” and it might be when you had to learn something online or when you actually had a problem. Where did you go to find out how to learn about that? You’re asking questions around what you’re trying to design, but you’re asking for stories because there’s more truth in stories.
And then the other thing I’d say is, use personas. Develop personas as a way to keep that empathy throughout the whole project.
CHIE ADACHi: Why do you think design thinking is important in the area of digital learning, and what does it actually provide as an opportunity for digital learning?
ARUN PRADHAN: So these days, to make effective digital learning, we really have to understand context. We have to understand what people’s lives are like– their workflow is like– and we actually have to understand where the moments of need for that learning, because the closer you get to the moment of need the more impact it’s going to have. And design thinking is a wonderful way to actually understand our audience, and understand their context– more than any other tool I’ve ever used.
In recent years, design thinking has been a much-hyped way of solving complex problems across a variety of fields – but how can we apply these principles to digital learning?
In the last few steps, we’ve talked about backwards design and LX as ways to approach digital learning.
In this step, we’ll examine design thinking both as a theoretical and practical framework that can enhance digital learning processes.

What is design thinking?

Design has been critical to many professional practices such as architecture, engineering, product development and other visual industries for some time.
However, a school of thought put forward by people such as the Kelly Brothers, Tim Brown from IDEO and the Stanford d.school has further evolved the idea of design thinking since the 1990s as a conceptual framework for rethinking and solving problems across an even wider variety of fields.
For example, in his well-known book, Change by Design, Brown (2009) argues for the relevance of design thinking in contemporary society. He also says that:
In order to survive in today’s complex world, organisations need to generate, embrace, and execute on new ideas. That takes creativity and a creatively capable workforce. It’s the secret sauce, or in evolutionary terms, it’s what keeps you fit. Organisations without it can’t compete. (2016, para. 2)
In summary, design thinking is a creative and iterative process that requires deep understanding of the problem and collaboration with others to generate solutions to complex sets of problems.

The design thinking process

In practice, design thinking generally involves a five-stage process, which, for the purpose of discussing digital learning design, might be envisaged as follows:
Design thinking cycle - accessible PDF can be downloaded
Source: Adapted from What is design thinking by Terrar, D. 2015.

Co-design in digital learning

One of the prominent features of design thinking is how this process involves working with diverse others not only to map and understand problems, but also to generate and create solutions.
For us, this idea is critical in that (digital) learning designers not only work together to produce outputs (eg content and learning materials), but collaborate with others to elicit necessary information and come up with creative solutions (based on analytics and data about current and prospective learners) to design appropriate learning tasks.

Your task

Watch the video where Chie talks to learning expert Arun Pradhan about design thinking, the importance of empathy and failing fast, then reflect on these ideas in relation to your own professional context.
Do you think empathy and/or failure is an important element in digital learning practice and processes?
In the comments, discuss your ideas from the perspective of a digital learning practitioner.
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