Why We Need Design Thinking in Corporate Learning

Unless you’ve been living in a basement for the past few years, chances are you’ve heard of design thinking. While the term has become a buzzword, and all sorts of vendors have spawned to offer services within the space – some more ambiguous than others – the underlying ideas and concepts are something an L&D professional should not ignore. We though we’d explore those ideas and concepts, and give you our thoughts on where we see the value. So, let’s look at why we should use design thinking in corporate learning.

Design thinking (the way we see it)

To avoid unnecessary buzzword sprees, we’ll skip the text book definitions. (If you’re totally new to design thinking, Google is your friend!) Perhaps worth mentioning is that design thinking is often defined as a process, but we don’t think that always does enough justice to it. There’s a danger of oversimplifying things and too rigid processes are not something that necessarily benefit design work.

That being said, the core ideas and concepts that make the process valuable are its big emphasis on discovery, research and user involvement. These are followed by ideation, experimentation, learning from mistakes and iterating. If you’re planning to put the methods into practice, it’s good to understand what these might look like from an L&D’s viewpoint.

Why is design thinking important in corporate learning?

Fundamentally, there are no learning problems in businesses. All of it is first and foremost business problems. Sometimes, though, learning might be a valid solution. Furthermore, big challenge in corporate learning is rarely the knowledge delivery and acquisition, but learning transfer, i.e. whether people apply the newly learnt in practice. Keeping these in mind, let’s look at the different design thinking concepts and why they can provide value.

Firstly, proper discovery is really important. As mentioned, all the problems are business problems and learning is a solution to only some of them. If we bypass proper discovery and blindly offer learning whenever someone asks for it, we are not doing any good. Furthermore, discovery is important for the learning design phase too. If you want to have people apply the learning, it has to be easy. Hence, it’s critical to understand the context of the learners. Even good content will go to deff ears if you don’t understand the context.

Secondly, ideation as an open process should be something to go through, even if at small scale. A set time for open exploration enables L&D to look beyond their own immediate scope of work and identify potential solutions that are not necessarily about learning. This helps you get closer to what the people actually need, rather than blindly providing what you think they need.

Finally, experimentation is one thing that you shouldn’t neglect either. Small pilots, test runs and demos let you collect data and validate assumptions before moving onto large scale implementation. But whether you’re doing small or large, it’s important to continuously learn about how people engage with whatever it is that you’ve provided them with. Too often L&D are in a hurry to roll out a solution, but stop the work once the solutions is out. Great solutions are the products of usually multiple iterations, that are made based on previous mistakes and learning.

Final comments

Overall, design thinking as a method or a process is something that any L&D professional should be aware of. However, the key takeaway from it shouldn’t necessarily be any rigid process itself. Rather, we should aim to understand what makes these kind of methods a near necessity in building the workplace learning of the future. Also, understanding the philosophy of why it’s imperative to spend time on discovery, engaging with the users or constantly learning and iterating is important. Ultimately, L&D is about helping people succeed at their jobs and the business to perform better. Taking a design thinking angle to it might help to better address those issues.

More Learning Ideas