Reflections on the Power of Design Thinking to Enhance Instructional Design Practices

User Experience Design as a Complement to Instructional Design

Over the past few years I explored the connection between the field of User Experience Design and that of Instructional Design. User Experience Design is a problem solving practice focused on developing solutions that are centered on the user, rather than on the content of the problem itself. My own approach to instructional design has always been learner-centered, meaning that I design learning experiences which are focused on the background, wants, and needs of the learner who engages in those experiences. In this way of thinking about instructional design, the user experience approach makes a lot of sense.

In particular, my work has focused on looking at the way design thinking methods can enhance the instructional design process. Traditionally, the ID process is viewed as a structured and systematic approach to solving learning problems. This approach can be modernized to become more flexible when we adopt some of the techniques used in design thinking. Embracing this iterative and creative process can lead us to more innovative solutions to our instructional design problems – solutions that are more fitting to the needs of our learners.

The ICM course on User Experience Design was a wonderful opportunity to deepen my understanding of the methodology of design thinking. Through this course, I was able to explore and practice strategies such as user personas, ideation mash ups, point-of-view statements, and journey maps. Through my mini-portfolio, the power of using UX as a complement to ID is revealed.

Module One: Design Thinking Overview

Design Thinking is a particular method of problem solving which focuses on a user-centered approach, exploration of the problem, broad ideation of solutions, and iteration of prototypes. It relies on empathy, creativity, and feedback to arrive at solutions that balance desirability with practicality. Through a facilitated, digital exercise called the Crash Course in Design Thinking, I was able to experience first-hand what it was like to engage in the design thinking process to solve an everyday problem. The results were user-centered and incredibly wild.


Module Two: User Psychology

After engaging in the process of Design Thinking, we took a deeper dive into user psychology. If we want to design from a user perspective, we have to understand the particular characteristics of our users. But we also need to understand the science behind the way people think, what they pay attention to, how they process information, and what motivates their behavior. To better understand how these concepts apply to design, we explored our own feelings and needs about our favorite products, services, and devices. We then performed a similar analysis of websites to reveal how design impacts feelings and needs.


Module Three: User Empathy

Once we understood the basic psychology behind the way users respond to design, it was necessary to dig deeper into the specific emotional responses and mindsets of individuals. The Empathy Map is a powerful tool for doing just that – for uncovering the thoughts, feelings, actions and reactions of a specific individual within your learner population. We were assigned a television show to watch so that we would have characters to analyze. Using an empathy map, we charted out our observation of each individual to better understand how we might approach solving their problems.


Module Four: Creating Personas

While empathy maps are useful for looking at individuals; personas are useful for capturing the overall essence of your learners – who they are, the skills they bring to the table, their goals, their motivations, and their frustrations. Personas are a way of capturing your users on paper, and can be used to guide your decision making going forward. Through the development of two learner personas, I began to see the different types of people who engage in my online classes. Dressing these people up into characters, helped me to visualize how real students might interact with my course content.


Module Five:  Problem Definition

Understanding the learner is a key component of applying design thinking to instructional design – but we can’t solve a problem that we cannot define. Problem definition often happens in the needs analysis phase of ID – when we perform research to better understand the nature of the problem. Design thinking can build upon that analysis by providing us with tools to define the learning problem in a way that is clear, specific, and actionable. We used the question “How Might We…” to begin to uncover problems. We then crafted ‘point-of-view statements,’ using a specific format to reveal compelling insights.


Module Six: Ideation Methods

When the problem is fully defined, it is time to come up with solutions. In the ideation phase of design thinking, solutions are explored broadly and without judgment. The goal at first is to generate a huge quantity of ideas, even ones that are completely unrealistic, and then later refine those ideas down to the most practical. Generating a wide range of ideas allows your mind to think freely and more creatively than doing so withh restrictions or limitations. There are many methods for coming up with new ideas – for this assignment I focused on just a few: mash-ups, braindump, mindmaps, and sketchstorms.


Module Seven: Journey Maps

Many strategies in design thinking share commonalities with the instructional design process and it is easy to see where they overlap. However one of the more interesting applications is the learner journey map. User Journey Maps visualize the interactions a user has with a company or service. The same can be done with a learning experience. Whether it’s in the context of a course, degree program, or training curriculum, we can map the path of the learner to better understand the ups and downs of that overall experience. We can use the map to identify pain points and areas for improvement, or to track their interactions with stakeholders in the process. The Learner Journey Map is an awesome strategy which I look forward to adding to my instructional design toolkit.


Final Conclusions

Taking this course reinforced my belief that the field of user experience design can inform a more modern approach to instructional design. I had the opportunity to practice a variety of methods which will be useful in my work going forward. The design thinking approach can have a powerful impact on the design of effective, learner-centered instruction.

0 comments on “Reflections on the Power of Design Thinking to Enhance Instructional Design Practices

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: