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Become an IDOL 04: Learning Experience Design and Design Thinking

agile courses design thinking elearning instructional design james finder learning learning experience online learning plexd podcast sprint Apr 29, 2019

Published: April 29, 2019

Episode: 02

Learning Experience Design and Design Thinking

Guest: James Finder, Owner of Promethean Learning Experience Design

In this episode of Become an IDOL, I’ll be chatting with James Finder about his expertise in learning experience design and design thinking. You'll get an understanding of one of the hottest topics in the instructional design space. This episode is great for newbies who want to understand the fundamentals of design thinking and for veterans who want to get more ideas creating a better design for their learners. 

If you are a new listener to Become an IDOL, we would love to hear from you.  Please visit our Contact Page and let us know how we can help you today!

In this episode we discuss:

  • The principles of design thinking.
  • Agile Models in instructional design.
  • Sprints and how they work for course building.
  • Prototypes for learners.
  • Learning Experience Design is about creating a rapid prototype to start getting input from learners from the beginning. 


Check out the full transcription here: 

Robin Sargent I'm your host, Dr. Robin Sargent, the owner of IDOL courses. This is the place where newbies come to learn, and veterans share their knowledge. And this episode, I'll be chatting with James finder about learning experience design, and how it is applied to the instructional design process. 

Robin Sargent  All right, well, let's go ahead and get started. Who I have with me today is James finder. And he is the founder and owner of Promethean Learning Experience Design, which is his own company, providing solutions for organizations. So James, go ahead and tell us a little bit about yourself and your company and what you do.

James Finder  Yeah, certainly my company provides talent development and organizational change management solutions, using a wide variety of tools, primarily using what's called the flex performance canvas. That's part of, like I said, a variety of tools that we use, we've worked skilled in instructional design, design thinking as well as eLearning Development and content development as well. So I'd encourage anybody who's listening to this to look at my website, www.getlexv, that's To check out my website, you can download a free ebook talks about our design sprint process, as well as the results we had as a result of running a design sprint, which were pretty awesome.

Robin Sargent  So James, I actually invited you to come on this podcast to talk about design thinking. And besides what you just mentioned about your company, can you just share a little bit with us about why you're uniquely qualified to talk about design thinking,

James Finder  I think I'm uniquely qualified to talk about it. Because I've been a participant, I've been the focus. And I've been the facilitator of a design sprint. So I've seen it from all three angles, which I think gives me a unique perspective, I haven't just facilitated but I've also been the subject of as well as sprint participant. So I think that gives me a unique qualification to really see the process from all three sides, and really get a unique handle on it

Robin Sargent  Before we go any further because a lot of our audience, they're newbies, to instructional design, period. And so maybe we should just kind of define what we're talking about. What do we mean when we say, design thinking? And how is that different from instructional design? Or maybe we just define design thinking? First.

James Finder  Design thinking is just a series of questions. And really the, it varies from practitioner to practitioner, but really, what I want to think of is, is the following one, who's my audience, to? What do they need to be able to do? Three? Why aren't they doing it now? And four, how can we as an organization support our audience to get that thing done? Right. So that should probably sound really similar to some of the tenants of what you've heard from an instructional design as well change management, organizational change management? Like I said, it's, they share a lot of the same theories and a lot of the same application. It's part of a tool in a toolbox. That makes sense.

Robin Sargent  Yeah, that makes sense. And, you know, I had to do my research for this, James. And so some of the things I found is instructional design is a practice. And design thinking is a methodology. So it's a way to come up with more creative solutions to problems by just like what you said, empathizing with your end user and answering those questions to find out like, what's a real solution to the problem that they actually have?

James Finder  Exactly? 100%? Correct. I think that's a great way to put it is first of all, design is a methodology much like ADDIE is a practice, right. And like Sam is a methodology, right? Something that IDEO came up with, or I'm sorry, Alan interactions, the Successive Approximation Model.

Robin Sargent  So you gotta tell everybody what Sam is.

James Finder  Sam is long and short is rapid prototyping, Successive Approximation Model, we create something, we deploy it, we test it, we get user feedback, and then rapidly create something new. After we received feedback from it. We don't do a waterfall. It's not a waterfall approach. It's just the traditional Addie method, you know, analysis, design, develop, implement, evaluate, go back Get right. It's sort of we were we're implementing and evaluating and sort of a constant flow. Does that make sense?

Robin Sargent  Right, exactly. So add is waterfalls. So that just means it's linear, you go from one step to another, you're never like going backwards to the other step. Whereas if you do, Sam, it's an Agile Model, just like James said, and so you are designing and you're prototyping, and you're going around in the circle, so you can produce something quickly that you actually get input from your users from the start.

James Finder  Right, exactly. 100% 100%. I think that's a really accurate statement.

Robin Sargent  Now that we've defined all our terms, let's just go ahead and go down the road, and start talking about why learning experience design is important to you, James? What, what like, what, how did you how were you introduced to it, and how to, you know, change the way you do your work and things like that.

James Finder  I started my career in training and education. And 2009 When I moved abroad to Seoul, South Korea to train English as a foreign language, teach and train English as a foreign language. When I came back to the United States in 2014, I had realized that a lot of the ways that I had been taught, and the ways that I was being asked to teach in South Korea didn’t work well. And that's how I, I got exposed to instructional design and how to make better learning, right how to make learning experiences more, more fun, because I knew how devastating it was for my original audience. When I was in South Korea just to do rote memorization and lecture-based learning, it didn't get them far, my students were really, really effective, using, you know, their English language skills on a TOEFL test. But when you came to real application and real usage of the English language, they were really stuck. And I was like, Man, that's, that's not where, you know, that's not what I want to be designing, not what I want to be facilitating. So that's how I got exposed to instructional design and doing what I do now on how do I get exposed to design thinking on my I met wet saw consultant in 2017. And we had met on a panel together talking about business strategies and networking and sort of how to raise your profile and do things within your community as a freelancer. And he had exposed me to sort of the Jake Knapp Design Sprint process. And that's how I got exposed to it, I loved the process, I was the subject of a sprint, and like you can tell from it in the e book, we were able to grow our revenue pipeline by 750%. And like 10x, or close ratio, which was pretty awesome. We've, you know, as a result of the sprint, we've been able to see a 43% increase in net revenue and profits, the learning experiences, from year over year from 2017 to 2018. So, like, I know how powerful it is. So that's why I use it.

 Robin Sargent  Okay, so maybe we should probably talk about what sprints are and how they work and just kind of give some background about agile and using design thinking to like to implement a sprint and why, you know, a sprint is so integral to design thinking, You know what I mean?

James Finder  Yeah, certainly. So while so why a sprint?

Robin Sargent  People might not be familiar with Sprint's, you know, maybe they haven't worked in an IT role or something like that.

James Finder  Sprint is just sort of scheduled time block that you're, it's not, it's like you said earlier, it's a methodology, it allows you to build it has built in functions and built in processes I go, I would recommend checking out Google Ventures And they have the whole process lined out there even 15 minutes worth of video that goes through day one through day five of what a sprint is, and that's where I would probably do an injustice trying to go through it, you know better than they can. So that's what I would recommend to your listeners would be to check out g v And you'll be able to get the resources there.

Robin Sargent  And if I was to do my best at condensing what a sprint is, based on my knowledge of agile or whatever, James You can, of course, jump in here and help me out. But what I understand for from a sprint is you know, you get your list of problems, right? So you figure out what those problems are and then you figure out what the priority problem is. And then you take that priority problem and you are going to, in your sprint, you're going to brainstorm your solution, you're going to prototype it. And then you're going to get feedback from your end users and use a lot of times Sprint's are like two weeks to get your prototype out. That's what I understand.

James Finder  That's alot of the foundations. But typically, we're there's a lot of, you know, the nine box Canvas, you know, the Lean Startup canvas. Like I said, we I created the, the Plex performance Canvas out of some of the materials that were available, like based on a nine square canvas and some of the work that Kathy Moore has done. And some of the work that IDEO has done and some of the work that I've done my own personal experience of what works and created this canvas to sort of help guide, what's going on during the sprint process, the Canvas has been a really integral tool, and you can get that actually get There's a free tool there that you can use for your next sprint, or, you know, just even to flesh out, you know, ideas, you know, it's a really helpful tool to just plan. You know, there's a process to it and allows you to think through, again, those four questions, who's your audience? What are they? Why are they doing it now with current roadblocks? Right? What to support you? And, you know, like, those are the those are the keys to a successful learning and development, talent development change management program, as answering this question.

Robin Sargent  So I guess that just kind of leads us to our next question, which is, how do you implement this design thinking from the very beginning of any kind of project? So what does it actually look like? How could you, you know, flesh this out for us maybe in an example that you've had recently?

James Finder  Yeah, certainly. So I'm actually going to be working with an organization to facilitate a design sprint in about two weeks. And they have a challenge that they that they want to focus on, on developing much detail about it, but I laid a foundation was getting our leadership stakeholders on board by showing them, showing them the resources, showing them the Book and other teams that have done it. I mean, you're hearing the quote, unquote, design thinking, you hear that getting thrown around a lot and in our industry. And I think that that's a lot of you heard that last year with AR and VR. Right? You heard that two years ago with X API, you heard that, you know, three or four years ago with with gamification, and I think, while design thinking, like you said, it's a methodology, and it works. The reason it's been around since, you know, you can look up, you know, there's relations to human centered design, the nine box canvas and sort of the process of human centered design and design thinking. I mean, goes back to the 50s. And it's not new. It's just a, it's a cycle, right? You can look at, you know, the total, sort of focus on quality, right, like we had that, that quality management TQM, like real big fat and, and the 90s. Right. Now, that's not, that's not the fad. But you saw a lot of those pieces get implemented into six sigma. Right? This is all stuff from that I'm reading on LinkedIn, from my PLN PLN, Personal Learning Network. It's not new, it's just stuff that's worked before that's getting dressed up by vendors to sell stuff.

Robin Sargent  Well, it's good. I mean, it's good, you know, bring it to, you know, new instructional designers attention because they might hear, you know, design thinking is replacing instructional design. And so, it is important to know that you do say just like what you said, James, like it's not replacing is just a methodology to inform the practice of instructional design.

James Finder  Right? The practice of instructional design of creating content that's going to empower your learners to do something different. It's not going anywhere. Right. That's always going to be the goal. But the how you get there is going to change. Right? And I think we're just finding out the process is different rather than the end goal. I think too many organizations get caught up in the process. The process is the goal when sometimes there is a process and there is a goal, there are two separate things.

Robin Sargent  So a lot of this what design thinking can happen in the very beginning of any you know, your HR Manager brings you a problem about the employees and design thinking can start from the beginning, right because you're going to come up with a solution. At that point is when you start implementing it.

James Finder  100%. So that I mean, again, it's it's tools in a toolbox. So if it's gonna fit like, it all depends on your organization open to, you know, what does a different way of thinking? Or are they just looking to turn? Are they looking to create content? And what if you have established that, you know, you're you're not swimming uphill, and you're the organization you're a part of wants you to really come up with creative ideas to create content, then then design thinking is definitely a way to do that. But if your organization just wants you to make better looking PowerPoints, and TPT, to storyline, imports, and design thinking is not really going to help you there.

Robin Sargent  Right. And there's another thing that we talk a lot about in kind of the instructional design field. And that is about not being order takers, right? Just kind of like what you mentioned about just like taking a PowerPoint and importing it. But the design thinking will help you not be an order taker, because you'll actually find the real problem so that you can find a real solution that's supposed to happen in the analysis stage of Addie. But if you apply the design thinking, what seems like to me is you can address the actual problem that the users are having you can empathize.

James Finder  Exactly. 100%. That's a very accurate statement. I think you can, you know, again, it's not just like this design thinking, right now, is a buzzword. I don't know if people are really using it the way that it's meant to be used. I think, much like gamification, or like there are elements of game, beyond leaderboards, and scoreboards and flooding sounds like there's real stuff that's going on there. Dr. David Chandra's talks a lot about that stuff, serious games, how do you create real games? So those are? Again, it's it's really difficult to say, yeah, not only an order taker, but also there's the reality of are you You know, I think it's important to be, like you said, for new instructional designers are people who are just joining the field or needle, it's, you're not going to always have that, that flexibility, there's going to be times where, like I said, it's not going to be an effective tool in the toolbox, you know.

Robin Sargent  Right. Right, certainly still do your homework. And I mean, this my recommendation, still do your homework, still, you know, come up with what the actual problem is by trying to get access to your end users if at all possible. And if you haven't built up enough trust for them to give you the tools or the resources or the time that you need to Implement Design Thinking it's still a good place to practice as you build up trust, then hopefully, you'll be able to implement it.

James Finder  Yeah, I think that's, I think that's an excellent statement. Really, what are you designing content for, as always, should be the central question need to ask yourself, when designing or building content? What are we trying to what's the action that we're trying to do here and again, that you're only going to get that from your end user, your l&d stakeholders can only tell you so much on your training managers can only tell you so much, it's really the end users that are going to have to tell you what's really effective for them.

Robin Sargent  So James, do you think that implementing design thinking at the beginning, and then following through you say you determine that, of course, is the answer? Is it going to take longer to implement this? Or what's kind of the time turnaround?

James Finder  I think it's gonna vary from from organizing, you know, from problem to problem, it's going to change, right? You know, you come to the solution. elearning content is the way to go. I think then you just roll into your typical eLearning Development Process.

Robin Sargent  Yeah. Because, you know, some people might be adverse to it thinking that, you know, design thinking will take longer because they have to go and speak to the users. And then they have to create a prototype. And then they have to test that prototype with the users. But I actually, when I was looking, do my research, and I saw what kind of prototypes they mean, it doesn't actually mean like a full functioning elearning course or anything, right?

James Finder  It's typically like the deliverable at the end of a sprint is PowerPoint or Word document. Or, you know, it's not like you said, it's not a full fledged elearning course.

Robin Sargent  Okay, I saw things that were like made out of cardboard and hand drawn. 

James Finder  It's about user acceptance testing, right? We want to make sure that this is going to does this accurately represent what our users potentially want? And we're here to find solutions, potential solutions and build them out. We want good, good elearning or we want a good product. But we also we don't want to get too attached to anything because it's constant iteration is gonna get you the best product. You know.

Robin Sargent  When you go through your first sprint what you said yours are five days So when you come back to the learner, the end user and you say, Oh, this is what we think is going to solve the problem? Do you just keep going back to sprints until they accept the solution? Or if they accepted the first round, then you just move on to development?

James Finder  It gets woven into the process, right? It gets woven into how do we, you know, we're going to come up with an idea, we're going to test it, let's see if it works. It's bigger than an elearning development. Does that make sense? Of course, you're gonna come up with a prototype the user, the end user says, Yeah, let's do that. Okay, cool. Let's roll this out. Right, let's give our product a chance to shine, then we go into our table. It's not, I don't I don't think it's like as successive as you as you think. I mean, certainly organizations can continue to sprint and do you know, sprint that for Sprint after sprint to get to a point, eventually, you need to implement, right? You need to build something, test the product. And you think you have something if you don't, you just have to go back to the process.

Robin Sargent  Yeah, like so sometimes the sprint may just come up with five email course. Right? That's just like dripped over time, or, or something as simple as that?

James Finder  Certainly, certainly. And if it doesn't work, we go back to the process. Something didn't work. Okay, what didn't work? Here's the new inputs, we had part of the sprint processes, building a systems map, like what goes into what are the inputs and outputs to the system? What what kind of data did we get from our first iteration? That, you know, that five email drip course, while we found our open rate was only 10%? Well, okay, that's a problem. So we need to, you know, obviously, email is not the right channel, let's figure out let's go back to the end users and find out why is that happening? Why do we only get a 10%? Open Rate? Well, it looks, you know, the subject line was similar to a different you know, what I, you know, our IT filter is filtering out spam. So it's always going into the spam filter. And while we go into our spam folder, well, that's a problem on us. You know what I mean? That's what the learners fault. Yeah, it's our fault for for building a subject line. That's incorrect. It's just about constant iteration and examination.

Robin Sargent  All right. So, James, lastly, what do you want our audience our new instructional designers to remember? And to take away from design thinking? Is there anything that you like want to further explain or leave with them? Or some last notes?

James Finder  Take a look at get We talked about our our toolkit when we talk about our different open source free tools that you can use for development or design, know all kinds of stuff. So I just recommend, have your have your listeners, take a look at the website, maybe find something and connect with me on LinkedIn.

Robin Sargent  And what else do you want them to take away about design thinking what so that they should like think about when they start developing their next course?

James Finder  The things they should take away? Are? Who's your audience? What do they need to be able to do? Why are they doing it now? And how is the organization equipped to change outcomes? Just create concepts?

Robin Sargent  Yeah. And actually ask them Yeah, ask those questions to the actual users, the end users. Don't just assume those questions. Yeah. Well, this has been so enjoyable. James, thank you so much for joining me today.

James Finder  Appreciate your time. And thank you for having me on. I really appreciate it. Hope podcast goes well, and you get some new guests.

Robin Sargent  Oh, yes, me too. We'll definitely do this. Again. If you like learning experience design or design thinking you want to hear more? Well, James has a lot of friends. And we could talk about doing a panel coming up in the future. That sounds fantastic. I know when that'd be great. All right. Thanks, James. Thank you so much for listening. You can find the show notes for this episode at idle If you liked this podcast, and you want to become an instructional designer, and online learning developer, join me in the idle courses Academy, where you'll learn to build all the assets you'll need to land your first job, early access to this podcast tutorials for how to use the elearning authoring tools, templates for everything course building, paid instructional design experience opportunities, and a friendly community to network with, get on the waitlist by going to idle doors open in June of this year. Now get out there and build transcendent courses.


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Links mentioned in this episode:

 📝 Promethean Learning Experience Design

 📝 Performance Problem Canvas

 📝 PLExD Toolkit

 📝 The Design Sprint: GV