Using Design Thinking To Create Better Custom eLearning Solutions

Using Design Thinking To Create Better Custom eLearning Solutions
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Summary: Design thinking is a recent phenomenon in the world of eLearning and it is a method that combines empathy, ideation, and problem-solving of complex and undefined problems. In this article, I will discuss how design thinking can be applied to create better eLearning courses.

How To Use Design Thinking To Create Better Custom eLearning Solutions

In my previous blogs on Whole Brain Learning and Kolb’s learning styles, I talked about how we can improve the learning process by using certain strategies that are targeted to individual learning styles.
From Kolb’s theories, we know two important styles that are converging and diverging. These two styles are used in Design Thinking which will be explained little later.
First, let’s understand what exactly Design thinking is.

Design Thinking-Definition

Design thinking is a method for the practical, creative resolution of problems using the strategies designers use during the process of designing.
-Visser, W. 2006, The cognitive artifacts of designing, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Design thinking has been developed from ideas and tools that are used in other domains such as computer science, psychology, and so on. Also, design thinking in learning context has been influenced by the influential work “Learning Organization” by Peter Senge.

Analytical Thinking vs. Design Thinking

Design thinking has evolved because of one problem with the traditional method of problem-solving. In the traditional analytical model, the focus is on the problem rather than the solution. There was an experiment that was conducted, where scientists and architects were given a problem with color blocks. Scientists tried to resolve the problem by coming up with various combinations. However, the architect group resolved the problem by creating a solution using the available resources. So, unlike scientists, the architects focused on the solution and did not focus on overanalyzing the given problem. Instead, they tried to synthesize the existing information and came up with a practical solution to the problem.
Same can be applied to the learning context. If we talk in terms of Bloom's levels, analytical thinking is the fourth level of thinking which is all about using available information for a well-defined problem and solving it. An example of analytical thinking is say understanding urban groundwater problem. The geoscientists look at available information and suggest remedies to address the problem.
However, many real-life problems such as say addressing the issue of children constantly watching TV or immersing in video games requires a different kind of solution. Here the problem is more deep-rooted and is simply put a human level problem.

Here is where design thinking comes to the fore. Design thinking is about solving a problem that is not well defined and may have multiple solutions to begin with. The situation is ambiguous and fluctuating, and hence there needs to be a lot of synthesis work to understand and define the problem using a variety of clues, discussions, and brainstorming to come up with an appropriate solution that may work well.

Design Thinking Model For eLearning

Design thinking model has five parts or steps which are—Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test. Using Design thinking to create better custom eLearning solutions

When it comes to building custom eLearning courses or gamification solutions, design thinking can be quite useful, as it is iterative in structure.


Empathize is the step where Instructional Designers understand the pain points and gaps that need to be addressed. The earlier thinking was to analyze the content or audience demographics and so on, as the first step of requirement gathering and analysis. However, using the design thinking model, Instructional Designers can focus more on understanding the psychological and emotional needs of people. In other words, Instructional Designers need to understand how learners do things, why and how they think about their current situation, and what it is that they want to do to make their job meaningful.

Once Instructional Designers understand the psychological underpinnings, then they can proceed to the definition phase.


Here, Instructional Designers define what exactly the problem is that organizations and learners are facing, and how they can work on that problem.


In the ideation phase, Instructional Designers can talk to a variety of people including the SMEs, visual designers, and other stakeholders in order to come up with a variety of ideas that may lead to a solution that will work.

Sometimes, the client does not know what exactly will work. They may come up with a request to develop a level-2 course. But after understanding the psychological needs of the learners and discussing all ideas threadbare, Instructional Designers can build on those ideas and come up with an entirely different solution, such as a game.

After developing the game and seeing how it has a great impact on learners, everybody will realize that even though the time may have been spent on ideating, it was worth it. Some people may wonder why they had not come up with the concept of a game at the beginning themselves, as that would have saved a lot of time. But that’s how design thinking works.

After the ideation phase, the next 2 steps are prototyping and testing the idea. More often than not, the prototype will act as a catalyst for the subsequent phase of the project, as many issues are resolved at this phase.

Design thinking is not much different from the traditional ADDIE model; however, its strength is that there is more emphasis on the empathy and ideation part, which somehow are not much stressed in the traditional models.

A Case Study

The customer wanted to develop a level-2 course. However, after understanding and empathizing with the learners' needs, we suggested developing a game instead. The process took some time, since there were quite a few iterations. However, the effort paid off in the end because the game had a better impact on the overall learning.

Using Design thinking to create better custom eLearning solutions


To conclude, in a brief write-up, I showed the core elements of design thinking that can be used to develop custom eLearning courses. Learn more about how Tesseract Learning is helping with any learning modalities or instructional architectures for better learning, or leave a comment below with your feedback and suggestions.

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