How Combining Design Thinking And ADDIE Creates The Ultimate Learning Experience

How Combining Design Thinking And ADDIE Creates The Ultimate Learning Experience
Summary: Design Thinking is a new concept that should be appealing to anyone in the L&D field. Implementation requires a specific approach and has huge rewards to satisfy the innovative and creative needs of L&D professionals.

Designing Ultimate Learning Experiences Using An Established Methodology

Many corporate training departments have certain embedded Instructional Design practices based on a specific principle or approach, such as ADDIE. When a new concept like Design Thinking comes along, L&D leaders may pay attention and appreciate the value of the concept but are slow to put it into action. Changing approaches can be unnerving and filled with uncertainty, so it’s easier in many ways for training departments to stick to what they know and try to improve processes from the inside out instead. To a large degree, it’s not wrong to think this way. One concept does not have to replace another completely, and most of the time, you won't achieve a "perfect fit" between two approaches that bring different values to the table.

eBook Release: How Design Thinking Is Transforming The Learning Experience
eBook Release
How Design Thinking Is Transforming The Learning Experience
Establish increased learner engagement and a more effective training program.

In this article, we'll show you how to incorporate Design Thinking into your current model in a way that works. In this case, we'll be "mapping" it to the ever-popular ADDIE model.

Empathize And Define

"Empathize" is not so much a "step 1" as it is an overall approach that should be adopted and kept in mind throughout the whole design process. Under the ADDIE model, this phase (Analysis) may look at the audience's capabilities from a skills gap perspective and some harder, quantitative analysis. When using Design Thinking, the Empathize and Define phases encourage learning designers to go much farther and consider the users' pain points, placing solving their problems at the core of your course design. All this to say that one does not negate the other. Hard and soft analysis of the audience is necessary to create impactful learning when you understand that learner success equates to organizational success.


The Ideate stage of Design Thinking more directly correlates to the Design phase of ADDIE. Having identified the problem, the learning design team must now get to work on creating the training. Design Thinking takes this phase one step further by encouraging maximum input from lots of different stakeholders. It's a problem-solving technique that yields the best solution for the problem presented in the Define stage. Rather than restricting design to one individual or one team, the Ideate phase encourages a much more collaborative approach. All potential solutions should be considered and evaluated. Applying the Ideate concept to the Design phase of ADDIE allows for increasingly creative ideas and solutions to be brought to the table by leveraging the combined synergy of a group and deferring immediate judgment.


While in ADDIE, you might create a single course or choose one solution to create, Design Thinking encourages the development of more than one answer from the Ideate phase. Some issues with a design idea will not be realized until you start the Development phase and are working with a physical course. Applying the Prototype concept of Design Thinking to the development of courses means that teams can work in a more agile manner. During the Prototype phase, multiple solutions should begin development—but not necessarily past the rough draft stage. It's an iterative process where the aim is to "fail" as quickly as possible so that each failure brings you closer to the optimal end design. The collaborative nature of Design Thinking can be seen here again, as a core part of this phase involves members of the team creating, distributing, and actively engaging with prototypes.


The iterative element of Design Thinking continues through to the Test phase. When applied to ADDIE, the Test phase is a potential precursor or extension of the Implementation and Evaluation stage. Rather than deploying your course straight away and then evaluating it afterward, as you would under a pure version of the ADDIE model, the Test phase encourages earlier deployment to selected end-users so that any overlooked kinks can be worked out before full implementation. In Design Thinking, the Evaluation phase is constant throughout all the subsequent steps. The iterative nature of Design Thinking means consistent Evaluation is at the core of the process, rather than an afterthought when the work is completed. The fact that the ADDIE model has more recently been restructured to incorporate Evaluation into every other phase strengthens the connection between these two concepts.

Applying Design Thinking to the ADDIE model is not about a hard and fast connection from one phase to the next between both concepts. As illustrated here, it's about taking the most useful parts of the two and leveraging both to accelerate and improve your learning design process.

There are many ways to interpret design thinking. We hope we have pushed you in a direction that has clarified it for you. There are many steps to be discovered and many elements to learn about. Want to know more? Then download the eBook How Design Thinking Is Transforming The Learning Experience.