Our learning design process (Podcast episode 6)

In a previous episode of our podcast series, Adventures in Learning Design, talked about design thinking. In our most recent ep we thought it would be useful to look at how that feeds into the Learning Design process we use in projects we do every day. This is an abridged version of that conversation. To hear it in full check out the episode on SpotifyApple Podcasts, or on our podcast homepage.

There are a number of main stages that we always go through when we’re helping someone design a digital learning experience or course.

Step 1: Discovery

In this initial phase we are looking to find out more about the current situation. Is there a course already? Does it need to be reworked? Is there nothing but there’s a need to create a learning experience? What do we know about the learners? What do we know about the organisation that wants to create this solution? Who are the stakeholders within that organisation? What are their goals and success criteria? 

Step 2: Concept development

Taking the outputs that we have gathered in that initial discovery phase we then start applying our design thinking processes to develop a deeper understanding of what those learning needs are so we can start coming up with a range of creative solutions to rapidly develop and test through a prototype. 

Step 3: Content and platform blueprints

We take the concept that we have prototyped and validated and get it ready to put into production. This involves putting together the syllabus, the course structure, content briefs and guidelines, and tech and design specifications. Generally, getting our ducks in a row.

Step 4: Production

We create and edit the content, as well as develop or configure the platform that it’s going to be delivered on. We also carry out the necessary QA to get the course ready for launch. This is ‘the rubber to the road’ part.

In our experience there is often a desire to get straight to this stage as quickly as possible. However, if you haven’t done the previous three stages properly you run the risk of spending a lot of time and money building the wrong thing. You may end up building something that doesn’t work for learners because it’s not really what they need, or it doesn’t help them learn what they need to learn. Alternatively, it fails to actually meet the goals of the organization that’s creating it.

It’s in those earlier stages that we are looking to find that out much more quickly and cheaply with a prototype. Changing direction or scope in that production stage gets costly, risky, and problematic for a number of reasons. So we want to head off any uncertainties or questions really early on.

Think of it like building a house …  

The discovery stage happens before breaking ground or drafting any engineering plans or architect sketches. It’s where you ask questions like: What is the nature of the environment in which this building is going to be built? What’s happening in that space already? What are the needs of the people who are going to be living there and using this building? Are there any environmental or planning permission considerations that we need to be aware of? 

The concept development stage is when you sketch out a vision of the building that you think would fit that space and work well for the people for whom it’s intended. 

The content and platform blueprinting is where you create the schematics, the engineering blueprints that show how the building fits together. Production is where you finally break the ground and start building your vision for people to eventually live in.

A nice analogy, yes, but incomplete in that it presupposes you’re locked into your initial design when you’re in production.

LearnJam has long been a proponent of the agile approach to content and product development. The guiding principle of agile being that you don’t design every little detail up front and then move into a separate production phase. Instead, we advocate a more emergent approach whereby you set your direction, identify the highest priority things that need to get done and then develop those priorities in short sprints. As we go, we put the output in front of users to get feedback so we can adjust our direction accordingly.

As such, we consider our vision and course blueprint to be our strongest working hypothesis given the available information, research and design principles we’ve applied. It’s in the execution that we look for ways to optimise and improve. Imagine the builders in the house analogy stopping after every couple of rooms, inviting the family back in and saying “Okay, we’ve just done the first floor. Could you spend a couple of hours running through your morning routine so we can determine whether this layout actually works for you?”

That’s how we run our learning design process – build, test, learn and then take that learning back into the production process. In our experience, it works doing it in a more incremental, emergent way. In a good learning design process there is inherent flexibility. We expect that things will change and that we’ll learn and adjust as we go through the latter stages.

Still, it’s all grounded in that early discovery. Everything we do is based on understanding who the learners are, what they’re trying to achieve and what success looks like for the organisation.

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