NOT ANOTHER PODCAST! by Brittany Robinson (NotAnotherBrittany.com) covers the latest trends and research in online learning, educational technology, and instructional design. In our first episode (Sept 5, 2022), we explore the topic of design thinking as it applies to the instructional design field.

Podcast Transcript

Welcome to Not Another Podcast, where we cover the latest trends and research in online learning, educational technology, and instructional design. I’m your host Brittany Robinson from NotAnotherBrittany.com. I’m an instructional experience designer, an e-learning strategist working at the intersection of education and technology, I’m a Coro Women in Leadership Education Circle Fellow, a Certified Gamification Level 1 Surveyor through Sententia Gamification, and I specialize in tech courses, coding boot camps, and software engineering apprenticeships for virtual blended and online learning experiences.

So, enough about me, let’s dive right into the topic for this first episode, design thinking for instructional design. So, the other day I was listening to the Fluid Hive Design Thinking 101 podcast–which by the way is excellent, I highly recommend checking it out–and their episode number 65 discusses design thinking. And I was struck by how this information also applies to the fields of education, teaching, and instructional design. So, one of the things that we know from design thinking is the concept of a wicked problem–and that was discussed a bit in this Fluid Hive Design Thinking 101 podcast. So, we talk about wicked problems as being a special gap between the world that you want to have and the world that you currently do have. So, a complex adaptive system, we can think about this as being optimized for the outcome it is currently producing and it works to maintain that optimization. And in order to solve a wicked problem, you as the instructional designer need to be able to ask the right questions about said problem. So, you can kind of think of it as questions worth a response rather than the traditional problem-solving approach, which might approach the problem as requiring a certain response. So, let me  break that down into how that actually works in design thinking. So, what is a question worth being answered by you? Uh, when we think about learning this might be something like, how will my efforts help my learning? Or help others to learn? Um, it could also be something like, how might my effort help enhance existing skills, whether for myself or for others? Those of you that are gamers as I am, you might think of this as a power-up or level-up opportunity. You can also think of it as seedlings, so how does this have value in other contexts? How does this plant a seed for enhancing skills or enhancing value across various different types of context? And then, of course, you also have to consider spend. So, what is the cost of the training? Are the efforts that you’re making to solve this wicked problem more valuable than what it would cost you to not solve it?

So, these are all things that we as IDs need to be considering before we develop any training program at all. Now of course what I’m providing here is just a very, very high-level overview, or a light summary, of that podcast episode. If you want to hear the full details I highly recommend heading over to their website, checking out episode number 65, and it’s only 10 minutes long. And actually, if you’re like me and you like to listen to podcasts at double speed or 2x speed then it’s only five minutes. It really crams a lot of information into such a short episode and it is highly, highly worth your time to listen to it.

Now, let’s take a moment to analyze some of what we’ve learned here. So, the applications of this information to, to the instructional design field, the applications of design thinking for an ID could be to start by focusing on what questions are worth answering when it comes to creating training or solving a wicked problem in education. As instructional designers, one thing that we can do is cast a wider net, or a broader net, when we first begin thinking about how to respond to those questions. This helps us determine what type of training, or medium, or information, or even what instructional approach would best address this wicked problem.

So, here’s an example Stanford has d.school, maybe you’ve heard of it the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University, and they actually have a blog on medium where they share design ideas. In one of their blog posts, a Stanford student named Olga Trosova, sorry Olga if I’m butchering your name, I’m so sorry–she actually went on to found a San Francisco-based design firm called Stitches. And she was a Stanford student who shared her approach to design thinking in a blog on Stanford’s medium blog. Her post is called Dealing with Ambiguity: Flaring and Focusing for Creative Problem Solving and it’s dated November 29, 2020, and in this post, she discusses the concept of focus and flare, which I like to work into my own design thinking process. So, you start with the inspiration for your ideas and during that inspiration stage, you will do what we call flaring. So, this is where you jot down as many ideas as possible, you don’t worry about whether they’re good ideas or even feasible ideas at this stage, this early in the process you are just being experimental, you are brainstorming with a focus on a broad variety of alternative ideas. Then, after you flare you focus. So, this is where you narrow down those ideas. You remove the ones that are not feasible, you remove the ones that don’t adequately address the problem, and then like we love to do we repeat those steps. So, you’ll go back to ideation you’ll do a bit more flaring, then you’ll focus again down to your best and most feasible ideas. And you keep doing that over and over until you get down to the one single best idea or, for those Lord of the Rings fans in the audience, the one idea to rule them all. And that is what you move forward with to implementation. Now as instructional designers we can see how this overlaps with the design thinking process, however, it also overlaps with ADDIE for instructional design, and if you’re familiar with LLAMA or SAM you can see how this also overlaps with some of those other models which are all based on ADDIE.

Now, here’s a fun nerd fact for you, this is actually called convergent and divergent thinking. So, let me give you a little bit of back story on convergent and divergent thinking for those who don’t know. Divergent thinking generates the greatest number of solutions possible to the same problem. And this is not just great for instructional design work it’s also used broadly in the tech fields. We see this in UX/UI–that’s user experience and user interface design–as well as the general design field, software engineering, you name it. A lot of different job titles use this exact same approach and it is also great to use in the classroom with your learners. So, as you’re thinking up learning activities, or problem-solving situations, or even designing case studies for your learners consider how you can get them into that mindset of divergent thinking. There is some research based upon this concept, so according to Stacy Goodman’s 2014 Edutopia article Fueling Creativity Through Divergent Thinking in the Classroom, this thought process helps your mind generate ideas, and it can help your learners feel more creative through problem-based learning activities. Now, you’ve probably heard the phrase thinking outside of the box, right? Well guess what? When you are thinking outside of the box you are actually using divergent thinking. Now the flip side of that is convergent thinking and convergent thinking is all about focusing your thinking in order to narrow down your ideas and ultimately deduce a solution to a problem. And there’s been a lot of scientific research on convergent and divergent thinking over the years. These terms were first coined in 1956 and originally it was thought that they were two separate ends of the same spectrum or that they were a dichotomy, you couldn’t do both at the same time. However, recent research has actually proven that wrong.

So, according to Mark A Runco–and sorry Mark if I am mispronouncing your last name–in 2014’s Creativity 2nd ed., recent research actually shows that this is not a, a dichotomy as previously believed. In fact, H. J. Eysenck, uh 2003 study, Creativity Personality and the Convergent/Divergent Continuum, actually indicates that divergent thinking quote and convergent thinking are actually two ends of a continuum. So, that’s another thing to keep in mind as you are doing this, that you have all of these different ways of thinking and your learners have all of these different ways of thinking. And you can plan your activities and design your course around those two different types of thinking.

Another important thing to keep in mind before you get too far into design thinking for instructional design is that training is not always the answer. So, yes your clients might come to you assuming that it is but you’re the expert and as an instructional designer it is your job to determine whether training really will solve that wicked problem. And if not, it is also your job to recommend a solution to your client that will solve their problem. Now, one of the people that I love to quote here is Cathy Moore, if you don’t know who she is please check out her website cathy-moore.com. She is very, very well known in the instructional design field and she actually focuses her learning activities around the biggest questions or struggles that the learner might have. Her website also addresses that before you get into designing anything every good instructional designer needs to ask whether training really is the answer. And she even provides a handy flow chart which is conveniently called, Is Training Really the Answer Flowchart to walk you through this process and come to a conclusion. Before you start doing any instructional design work definitely check out her website, download her flowcharts, and look up her research, not just on whether training is the answer but also on active learning and action mapping. She is brilliant.

So, now let’s just look at, ahead what do we do with all of this information as instructional designers? Well, one thing that I would like to propose is that we as instructional designers and educators need a paradigm shift. It is currently September 2022 as of the recording of this podcast and we are finding ourselves in a very transitional state. We are essentially shifting from the end of the industrial age to the beginning of the digital age and that is impacting everything from supply chains, to our, our learning environments, and our learning theories. And we have to make sure that the courses that we are designing, the solutions that we are providing to these wicked problems also match the current state of education–which throughout the past several years and especially accelerated during the COVID pandemic–we have seen this sort of transition from classroom-based, instructor-led to you know being more human-focused, more learner-centered, uh learner-centered design, or, or you know, user-centered design, and we are also transitioning to online or digital learning. So, that is something that’s going to continue, that’s not going to stop we are already a train moving down that track. And we need to make sure that we are ready this is going to be a disruptive process, it is going to be tumultuous, and the quicker that the instructional design field can recognize that the sooner we can prepare to create the most effective relevant solutions for our learners in this new digital age. That’s all that I have for you today. Thank you for listening to the podcast and check back next week for our next episode.