Design Thinking Tips

Design Thinking: When Training is NOT Just About Upskilling The Crowd

by | Jun 24, 2021 | Industry

Let’s think about thinking! What really happens when we zone into our own mental space and think about solving a problem? Are we always certain that we can come up with a solution? Do we have enough confidence in the path we have chosen is the best way forward? What if we identify some game-changing challenges along the way?

These questions do not have a straightforward answer. As professionals, we know that. The second we wake up we might have one million similar thoughts until COB (Completion of Business). For most of us, it’s exactly what BAU (Business as Usual) means.

Now let’s take a moment to really think about thinking. Finding a way to generate solutions for various problems is always challenging. But luckily enough, Design Thinking offers a few tips to keep us thriving through the day. Whether you know it or not, most people use Design Thinking methodologies without even realising it. 

According to Harvard Edu Lab, Design Thinking represents a mindset and approach to learning, collaboration, and problem-solving. At the same time, the design process is a structured framework for identifying challenges, gathering information, generating potential solutions, refining ideas, and testing solutions.

The Design Thinking Methodology 

Design Thinking is a popular methodology used in Software Development, Software Implementation & Configuration, Sales, Education, etc. 

Some key focus areas of Design Thinking are:

  • Empathy: Listening is paramount! By implementing the Design Thinking methodology, it is important to gain a deep insight into the root problem and see how people are affected by it.
  • Ideation: Ideas are the framework for solving problems. This fosters creativity and out-of-the-box thinking.
  • Prototyping: Test out various possible solutions in order to find the most relevant approach to tackle a challenge.
  • Small steps: The iterative approach proposed by Design Thinking facilitates a course-correction process. Cyclical reviews can help you understand if you are on the right track or easily course-correct without wasting resources.

With this in mind, let’s review a few good practices that trainers can definitely put up their sleeves with Design Thinking. Saddle up and off we go cause we are in for a spin!

How Does Design Thinking Work in Training?

People have different learning needs, learning styles, and interests. It goes without saying that it is hard to reconcile perspectives and come up with a perfectly-designed training session to be remembered forever and ever. 

I said it was hard, but not impossible. This is exactly when Design Thinking can be leveraged. With a focus on empathy and engagement, Design Thinking represents a cornerstone for bridging perspectives, building trust and initiating collaboration long before inviting people to the classroom. If learning is a journey, then it starts with asking “How are you feeling about this challenge?”

As a Training Specialist, you need to reassure your trainees that you have their best interest at heart. And the incredible thing about Design Thinking is that it can help you systematically extract, teach, learn and apply human-centered techniques to solve problems in a creative and innovative way.

One example is when an organisation adopts new technologies. The first things to consider might be about building awareness and resilience in support of what’s coming along the way. Whether we play the role of a Trainer, Project Manager, Education Architect, etc. we can start preparing our stakeholders long before inviting everyone to the classroom. We can actually start by inviting people to the table. 

What Can Design Thinking Teach You

First and foremost, with Design Thinking Training Specialists can initiate awareness,  engagement, and commitment towards a change from early stages.

Here is a list of good practices in Design Thinking that can definitely help training professionals throughout their journey.

Understand your trainees

There is no better way to dig into problems than coordinating a thorough Training Needs Analysis. 

The Training Needs Analysis (TNA) process is often conducted during the Discovery phase of a project and trainers make use of it to identify skills and knowledge gaps. But things do not have to stop there. Consider extending the invite to some future trainees, including super users and change champions. Ask them how the learning outcomes should look like. Act on your findings and encourage follow-up sessions while leaving room for them to come up with a few ideas. You might gain good insight into how the training experience can be enhanced or which additional topics to cover. 

Ask the right questions

The power of  “Why?” is incredible. With a tradition in cause-and-effect explorations, The 5 Whys is a technique focused on identifying the root cause of a problem. The 5 Whys can help trainers assess business processes while conducting Training Needs Analysis. Later on, these discoveries could help create a compelling case for change.

Start your investigation by asking ‘Why?’. Once you spot there is room to clarify other details such as business objectives, change and transformation, etc. jump on it. This is the perfect timing for doing so. 

Involve multiple specialists

Different perspectives can offer a deeper insight into learning needs. It can also tell you more about the business objectives of an organisation. Think about a list of questions that cover topics such as interconnected processes, how does “A day in the life of …”  look like, or how multiple parts of the business influence one another.

Then identify the best people who can provide you with answers. During TNA make sure that the audience has a mixed background so that you can get the full picture. Leadership and future trainees can definitely be interviewed, but why not include Business Analysts or HR? Ask about how performance is measured within the organisation, and how the upcoming training sessions can help your trainees throughout their careers. 

Don’t jump to conclusions

It is easy to think that the training is about one thing and one thing only.

Let’s go back to the previous example of an organisation which is adopting new technologies. One might consider training should be about the click path and that the job stops there. All Training Specialists know it is more than that. The change can include updated business processes, new required behaviours, etc.

It is essential for Training Specialists to connect the dots and make sure they have the ability to answer related questions. You should further explore the full purpose of your training sessions and seek the overall intention of the change. Keep change champions and super users engaged throughout the process. Their wisdom can come in handy at any time. 

Create a shared experience

Build trust and confidence whenever you present your TNA findings, propose a Curriculum Design, coordinate a page turn or ask for a final signoff. These meetings can represent some awesome opportunities to build trust, revisit TNA findings and refine your training techniques. 

Keep your approach consistent and consider what your stakeholders have to say. It might be that your trainees need a refresher on a certain topic. Or it can be about creating an engaging experience during the training sessions. One classical example is when you embed storytelling. What if the narrative does not resonate with the trainees? Or if A day in the life of  scenario leaves an important set of activities aside? Course correct by asking for constant feedback and make sure you are on the right track. No matter what your stakeholders have to say you will definitely gain invaluable insight. 


Make sure to schedule a debrief meeting with Subject Matter Experts, a few trainees, and other Training Specialists involved in the project soon after a training session is delivered. Extend the invite to Change Specialists or Project Managers if this is the case. Ask what went well and what can be improved. A similar approach can help you review your training approach, enhance the next learning experience and improve the learning outcomes for next time.


Design Thinking can help you come up with a human-centered approach in order to design an outstanding learning experience.

Empathy, curiosity, out-of-the-box thinking and creativity are useful tools for Training Specialists. Leverage them in drafting learning journeys and to find out more about your audience.

Training is not just about upskilling the crowd. It is also about sitting down and creating engagement. 


Harvard Learning and Teaching Lab, Design Thinking in Education 

Rikke Friis Dam, Teo Yu SiangWhat is Design Thinking and Why Is It So Popular?, Interaction Design Foundation

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