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  • Writer's pictureRitu Bhattacharya

A Case Study: Design Thinking

Updated: Nov 5, 2021

Author: Ritu Bhattacharya

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Design thinking has been providing innovative solutions across industries. There are plenty of examples on the Internet, how different industries are using design thinking to resolve business problems. But how is this relevant to the training development field? How does a course look before and after we take this problem-solving approach?

In this article, I will give an example of how design thinking can change our course design.

Case Study: A game-based learning experience

The story goes like this...

A client approaches an instructional designer with the requirement of a cybersecurity and corporate security related, game-based course for their new employees. This will be an awareness program for new employees and is intended to make them follow the security measures taken by the company.

Audience profile:

  • Age: 22 to 50

  • Designation: From staff to Senior Manager level

  • Availability: Moderately busy

  • Geographic location: Scattered all over the globe

  • Ethnicity: Diverse

Before proposing a suitable design, the ID takes care of the following aspects of the audience profile.

Based on the audience analysis and subsequent implications, the ID proposes the following design:

  • There will be an overarching story where a hacker tries to gain access to some personal and financial information of the learner. The learners will have to resolve some problems to prevent the attack.

  • There will be a total of 25 problems to be resolved to save 25 pieces of personal and financial information.

  • These 25 problem scenarios will be distributed in five time-bound nuggets, 10 minutes each.

  • These nuggets need to be taken in a particular sequence.

  • The nuggets will be preceded by an introduction and followed by an end result where the learner will get to see how many pieces of information they have successfully saved from the hacker.

  • The total duration of the whole course will be 60 minutes. First a prototype was developed. The client SPOC along with the top management was highly impressed with the exact presentation of what was asked for. They passed on the prototype to the end user for testing.

The Failure

After a few days, the client came back with the complaint that they have received negative feedback from the end user. This was a shock for the ID. She was at a loss as to why the course failed while all aspects were taken care of. The project went off the floor.

Taking the Design Thinking Approach

So, what could have been done differently to make the course a roaring success? Notice that those who (the client) placed the requirement of a game-based learning experience liked the course while the actual users did not like it. Seemingly, a thorough need analysis for the training was done and the audience profile was correctly analyzed.

The only thing missing was an actual connection with the end users. This would have made the need analysis perfect and helped the ID understand the actual problem the end users faced on the floor and the kind of training they were looking forward to.

So, connecting with the audience is the key that would have made a huge difference.

Design thinking starts here. Design thinking is putting yourself in the end user's shoes, empathizing with them, defining their problems and then providing a solution to the problem.

How to ask the correct questions to the end users and handle situations where you cannot connect to the end users are relevant aspects to be explored in this context. I will not explore that aspect in this article. Follow my next article "Design thinking - Connecting to the audience" to explore that aspect.

For now, let's imagine that we interact with the audience and collect the following data.

  • The problem that the end users face is that they do not know about the security policies of the company and they often get unpleasant surprises after taking some actions. They want a course that will quickly make them aware of the security policies. For that a direct teaching would have been better. The game made them focus more on the game rules and fun.

Note that, though the focus on the content was taken into consideration, the focus should have been stronger.

  • Some of the senior employees on the other hand, did not like the concept of game at all as they are not fond of playing games. A simple presentation of actual scenarios involving security risks would have been better for them.

  • Some of the senior employees though fond of games do not have time to spend in playing games for digging out information. A direct, to-the-point-teaching was all that they were looking forward to.

  • Some of the employees were even looking forward to a ready reckoner kind of a thing that they could keep handy and refer to whenever they got time.

  • Some of the young employees disliked the simulated environment of losing all their personal data to a hacker. This demotivated them and they found it meaningless.

The New Design

Peeping into the audience's thought process opens up a new dimension. So, it is time to relook at the course and redesign it as per the end user's requirements.

From, the data that we received after an interview with the end user show a pattern:

  • For different reasons they did not want a game.

  • A to-the-point direct teaching would have been more effective.

Moreover, negative marking (in the form of loss of personal data) did not go well with some users.

The course could consist of a series of the most important and common scenarios of security risks. The learner would have to address that risk, get the correct answer and move to the next problem scenario. There could be reward points but no negative marking (e.g., loss of data).

This new design is simple but would have been effective in the context of the end users' actual requirement.

Many times, we propose gimmicks to dazzle the eyes of the end user without any real use. This may frustrate the user if it is not required. It is just like purchasing a car with plenty of features, half of which you do need to use at all or you do not understand why it is there. It is important to understand what your audience wants and meet the exact requirement and that is where you take the design thinking approach.


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