Good Learning Design Begins with the "What"

Beginning with What vs. How

Often, learning technology companies focus their product messaging on the How – they tell people how their product will make a difference.

They say:

This is how our platform works. This is how our platform can save you and your staff time and money. This is how our platform provides better reporting and analytics. This is how...

There are a number of challenges related to this focus. The biggest challenge is that in their eagerness to tell prospects how they can improve things, companies often skip a more fundamental and important aspect – the What. They forget to ask:

What experience do you want your learners to have? What are the desired outcomes or evidences of mastery for participants in your program? What defines success for your learning program?

Indeed, when we’re focused on the How, we become vendor-centered, intent on telling. We assume we already know what a client needs.

On the other hand, centering our conversation on the What positions us as partner-centered, focused on asking and discovery. Focusing on the What assumes a genuine desire to understand the prospective partner’s vision so we can do an honest analysis regarding solutions we might provide.

Providing Clarity, Understanding, and Confidence with Learning Design

Good learning design focuses on making the invisible visible.

Good learning design helps product managers, program directors, course designers, and instructors understand and communicate more clearly the purpose and goals of a particular learning experience. It enables them to design and deliver the ideal learning environment to support that learning experience.

Good learning design begins with and is guided by the What.

This is one of the reasons that, at NextThought, we use a process called Learning Environment Modeling (LEM) to define the What at the outset of every project.

LEM allows us to create shared visual models that can be understood easily by everyone participating on a project. It helps everyone involved understand the desired learning experience, project and business goals, and required outcomes before we begin discussions about the How. Just as important, it helps us create a model that can be translated easily into the optimum bundle of services and technology.

Making the Invisible Visible

We begin our projects with a collaborative learning design workshop that involves all project stakeholders. The purpose of this workshop is to help us gather the necessary information to understand, at a deeper level, the vision for the project.

Kickoff Meeting and Design Workshop Agenda - Design Workshop Agenda.png

(Click to see large version of the agenda)

We begin the workshop experience with discussions around the current project vision, goals, audience, and desired experience. During this segment, we ask questions to uncover specifics related to the four design layers we want to address in our modeling process.

Design Layers.png

In the next segment of the workshop, we introduce participants to LEM and the basic building blocks for creating a learning environment model.

Building Blocks.png

Once we feel comfortable that everyone understands the visual building blocks and how to use them, we move into a collaborative modeling exercise in which we define more specifically the experience we want learners to have.  We then create an initial learning environment model that is optimized for delivering that experience.

Client Design Workshop Model - Design Workshop Model.png

(Click to see large version of the model)

Based on the discussion and modeling activity during the workshop, we create a proposed draft model for approval. When this is finalized we have a visual model, co-created based on a common language, that defines clearly and accurately the What of the project.

Having created this foundation, we are able to move forward comfortably with modeling the How. We can begin creating Build Boards and simple prototypes to ensure our learning environment model actually translates well into a specific in-person or virtual environment.

NextThought is an innovative learning solutions provider specializing in engaging experiences that produce increased learning potential, participant satisfaction, and member retention.