Book Review: Design Thinking for Training and Development

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past several years, you’ve probably heard a buzz about design thinking. If you’re only vaguely familiar, or you’ve been wanting to dive in and learn more about how it can benefit the work that you do, “Design Thinking for Training & Development” by Sharon Boller and Laura Fletcher is the book for you. 

The essence of design thinking is involving the people who will be using something in the process of designing it. It applies important ideas such as empathy, context analysis, focus groups, and others to get better results. And better results is something we are all striving for, right? 

This book is focused on how learning professionals can use design thinking to move beyond the typical “one and done” approach to better solutions that ensure learning sticks and drive better results for the organization.

My favorite thing about this book is the primary principle it is founded on:

Recognize learning as a journey. People don’t learn from events; they learn from an experience that begins with them noticing a need to learn something and doesn’t conclude until they can consistently integrate the learning into their performance. Events don’t produce that integration; multi-pronged steps in a learning journey do.”

Adopting this principle alone can have a huge impact on the way you approach learning design projects. This book gives you a collection of tools that help you put this into practice.

Right from the start, I really liked how accessible this book is. From the opening pages, I was drawn in with the stories that illuminate the value of design thinking and further energized by the numerous tools Sharon and Laura have included that help you actually apply what you’re learning. I love the “Work On Your Own” sections that offer opportunities to put these techniques into practice in the context of your own work. 

Many of these tools and techniques are things that marketers have successfully employed for ages to effectively engage and connect with their audiences. If you think about it, L&D shares the common goals of gaining attention and moving people to action. I’d suggest that marketers are generally much better at it. A design thinking mindset could be one of the key reasons for that.  

From experience maps and learner journeys to personas and learning science, there are way too many gold nuggets in this book to cover them all. Here is just one example of how a design thinking perspective can help you get better outcomes from your L&D projects — the LXD Framework. 

Consider how this LXD framework compares to traditional needs analysis. I think this model does a better job of balancing needs of the learners, the organization and any existing constraints. For example, in my experience traditional needs analysis is less likely to uncover the real performance issue that lives at the core of a training request. There has been way too much training rolled out for issues that are totally incapable of being solved by training. This way of thinking can help with that. 

I highly recommend this book as a way to reimagine your perspective on learning design. From start to finish, there is a wealth of insights available to you. And the great thing is that you can try them all, or just start with the one thing that resonates with you the most. 

I’m confident you’ll find valuable takeaways from this book that will help you improve the experience of your learners, that provides value to them, and offers important solutions to your organization. 

With its hands-on, use-it-today approach, this book will get you started on your own journey to applying design thinking.


Want to learn more? Check out Sharon’s conversation about this book with Karl Kapp over on LinkedIn and look for other reviews coming soon from Will Thalheimer and Connie Malamed.

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