L&D: Design Thinking in ISD

Performance Thinking Needs to Be At the Forefront of Design Thinking in ISD

As one of my prior posts from last year suggested: I Don’t Want Design Thinking … Until After Performance Thinkinghere.

It’s all about Performance

Before Design Thinking. Before Personalization. Etc.

Before – During – and After.


Here is a recent post on Design Thinking – from an ISD perspective – from Roberta Dombrowski – here.

And here is a post from Connie Malamed – whom Roberta credits with some of her perspectives – also recent – here.


Empathy – to me – is and has been #1 about understanding clearly what the Performance Competency Requirements are of the target audiences.

And understanding any variances – as people with the same job title often don’t do the same things in THEIR assignments. And making sure that the eventual job aids and/or content helps people learn how to do their jobs – via a Task Orientation versus a Topics Orientation.

And then #2 understanding the possible variations of the incoming awareness, knowledge and skills people might bring into the job – and training. That so called Prior Knowledge or Prior Experiences – from Work Experiences and/or Educational Experiences.

And then building a flexible, modular set of Training (Job Aids and/or Content) that allowed individuals to skip stuff that some individuals wouldn’t need because #1 their jobs might not require it … and #2 that some individuals didn’t need because they already knew it.

Then the trick was to make sure that people could do what they had to do on the job by – 1st building the Performance Tests and Practice Exercises that were authentic enough to help prepare for transfer (and … the last practice exercise is/could be the Performance Test) – then determining if a demo would be helpful prior to the Practices/Test and building it – and then organizing all of the enabling Knowledge/Skills from the Analysis efforts in a sequence and depth that helped make the Demo make sense and prepare the people for Practice and Testing.


We’d iterate in a predictable manner. See the next graphic and Phases 4 and 5.

Alpha Test (talk to someone to see if it works, makes sense). Update as necessary.

Beta Test – adding more to the mix and with more eyes and hands on the INFOs-DEMOs-APPOs to see if they made sense and could be done and lead to competence. More updating as necessary.

And then the full blown, Pilot Test – which was intended to be a Full Destructive Test – meaning – we tried to make the Training fail now before Roll Out. Run it exactly (or as close as we could get to) how it would be used in the real world. With two audiences.

1- Master Performers who could assess the accuracy, completeness and appropriateness of the content – demonstrations – and application exercises (which the Target Audience could not do for us). Master Performers – some of whom had not been involved in the effort – as many times the Master Performers we worked with on the Analysis Team and Design Team and Development Team INSISTED that they be in the Pilot Test session – which always surprised our clients who thought they’d be sick of us and our effort and burden by that point – even though we were able to predict this strange behavior and demand as the project started. I’d borrow a line from Saturday Night Live when they guffawed: “Hear me now. Believe me later.”

2- And typical Target Audience members – so we could measure pre and post competence (which we could not do with Master Performers).

And I guess – 3 – Management Spies. I asked the Project Steering Team to send in some trusted attendees to the Pilot Test – and I called them Management Spies just so we were all clear on their role. Only they couldn’t sit on the sidelines as passive Observers. My rules. They be in the mix – and be in the exercises and read-outs, etc. Fully immersed – or Baptized in Fire – however you prefer to refer to it. Management Spies were a subset of group 1 – Master Performers or Other SMEs.


A funny thing happens when you tell the Developers at the Kick-Off of Phase 5 that THEY will be at the Pilot Test and if Group Paced will do the delivery themselves – and regardless of Deployment Mode would be introduced as THE Developer for each of their Lessons – and that they would facilitate the Lesson Debriefings for what they developed … so that they took seriously – MO SERIOUSLY … how they conducted those upfront Alpha Tests and Beta Tests. So as not to be embarrassed in the Pilot Test debriefings.

Think: “Show Your Work” with a critical audience. An audience asked to be critical.

Because I wanted those iterations’ check points taken MO SERIOUSLY – as I had promised/predicted a less than 10% rewrite after the Pilot Test.

Sometimes these ADDIE-like efforts (MCD – Modular Curriculum Development/Acquisition) followed a more expansive Curriculum Architecture Design (CAD) efforts – to produce Development Maps or Training Paths, or Development Roadmaps, Training Menus, etc., etc.

That top-down approach of a CAD before MCD – helps with planning the cohesive curriculum – with all of the needed Spaced Reinforcements content – whether in the form of “micro reminders” and/or “macro events” – let’s build on what we already now know – that are necessary when the Learning isn’t reinforced enough by the job itself. And when learning is appropriately built on the prior learning of things covered earlier on the Map/Path.


BTW – what I didn’t learn from Geary Rummler about all of this – I learned from my former business partner (1982-1997), the late Ray Svenson, a former Bell Labs Engineer and then a Corporate Strategic Planner for Ma Bell (the old AT&T) … and from many, many others from NSPI/ISPI … and yet many others from the TQM movement.

Design Thinking – is IMO – simply a new label for some very old concepts, thinking, and practices – that I was very lucky to have been exposed to – starting back in 1979 as I entered this field – and afterwards on client projects.

I was lucky. Indeed. And my many mentors over the decades taught me to share as they had done. So, now …

Tag – you’re it.

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