Applying design thinking in e-learning: a step-by-step plan


Applying design thinking to e-learning ensures e-learning that really suits your target group. What design thinking is and how to apply it to e-learning? You can read it in this blog!

Design Thinking in e-learning

When you design an e-learning, you do this with the aim of providing students with valuable and applicable information and skills. You want your e-learning to offer added value in the short and long term.

In addition, the design of the e-learning is essential. Developing e-learning effectively involves trial and error. Learn from mistakes, explore what obstacles students experience, and learn from their feedback.

Design Thinking is a process where a challenge or problem of a student or organisation is identified and then comes to a joint solution to solve this problem via e-learning to address.

How to do this? We'll explain that to you below.


To develop e-learning that really matches the target group, it's important to empathise with them. What does a working day look like? What challenges does the employee face? There are several ways to do this:

1. Do field research

Spend a day at work, have coffee together to find out what's going on and be open to an honest and open conversation.

In addition, observe what the daily activities mainly consist of.

Pay attention to issues that the employee gets stuck on or seems to be experiencing problems with.

Also pay attention to attitude and motivation!

2. Conduct interviews

Talk to people from different levels of the organisation. Research whether what they want to learn about matches. Do they describe the same challenges, problems, and successes?

3. Create a persona 

Based on the insights you've gained through field research and interviews, you create a persona. This persona has the collective properties and experiences the desires, needs, fears and problems of your target group.

Define the goal

Often, e-learning seems like a fairly simple, quick to implement solution to a problem. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Unfortunately, too often action is taken quickly, which means that insufficient time is invested in clearly defining the problem. This then results in an e-learning where this problem is not adequately addressed and so the e-learning does not help solve the problem.

“Problem” sounds quite negative, but what we mean by this is that the target group research generates a certain need.

Perhaps it is important for the organisation that employees improve their “soft skills” or maybe a new way of working has been introduced that needs thorough introduction and training. The last example is quite concrete, but the first example is more difficult to define.

  • What soft skills are missing?
  • Miss these soft skills with all employees or only within certain departments?
  • Do employees also think that these soft skills are important in their work?
  • Are they now experiencing problems or challenges in their daily work where these soft skills play a major role?

Then you connect concrete goals to the problem. Try to formulate these SMART goals (specific, measurable, acceptable, realistic and time-bound).

Develop a concrete plan of action

During this step, it is very important (but unfortunately this is not always done) to involve the target group in the plan of action.

Let the target group contribute ideas about what they want to learn and how they want to learn it. In this way, employees feel more involved in the e-learning from the start and feel seen and heard, which is what the intrinsic motivation benefits.

Here are a few ways you can design this:

1. Brainstorming: through discussions. Depending on the group size, you may be able to divide the group into smaller groups. Ultimately, the intention is for all groups to present what they think is the main goal and how they want to achieve it. You can use posters or post-its for this.

2. Engage the creativity of the employees: for example, let employees draw what their ideal work scenario looks like and what they still miss. Then let them contribute to how an e-learning can contribute to the solution. Mind maps are also very suitable for this.

Want to learn more about e-learning? Download our free e-book full of e-Learning Essentials!

Develop a prototype

Employees can best really envision the e-learning when they receive a visual presentation, for example in the form of a sketch, a simulation or a trial learning environment.

With Pluvo, you can start for free. So there is no cost involved in making your prototype.

Make sure that the prototype clearly has all the elements that employees found important during the brainstorming sessions.

The employees then provide feedback, after which you can further adapt the prototype and focus on the target group.

Test the first version

When the first version of the e-learning is finished, the student's role is not over yet. After all, they are essential for the success of e-learning.

Ask them:

  • Whether you can observe them while they create the first module (both the person and the data)
  • Whether they want to think out loud so you can follow and evaluate their thought process
  • Whether they want to write down their questions and feedback for you

In short, do thorough research among your target group before you start designing an e-learning. They are essential in determining the success of your e-learning.

Involve them in every phase of the design and actively seek their feedback as they complete the training.

And what about the prototype? Of course, you build it in Pluvo!

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