The Passion Project: Why T1’s Sharon Boller Co-Authored Design Thinking Book

The Passion Project

I’ve been in training and development a l-o-o-o-ng time. I got my Master’s in instructional systems technology back in the 90s because I fell in love with learning science and the idea that I could learn how to “design” instruction so that people learned. I’m a lover of learning – I wanted to create experiences others would love.

My career has spanned many roles and situations. I started out working as a “training consultant” in a government agency. I had a baby, took time off, got my Master’s, went into consulting, decided I could start my own business, did so, grew it to $4M+, and sold it to a bigger consulting company that enabled me to become part of a much deeper pool of expertise. All that time, I was driven by a passion to “design” learning experiences that worked: they delivered business results and people learned from the experience.

But…I got disillusioned and frustrated, too. I valued instructional design and performance models and frameworks  (such as ADDIE, the 5 moments of need, the Wile model). I used those models as guides. I promoted them with clients. I taught them to others. But…when it came right down to it, we sometimes struggled to create the most optimal learning experience possible.


Three reasons:

  • Too often, learners’ perspectives were absent from our design process. Our customers would tell us that learners were too busy. Or that the “subject matter expert” could represent the learner. Or some other reason.
  • Learning was viewed as an event, not a process. Business leaders too often wanted to produce courses rather than designing an entire experience that might include a course. They over-estimated the ease with which “training” can be produced and under-estimated what it takes to truly get someone to change their behavior.
  • The problem to be solved was poorly defined; we were asked to create solutions for which we did not have a clearly articulated and validated problem or any verification that the training design we created would actually resolve the problem if it was defined well.

As I became aware of – and then dove deeper into – the problem-solving approach known as “design thinking,” it resonated deeply. As I read stories of products and software designed with – gasp – input and involvement from their target users, something deep within me responded “yes.” As I experimented with creating journey maps, empathy maps, and personas – and seeing how those things changed clients’ perspectives and the solutions we devised – I became encouraged.

Design thinking’s myriad tools and techniques mean we aren’t married to just “one” approach to get through a particular analysis or design step. Its focus on rapid prototyping and iteration means we can test things before investing heavily and identify adjustments that can make a big difference to learners’ responses to what we create.

And so, I enlisted my colleague and design thinking ally, Laura Fletcher, to write a book with me on the experiments we were trying with design thinking tools and techniques. I wanted to document our learnings and our efforts to weave design thinking principles, tools, and techniques into a book that others might find useful. Laura and I have learned by doing, by failing, and by course-correcting. We gleaned our knowledge in the trenches of actual projects. We continue to learn from others every day (including my amazing new colleagues at TiER1 Performance who are masters at design thinking techniques).

And now, we hope, you can learn from us. We’ve written Design Thinking for Training and Development to help others embrace the concepts of design thinking and incorporate them into their own work creating learning experiences. It’s been a hard book to write. It’s been an exhilarating book to write. Now, we’re excited to share it with you.

As we say in the book: learning is a journey, not an event. We’ve enjoyed our journey creating this book. We hope you enjoy yours reading the book and applying the principles, tools, and techniques within it.

How to Find the Book

Design Thinking for Training and Development is now available. You can order it through Amazon or Kindle.

Learn more and follow the virtual book tour here.

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