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Welcome to Unit 1 of the course. Watch the Unit Overview video below to get started with the first three weeks of the course.

Creating meaningful digital learning resources begins with identifying a problem of practice in your context followed by an exploration of your end user’s needs. In this unit, you will review the five phases of the human-centred design process with a focus on the Empathize, Define, and Ideate elements. You will build on the knowledge gained from LRNT524 and explore a variety of human-centered methodologies and approaches for needs assessment.

You will develop a design pitch video that communicates the problem you’ve identified, what you have learned from your users, and how a digital resource that you create may help solve your problem of practice.

This Unit addresses Course Learning Outcome A: Identify a need that can be met by a digital learning resource.

Learning Activities and Assignments

Activity 1 – Design Thinking and Alternative Human-Centred Design Frameworks

In LRNT 524, you were introduced to human-centred design in the form of Design Thinking. In this course you will build on prior knowledge. You will review and apply the Design Thinking process to produce a digital learning resource that helps solve a problem of practice that you will identify. Each of the activities in this unit will lead you toward completion of Assignment 1, so reviewing the assignment details and the unit activities below will help you to consider how to frame your design challenge and complete this course successfully.

There are many variants of the Design Thinking process in use today. For purposes of this course you will begin by focusing on the five-stage model (Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test) proposed by the Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford ( To begin a review of the Design Thinking model, watch the videos (or copy and read the transcripts from YouTube) for the videos below created by Patty Hastings (2018) that summarize the five design phases:

Design Thinking and Doing (5:17)
Design Thinking: Empathize (4:19)
Design Thinking: Define (4:35)
Design Thinking: Ideate (4:04)
Design Thinking: Prototype (4:54)
Design Thinking: Test (3:20)

Humanized Learning – An Alternative Lens for Instructional Design

Now that you have reviewed the classic Design Thinking structure, read the following article by Li, Liu, & Xu (2022) that offers an alternative lens for human-centred educational design. Consider what elements of Design Thinking resonate with you for your context and whether you might want to explore humanized learning further for the design of your digital resource.

Li, Q., Bañuelos, M., Liu, Y. & Xu, D. (2022). Online instruction for a humanized learning experience: Techniques used by college instructors. Computers and Education, 189.

Activity 1 – Take Action

Share your exploration about Design Thinking and alternative humanized design practices with your Peers in the Unit 1 Activities Discussion Forum in the Moodle Course shell and ask for specific types of feedback on your initial idea for a digital resource that will help you to create an effective learning experience.

Additional Unit Topics and Activities

Additional topics for this unit include the following:

  • Framing a Problem of Practice (PoP)
  • Determining who your stakeholders are (Users) related to your PoP
  • Connecting and communicating with Users effectively to learn from them (Empathy Methods)
  • Analysing data gathered from Users
  • Developing a proposal (Define and Ideate) for a digital learning resource

Activity 2 – Framing a Problem of Practice (PoP)

Before you fully jump into the Design Thinking process, it is valuable to spend some time framing your initial design challenge from the perspective of purpose. Asking yourself why you are creating a digital learning resource is a good path to help ensure you are using your time effectively. A well-conceived design stems from a problem in your work or life context, and the problem (and potential solutions) are what guides and anchors you through the different phases of design thinking. Using whatever tools you prefer (digital or analog), think about your current instructional context and brainstorm some problems that puzzle or interest you that could potentially be addressed by the creation of a digital learning resource.

The following reading for Unit 1 were selected to help you explore and define a problem of practice related to your professional or life context. Review each for its approach to defining and articulating a problem of practice that you can then use as a foundation for the creation of a digital learning resource.

Ma, Fitchman, Adams, and Kennedy (2018). Understanding the problem of practice: An analysis of professional practice EdD dissertations.

Activity 2 – Take Action

As part of your preparation for Assignment 1, articulate a problem of practice (PoP) that you are experiencing, ensure that you include your professional or life context, the context of your learners and other stakeholders, and how a digital learning resource may help to solve your PoP. A problem of practice can be as simple as the following statement:

“The use of open educational resources (OER) by Ontario educators is not widespread.”

This was the problem I defined for my doctoral dissertation which led to an amazing journey, a great research project, and significant learning about leadership and innovation in a mixed methods action research context. It is the type of statement that can inspire a simple digital learning resource or a much larger project. Share your PoP with others in the Unit 1 Activities Discussion Forum

Activity 3 – Empathy Methods: Learning from Users

Once you have defined a PoP, it is time to consider your stakeholders. In particular, users that you believe need to engage with your digital learning resource to help solve your PoP. It is important to gain as deep an understanding of your users’ needs as possible to design effectively. Empathy is the capacity to step into other people’s shoes, to understand their lives, and start to solve problems from their perspectives. This process involves observing, engaging, and immersing with the people you are designing for to understand their experiences and motivations.

Before you dive fully into the first phase of Design Thinking, take some time to consider Design Thinking’s connection to instructional design as laid out by Jill Stefaniak (2020) in The Utility of Design Thinking to Promote Systemic Instructional Design Practices in the Workplace

Read the Kouprie and Visser (2009) article, which proposes the following four-phase framework for empathy in design:

  1. Discovery – In this phase, the designer’s curiosity is raised which creates a motivation to understand and explore.
  2. Immersion – In this phase, the designer takes on the user’s point of view and, without judging, internalizes the user’s experiences.
  3. Connection – In this phase, the designer connects with the user on an emotional level by reflecting on the user’s experiences in relation to one’s own.
  4. Detachment – In this phase, the designer detaches from the emotional connection and steps back into the role of a designer.

This framework demonstrates that empathy includes both affective and cognitive efforts, where stepping in is needed for deep emotional resonance, and stepping back is required for cognitive reflection and understanding. Consider how you might be able to apply this framework when engaging in the Empathy phase of the design thinking process for your design challenge.

Please review the Empathy methods described in the IDEO (2015) Design Kit (i.e., Interview, Group Interview, Expert Interview, Extremes and Mainstreams, Immersion, Analogous Inspiration, Card Sort, Peers Observing Peers, Collage, Guided Tour, and Draw It) and think about which methods you feel would be most helpful to understand the needs of the users you have in mind related to your problem of practice.

Worsham and Roux (2019) and Brescher Cook and Worsham (2018) have developed a design process and rapid prototyping framework (complete with Toolkit) that provides templated activities related to the learning design process. This model, including the Empathy phase of human-centred design may be used as a foundation for your work in this course. Review the associated webpages, with a particular focus on the Design Values pages (the Manifesto is a great activity) and the Design Process through the Empathy phase. Explore the concept of a manifesto on your own and see what types of inspiration you find. Use the Empathy Map template to explore and articulate your findings from the Empathy method you choose.

Activity 3 – Take Action

Using the Let’s Build Something toolkit, create an Empathy map that condenses your findings from potential users. Share any artifacts you create, along with some reflection on these processes as a Unit 1 Activities Discussion Forum post. Provide feedback and comments for your peers through their posts. The Empathy method you choose, the users you define, and the data you collect and analyze should contribute to your written summary and the contents of your Video proposal for Assignment 1.

Preparation for Assignment 1 – Informed Ideation: Pitching a Design

For Assignment 1, you must gather and analyze data from stakeholders in your context, particularly prospective learners, to inform your idea for the design of a digital learning resource. Ensure you follow research ethics practices and that you find sufficient time to recruit, gather data, and analyze during the first two weeks of this course.

Ethical Review

For Assignment 1 in this course, you will need to conduct interviews, design and collect surveys, or engage in formal observations with end users.  On your behalf, your instructor has applied for and received blanket ethical approval for LRNT 527. This means that you will not have to apply to RRU on an individual basis before conducting your assignment research.

You will need to read and become familiar with the Research Ethics Guidelines for this course. You will also need to fill in the Consent Form and provide it to any external participants in your research assignment.

If you have any questions about the ethical review, please ask the instructors by posting in the general discussionsion forum in Moodle. You may also contact the Office of Research Ethics at; 250.391.2600 ext. 4425. Further information is available on the RRU Ethics page.

Video Recording Tips

There are a variety of digital resources you might consult to inform the process of recording, editing, and finalizing a pitch video. The Techsmith advice on Explainer videos may provide support, and a smartphone tutorial from Jeff Tranchemontagne at Cambrian College may help you learn more. Key (2015) provides an additional walkthrough, but you are encouraged to find additional resources that inspire you to creatively fulfill the assignment instructions for this task.

Assignment 1: Digital Learning Resource Design Pitch with Written Summary (Individual)

The purpose of this assignment is to provide you with the opportunity to frame a work, life, or study-based problem of practice (PoP) that might be solved, in part or in full, with a digital learning resource. Toward this purpose, this assignment will provide you with practice conducting a human-centered needs assessment (gathering data through Empathy methods) to learn from potential stakeholders.

An additional element toward fulfilling the purpose of the assignment will be the creation of a video to pitch your idea to your participants, a work team, or a manager. In this video you will need to explain your problem of practice (PoP), what you learned from stakeholders (especially prospective learners), and your preliminary intention for a digital learning resource that solves your PoP and aligns with your learners’ stated needs.

In addition to your video, you will also include a written summary of the tasks you engaged to prepare for the video. This assignment helps determine your achievement of course Learning Outcome A – identify a need that can be met by a digital learning resource. Instructions for the assignment are found on the Assignment 1 page.