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  • Writer's pictureAlessia Messuti

Human-centred design (HCD) for human-connected learning experiences

Updated: Mar 10, 2023

An interview with Alessia Messuti, Learning Innovation Programme Officer at ITCILO

Human Centred Design (HCD) is a problem-solving approach that is used to create innovative products, services, or experiences. It is a user-centric approach that involves understanding the needs, wants, and desires of the people for whom the product or service is being designed. HCD is also a powerful approach to design learning experiences that are user-centred.

Human Centred Design (HCD) Process.

The design process typically starts with research and empathy, which involves understanding the user and their needs through observation, interviews, and other forms of research.

“Whether I am working on designing an online module or planning a workshop, I always engage with subject-matter experts in deeply understanding the users we are designing for. I take advantage of surveys and kick-off questionnaires to get a picture of who the final user is, and what their learning needs and incentives are. It’s important to include questions that allow us to depict real-world problems and work-related situations. Live meetings allow the team and different professionals to engage in lively brainstorming discussions.

This is followed by defining the objectives, format and modality of the learning product.

“A building block of the design process is making sure that learning objectives are formulated using action-oriented verbs and describe the learner’s point of view. During this phase, it’s very important that learning designers draft goals, and objectives that drive the format of the learning product. Any proposal needs to be validated by subject-matter experts who always bring their own perspective into the process and help validate the language and tone.

Next is the ideation phase, where a wide range of ideas are generated and evaluated.

Among other things, visual identity is ideated, namely style, illustrations, fonts, iconography, color palette… working with a multidisciplinary teams of graphic designers, illustrators and creatives allow the learning product to get easily shaped and visualized. During this phase, I make sure I engage with a graphic designer to ideate 2 to 3 possible visual concepts.
“Scripting is also a very important step of the ideation phase: it allows the subject-matter experts bringing together different ideas and slowly shaping the flow of the learning experience. Scripting is usually based on sound content mapping and content curation”.

Participants generating ideas at an HCD workshop

The next phase is prototyping, where a rough version of the product or service is created and tested with users.

“This is my favourite step: when all ideas start coming together. A draft script will be implemented using the chosen visual concepts. A few slides, a couple of screens, a workshop handout, this is where the process becomes rewarding!”

A prototyping workshop

Finally, the design is refined and implemented based on feedback from users. HCD is all about designing usable and useful products and services by focusing on the users, their needs and their requirements. This approach not only enhances the users’ satisfaction, but also ensures the end product's accessibility and sustainability. When using HCD on learning, it is essential to keep the users in mind, in this case the learners, right from the beginning of the design process to the very end.

“Testing, hearing back from users, this is what I love! Some learning processes tend to get stuck in the analysis phase as subject-matter experts get stuck in endless conversations, often very theoretical. Any design process needs to be validated by end-users! As soon as the final product is live, a qualitative survey or focus group interview allows us to compile the right recommendations, and eventually iterate!”

User testing of a Gamoteca learning experience

One of the key benefits of HCD is that it encourages collaboration and multidisciplinary teams. This approach brings together individuals from different backgrounds, such as designers, engineers, marketers, and customers, to work together towards a common goal. This diversity of perspectives helps to generate new and innovative ideas, and leads to better solutions.

Key tips for HCD in learning

Speak to real learners

Interviewing would be learners takes the brain-storming sessions to the next level. Interviews are an effective tool to understand the learners needs and perspectives. Having the opportunity to talk to and understand the learners may give the right insights for a meaningful learning experience.

Test, collect feedback, implement and test again

Asking players to provide feedback or comments, even with very early prototypes, and then making the necessary adjustments based on their feedback, allows for an iterative process based on the learner's real world experience, as suggested by Agile methodology.

The Agile methodology is a project management approach that prioritises flexibility, collaboration, and customer satisfaction. It was originally developed for software development but has since been applied to various fields including product development, marketing, and even human resources. Agile emphasises iterative and incremental delivery of products or services, adaptive planning, and cross-functional collaboration between customers and teams.

If you want to get started with HCD in learning design, why not try our Design Thinking in Practice game on Gamoteca.

At Gamoteca we embrace HCD methods and principles as part of our bespoke learning design services, from the initial design phase right up to storyboarding and user testing. You can learn more about how we work with clients using HCD approaches to learning.


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