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Design Thinking in ELT Von Jeanette Mooney


Design thinking is a process of growth that focuses more on means than ends. It is a mind set as much as it is a method.

I was in Frankfurt last week to talk about design thinking in ELT—to open up a space for design thinking, open up a dialogue, open what still is a finite system.

We came to discuss design thinking from various angles, but the following themes struck a chord with all of us throughout:


The act of creating a mutually valid outcome. For co-creation to work, trainers require a framework that is loose enough for participants to project their needs and secure enough for trainer, participant and main stakeholder (usually the paying entity) so that the start, tracking and closure of a training cycle remain transparent throughout.

Ask, ask and ask some more

Needs analyses are the standard kit in any trainer’s tool bag these days. The problem is that standards don’t go deep enough to gauge what participants need to apply on a day-to-day basis. Journey mapping—a classic design thinking tool—works well in creating the depth needed to go beyond a standardised set of pre-training questions. All the better if you can involve the main stakeholder (as above) in this step, too.


Collect, Distil and Reflect. And preferably fix it all on paper. It’s not design thinking terminology, but instead something that the people I work with, hear a lot. Collecting is about arbitrarily fixing what is and what could be (IST und SOLL), and the process is allowed to get messy. Distilling is about prioritising and categorising what has been collected to force decision-making. Reflection is about aligning choices with expectations to get commitment.

Many of us already apply design thinking without using the lingo to go with it. This is something I gauged from my audience. If you're interested in going deeper, it may help to go back a little in time:

It is said that the design thinking story started here, but there are others still, who like to go back a little farther to the roots of participatory design. If you’re curious to see design thinking at work, head over to IDEO and to d.school. If you’re an educator, be sure to go here. If you’re the book type, I highly recommend Designing for Growth.

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