Design Thinking & Learning Design Strategy

When the digital transformation hit Capital One, we in the learning function immediately asked – what does this mean for us. More specifically, what is it our employees (associates) expect when they think “digital learning,” what roles/skills will we need to be digitally fluent, and what kind of tools will we need to help our organization succeed.

Digital Think Tank

I pulled together an assortment of leaders and folks passionate about “digital” for what became the Digital Think Tank. While none of us were experts in the form, we launched into a Design Thinking exercise, got a coach, and started plodding our way towards figuring out how to steer the learning organization through the beginnings of transformation.We started with just grounding where ever line of business and team was and declaring what “digital” meant for us. We held multiple off-sites and prepared to start our empathy interviews.

Each member of the team agreed to interview 8-10 users that ranged from front-line to executive and we worked together on a script that would allow us to keep from biasing the associates. We received a number of “probing” questions to identify a method for leaning in on specific facets without reading our interpretation into the results.  Across the group, we conducted 55 interviews.


We came together for a day of writing words on the board that we heard from users and started to see themes that transcended levels, roles, ages, and backgrounds. This formulated into 4 key insights around what our users were thinking when they heard “digital learning.” They wanted some of the same things that users wanted if they never heard the term “digital- operational excellence (in the experience), expanded modalities, supportive culture, and keeping pace with technology

Each of these four key insights broke into dozens of recurring themes around the technology, culture, processes, and design changes we needed to put in place. This became a working set of data that was shared over and over with learning leaders, designers, and decision makers. We created an infographic of the themes and outlined a key set of activities that everyone in the organization could begin working against with every project, every discussion with leaders, and every new hire into the learning organization.

This was only the beginning of our digital journey, through continued user research, empathy interviews, and conversations, these insights were fleshed out and in the spirit of Design Thinking, tested over and over again to create solutions. There was so much richness in those 2014 interviews that only now are some being unpacked, while others were operated against immediately. Examples of the activities we used to test:

  • Embedding calendar invites in emails to help manage time
  • Spinning up communication programs to managers about how to help their associates with learning experiences
  • Changing our intake processes and responses
  • Engaging SME more regularly in our design and delivery of training
  • Using videos to deliver content over eLearning
  • Testing games in learning
  • Heavier use of social features in learning programs
  • Testing user generated learning roadmaps AND more learning roadmaps that included informal content
  • Make seraching for content easier
  • Reduce the number of learning options
  • Scaling VILT
  • Build content in shorter modules
  • Create personalized experiences

While some of these may now seem like a “duh” moment, some of these preceded trends around “microlearning” and similar concepts. For many of these, the original words used by the learner was not their intent, it was only the beginning. The process of unpacking, testing, putting in front of users, and gathering data has led to many iterations, and as technology has progressed, so have the solutions.  Sometimes it’s not until the technology comes full circle that we’ve realized – “oh, that’s what they were talking about.” This effort was truly the gift that has kept giving over and over and the richness of the exercise comes in regularly sharing the prototypes and results across groups to iterate on what it is our learners want and hope to experience.

This is the beginning of getting to learner experience design.