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WIIFM? How to involve the learner in design thinking from the get go

Blog posts | 08.02.2021

Layla Croll

Senior Lead Learning Designer at

As project leader of a digital learning programme, you know what you need from the learning. But do your learners know why they need it?

What's in it for me (WIIFM)?

A digital learning project often kicks off with a strong focus on what you need from it as a company, as a brand or as an L&D professional. By the time you come to work with a Learning Designer to get the project off the ground you probably have a strong sense of what your needs are and what’s in it for you as a business. The success of the project is important to you, maybe because:

  • You got the go ahead for it because it fits in with your business aims and strategy
  • You’ve been planning it for weeks or months with your team
  • It’s business critical: your company need its colleagues to know the subject yesterday and start changing their behaviour.

That’s great. As a designer the first thing I want to know is what you need from the learning, what your aims are and how we’ll know if it’s a success for you.

But there’s one thing missing at this point in the scoping stage - the learner.

Involving the learner in the conversation

If the project is going to be successful and meet your aims, you need learners to change their behaviour, to increase their knowledge and to be invested in the subject. The best way to do that is to put yourself in their shoes. But, getting out of the mindset of what you need and into the learner mindset doesn’t come easy. 

Every designer has their own way of helping L&D professionals to think from a learner perspective and here, I’ll share a couple of my workshopping tools for helping teams to switch up their thinking.

The elevator pitch

A key tool I use in my design workshops is to get the L&D team to write an elevator pitch. The most important aspect of this planning activity is that the pitch isn’t to the business, it’s to the learner.
The aim is to consider how you would persuade a learner that the learning was worthwhile if you only had the time it takes to go up one floor in an elevator with them.

I usually give people a day or so to think about this task before a workshop, as it’s not easy to come up with on the spot! Listing out some benefits, then trying to put it all into one sentence is a good way to start drafting your pitch.

The benefits could be practical, tangible things like receiving completion badges that will enhance their LinkedIn profile and show that they have initiative and knowledge in certain subjects. 

They could also be less tangible things. The learning might save them time in their everyday work by giving tips and tools for streamlining their daily systems and processes. It could help them to make sure they are compliant, to protect themselves and the company from mistakes, or it might enhance their chances of career progression within your organisation. 

Start by brainstorming all the little benefits that completing the training might give them that you might not have considered.

Your pitch might be something like: 

‘In this training you will be equipped with a set of tools and skills that you need to grow your business activity and role in the organization.’

‘The training will help you develop and consolidate your knowledge so you can gain credibility with your clients and customers.’

This technique is tried and tested. UCLs ‘ABC Learning Design’ suggests writing a 140 character ‘tweet’ to a fictional learner. I use an elevator pitch, as it can sometimes be distracting thinking about what you’d put out to the public in a tweet! 

Either way, the point is: keep it short, get your brain engaged in how a learner might be inspired to think it’s going to be worthwhile for them.

What’s the big question?

A similar technique is to think about how you would communicate the main learning goal in an engaging way to your learners. 

I often like to use the ‘big question’ technique, which I first learned when working with FutureLearn to help grab attention and inspire individual thinking. It’s used by Sugata Mitra to engage young learners in their own approach to problem solving in virtual classrooms. 

The premise is: Take one, big, overall learning goal and pose it as a question which does not have an easy answer!

Let’s say your learning goal is to get separate teams working together on a common goal, so your question might be 

What does teamworking mean to you? 
What makes a strong team?

Let’s say it’s getting everyone on board with the company ethos and brand. Pose a question that has something to do with your big picture aims: 
Can a global corporation ever be carbon neutral?

If it’s to encourage everyone to take responsibility for compliance it could be:
How do our actions define us?
Who owns the rules?

For learners, it involves them from the beginning in the goal and inspires them to start thinking and looking for their own answer. 

For you as the owner of the training, it starts you off by thinking about the learning goal from the point of view of how you would tell it to a learner, rather than how you talk about it internally. 

How do I use these activities with learners?

So, once you’ve workshopped, ideated and created your learner-focussed pitch, what do you do with it?

The answer is simple, you don’t have to do anything! 

You could purely make a note of them. You can use the elevator pitch and/or big question as a reminder to yourself and an inspiration for your scriptwriters to consider the learner throughout the content creation phase.

However, the elevator pitch or big question might actually be a great pitch to use in your launch campaign that will grab your learner’s attention and encourage participation. 

You could use them in the opening screen of the learning, to kick start and encourage learner’s curiosity. You could try answering the question at the end or ask learners what they think the answer should be.

Whatever you use them for, let them frame your thinking as you write the content. Keep coming back to them and inspiring yourself to remind learners how this benefits them as well as you!

Layla Croll

Senior Lead Learning Designer at

Layla has experience working with a diverse range of clients to create effective, engaging and highly-rated digital learning experiences. With a passion for encouraging active participation in learners, Layla specialises in social learning design and using video for storytelling.