Design Challenge: How might we improve our learners’ training experience by supporting them in their study and provide them with reference material once they’ve graduated?

Current situation

Initial qualification aircraft type rating is an intense 60-day (net) training program consisting of aircraft systems training, aircraft automation, flight management system programming, briefings and practice in training devices and on-the-line training. Before even showing up for day-one of their program, pilots are provided with a 25-35hr asynchronous eLearning module to learn the aircraft systems and other material to be completed at home over a 5-day period.

Aircraft manuals and procedures are also provided on an iPad (electronic flight bag) and are used as a reference during their in-class training and on the line. As one can tell, a huge volume of content needs to be learned in a short timeframe, comprised of home-study eLearning modules and procedures that become more and more complex as training progresses. Consequently, learners spend their evenings and weekends studying, trying to catch-up and stay afloat.

Learner-centred design: an opportunity to initiate change

Until recently, briefings were consisting of death-by-PowerPoint material combined with some videos filmed in a training device. It was up to the instructor to ensure they deliver effective briefings and learners mainly relied on their notes and manuals as learning material to take home.

Recognizing the importance of effective training material to cater to the needs of instructors and trainees, the first step to improve briefing material was recently made. Presentations have been enriched with content that is developed based on visual design principles, meaning, media-rich content that includes a number of artifacts, such as images, videos, simulation recordings, graphs, etc. This initiative is well supported by Matthews, Williams, Yanchar and McDonald (2017), who state that designers view empathy as caring about those that they are designing for, reflecting on personal learning experiences to imagine what learners are experiencing, and trying to see things from the learners’ perspective.

Empathy method

Kourprie and Visser (2008) argue that the problem of understanding the user and his or her experience has a central place in user-centred design (Sanders & Dandavate, 1999; Koskinen & Battarbee, 2003; Sleeswijk Visser et al., 2005, as cited in Kourprie & Visser, 2008). The authors also state that there are several ways of bringing contextual and affective factors into the design process, by implementing ‘empathic design’ (Koskinen et al. 2003, as cited in Kouprie & Visser, 2008). Therefore, using this approach I will attempt to get closer to the lives and experiences of my learners, in order to design a learning product that addresses my design challenge.

According to Kourprie and Visser, 2008, who stress the need for qualitative research to inform and inspire designers to create ‘more useful and enjoyable things for people [they] may never meet’ (p. 342), I will organize a brainstorming session with key stakeholders and ideate on possible solutions (IDEO, 2015).

Resources required

The resources required to complete the empathy phase of this challenge, include:

  • Select recently graduated new-hire pilots and existing company pilots transitioning from one fleet to another
  • Instructors that are active pilots
  • Instructional designers
  • Meeting room
  • Office material such as pens, whiteboard markers, whiteboard, post-it notes, markers, flip board, scotch tape,
  • A computer for note taking

Constraints & challenges

  • Active pilots are constantly flying and have mandated rest times. Any involvement requires remunerating them pilot hours, as per the collective agreement.
  • The age varies, 25-60 y.o.
  • Low-cost solution necessary, limited budget and resources
  • Development time constraints due to high volume training
  • Change management, unionized environment
  • Cultural barriers with some pilots and management simply interested in just complying with regulations (checkbox approach)
  • Some pilots exhibiting a “Teach me” behaviour, wanting to be spoon-fed rather than taking ownership of their own learning


IDEO. (2015). Design Kit – Methods. Retrieved from

Kouprie, M., & Visser, F. S. (2009). A framework for empathy in design: stepping into and out of the user’s life. Journal of Engineering Design20(5), 437–448.

Stanford University Institute of Design. (2016). Bootcamp bootleg. Retrieved from