Discussing with an industry well-respected professor of educational technology at a top Canadian university and Fellow at the Institute for Performance and Learning (I4PL), I asked him where would he position Design Thinking (aka d.Design process) within the I4PL Canada’s training and development professionals competency model and where it would fit within an ISD model.

The professor mentioned that the university teaches as well design thinking in their program, but only after teaching the basic ADDIE process. That’s for a few reasons. Even with a “design thinking” approach, the particulars–researching then analyzing needs, establishing requirements, preparing designs to meet the requirements, developing programs that reflect the designs, and evaluating the extent to which the programs met their objectives and other goals–really isn’t any different. What design thinking does is provides a means for synthesizing this.

According to the professor,  the problem is that design thinking has become quite trendy lately and some of what’s taught are more feel-good design rather than slogging-in-the-dirt, get-to-know-the-needs-and-context kind of design. In terms of I4PL’s competencies, design thinking is integrated throughout both design competencies. The professor argued that the designing curricula I4PL competency is a bit broader and less specific because it’s about dealing with an undefined problem, getting one’s head around it sufficiently to define the problem and devising a solution. The professor also clarified that I4PL focuses on curricula because that’s the only area in which they can realistically certify people–instructional programs–through the approach can be broadened to consider a much wider range of material (for example, a full content strategy that addresses training, internal content, external content, and marketing materials–among others).

Moreover, I found Guy Wallace’s blog extremely interesting as it gave me a sense of direction and relevance as to where in an ISD model, Design Thinking can be incorporated. Wallace (2018) suggests that performance thinking precedes Design Thinking and defines performance competency as the ability to perform tasks to produce outputs to stakeholder requirements. This resonated with me since the area of training design I’m currently working is heavily focused on performance competency. Notwithstanding, learner experience is also an important factor to take into consideration in the design process where I would see myself using the design thinking process. As Wallace (2018) suggests, the more I know about all the aspects that contribute to performance during the Analysis and Design phases, including how to exercise empathy to my learner, the better I would capture performance competence requirements.

Therefore, I concluded that Design Thinking and Analysis Thinking work synergistically, not competitively, and they are both subsets of Systems Thinking.


Stanford University Institute of Design. (2016). A Virtual Crash Course in Design Thinking — Stanford d.school [Website]. Retrieved from https://dschool.stanford.edu/resources-collections/a-virtual-crash-course-in-design-thinking

Wallace, D. (2018, December 11). L&D: I don’t want Design Thinking…until after performance thinking [Blog post]. It is a means to an end. Or…ends. Retrieved from https://eppic.biz/2017/07/10/ld-i-dont-want-design-thinking-until-after-performance-thinking/

Wallace, D. (2018, December 11). L&D: Performance thinking needs to be at the forefront of Design Thinking. It’s all about performance [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://eppic.biz/2018/04/17/ld-design-thinking-in-isd/