Kate designs global experiential learning cohorts for undergraduate programs. Dino leads learning and design efforts for pilot training at a Canadian airline. Despite having disparate contexts both are seeking blended learning strategies to increase, the utility, accessibility and engagement in their short-course training programs.

Our problem scenario

There is low student engagement (i.e. passive learning) during the introductory portion of the course in both contexts. Feedback suggests this is because the inductions are formatted to be content-driven and instructor-centred rather than learner-focused.

For example, there is a high reliance on PowerPoints and ‘information dumping’ to cover the required content in Dino’s train-the-trainer course. The three-day program content is bound by larger regulatory authorities and must incorporate a significant amount of theoretical and practical material.

Whereas in Kate’s contexts, the information imparted is less structured and more experiential. The course guides learners through a series of curated projects related to their specific international settings and goals.

Design thinking process

In both contexts, traditional and inflexible instructional design models (e.g. ADDIE) were not best serving the experiential learning goals (Bates, 2014). Instead, we looked to learner-empathic approaches to explore and improve how students would experience the instruction (Parrish, 2006; 2008, as cited in Vann, 2017). Using the Stanford University Institute of Design (2016) design thinking process as a base, we co-constructed solutions by looking at our challenges from the lenses of user experience and learner-empathy.

Through a cyclical process of inquiry and ideation, our design thinking took into consideration the shared parameters, challenges & needs showcased in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Summary of challenges (own image).


Once we defined and unpacked our student needs, we began to imagine a well-designed blended-learning environment that served as a community of practice. We realized a shared need to introduce strategies that would invite intellectual risk-taking, inciting curiosity and prompt deeper engagement.  For example, including auto-ethnographic approaches like inviting students to share their backgrounds, experiences, expectations at the outset of the course.

Following multiple brainstorms, we compiled our respective ideas and came up with the following solution possibilities:

  • Move the theory and knowledge digestion to self-study; develop a workbook as a prerequisite to the online module. The workbook will cover key content and an adaptive learning quiz, as well as instructor digital tools video tutorials.
  • Online learning environment (OLE) as a prerequisite to face to face aspects of the course. Treat online learning as a warm-up; a gradual introduction to new learning styles and to the cohort.
  • OLE will have two parts. Part A, an asynchronous eLearning module and Part B, an asynchronous facilitated social learning environment allowing interactions and intellectual risk-taking; capitalize on online learning benefits for creating a safe environment
  • OLE part B includes an icebreaker for introductions to self and goals for the course
  • Further to completion of self-study and OLE Part A and B, we expect learners to demonstrate self-efficacy by being confident in accomplishing the assigned tasks during the face-to-face portion.
  • The classroom portion will focus on real scenarios/simulations and hands-on practice.


Because we realized that motivation is the key to active engagement and learning, we did not start with the assumption that learners would be overly enthusiastic about the introduction of an online learning environment. The suggested learning solution will be explicit about the benefits of the blended format as related to their self-motivators towards the beginning. Furthermore, the solution intends to satisfy both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators, such as being self-sufficient, and well-prepared when it comes to helping the end users perform well on the job or in their studies.


Bates, T. (2014, September 9). Is the ADDIE model appropriate for teaching in a digital age? [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.tonybates.ca/2014/09/09/is-the-addie-model-appropriate-for-teaching-in-a-digital-age/

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

Vann, L. S. (2017). Demonstrating empathy: A phenomenological study of instructional designers making instructional strategy decisions for adult learners. International Journal Of Teaching & Learning In Higher Education, 29(2), 233-244.