Utilizing Design Thinking to Guide Design and Development of Online Graduate Level Courses

Workshop Session 1

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Design thinking provides a structured approach that can enable educators to uncover challenges and explore innovative solutions to meet the needs of their learners. In this session, we will discuss how design thinking can be used to guide course re-design, strategies to address challenges with data collection, results from the design thinking approach and how the process can be used for participant's own work.


Dr. Ilana Bayer is the Director of the Learning Technologies Lab in the Faculty of Health Sciences at McMaster University and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pathology & Molecular Medicine. Dr. Bayer assists faculty with their educational technology needs and supports faculty development around the use of electronic modalities to enhance and deliver health sciences education. Under Ilana's direction, LTL has become a McMaster University Faculty of Health Sciences leader in curricula and course development as well as a highly valued contributor to numerous research projects involving the use of technology in adult and higher education. Ilana teaches in a variety of learning environments including face-to-face, multi-site and online courses and her learners range from undergraduate students to faculty members. She leads workshops on educational technology-related topics and teaches in the MSc Health Science Education Program, Undergraduate Medical Program and Undergraduate Anatomy & Physiology course. Her areas of research include educational technologies in adult and higher education, user experience and faculty development. Ilana’s current focus is on the use of design thinking in education and how the principles of this approach can be used to design educational initiatives that meet learner needs and improve their educational experience.

Extended Abstract

A design thinking approach was used to guide the redesign of an online graduate level course on educational technologies in higher education. The core stages of this approach are: empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test. In the empathize stage, data was gathered from a variety of sources including semi-structured interviews, course communication platforms, formative surveys, course evaluations, literature searches and brainstorm sessions. The data was used to conceptualize the end-users (i.e., the target graduate students in the course) through “empathy” and “as-is” scenario maps. These maps provided a deeper insight into the needs and emotions of the learners as well as pain points and opportunities in online learning. In the define stage, “How might we” questions were developed based on the themes that emerged from the empathy and as-is scenario maps. These questions identified key challenges and opportunities (e.g., How might we maximize active learning in an online graduate course?). In the ideate stage, innovative ideas to address these challenges were generated and prioritized based on impact and feasibility. Prototypes were developed and incorporated into the course.  

In this session, we will discuss how design thinking can be used to uncover challenges and explore innovative solutions to meet the needs of learners. Through hands-on exploration, we will look at the stages of the design thinking process and tools that can be used for each stage. The results of the process will also be shared and how it informed the design and development of the online course. We will also discuss team collaboration, strategies to address challenges with data collection and how the process may apply to participants’ work.

Instructional Methods: In this interactive session, participants will be guided through the design thinking process and will have the opportunity to engage with the practical tools used. Participants will have the opportunity to work individually and in small groups as they move through the design thinking process. Each stage of the design process will be debriefed using examples from the process that was used to redesign the graduate level course. Participants will also have the opportunity to view the online course on their own using their mobile devices. During large group discussions participants will have the opportunity to ask questions, provide feedback and discuss how the process can be applied to their own work.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Describe the key stages of a design thinking approach
  2. Explain how design thinking can be used to identify challenges and explore innovative solutions
  3. Identify opportunities where the principles of design thinking can be applied to participants’ work