Impact Lab – Episode #3 Designing for Impact

22 Mar, 2023Tjarda Lamsma

Joint authors post from Laura Overton and Bo Dury, hosts at Lepaya impact lab.

Impact Lab – Welcome to episode #3

We know that learning impact has been a tough challenge for most L&D professionals and has been for some decades. We have many lenses for considering this but, As Marshall Goldsmith so eloquently reminds us – What got us here won’t get us there!

So the goal of our Impact Labs is to reimagine learning impact, and L&D’s relationship with it. In our inaugural lab we examined what impact means for us today and uncovered some of the ways that we might unintentionally be sabotaging the impact that we have in business before we’ve even begun!

What is clear from our conversations in the lab and beyond is that:

“Impact is not just about evaluation; it starts with preparation, it’s embedded in design and it relies on collaboration with our organisation.” – Laura Overton, Founder at Learning Changemakers

In our second lab we started to dig into preparation and explore the way we design our learning interventions.

Starting with the end (and the context) in mind

When we look at the decades of studies that have investigated how L&D teams can build business impact, one thing stands out, they focus on the impact they want to make from the outset. To put it bluntly, those that are more successful are more likely to be following a plan on how to prioritize, design and implement. You’ve heard it before, they start with the end in mind.

They are also more likely to understand context and have analyzed the problem before recommending a solution. Great learning design addresses these issues and more. So what does this mean for design? How do we design learning for impact?

Don’t reinvent the wheel!

There is plenty of science that has illuminated how people learn and plenty of smart people have been finding ways to help us apply evidence informed thinking to support learning design.

Before we go on, we just want to state for the record that these days, there are no excuses for falling back on myths of learning styles in our design thinking. Don’t get us wrong, we see their appeal. They are simple, primary color blocks that most of us relate to in some way or another. But these horoscopes of the learning profession have been debunked over time with no proof that they correlate to lasting behavior change that has a positive effect on business impact.

Plenty of people have written eloquently about and designed clever frameworks for designing for impact and we’ve included a list of some of our favorite frameworks and books below.

But how many of us follow the frameworks, methodologies and recommendations of those who have taken a closer look at the science of learning? We asked that question in our labs and opened up the conversation through some polls on Linkedin.

Do you follow any learning design frameworks/ methodologies when creating learning interventions for your organisation?

It turns out that the majority do use some kind of framework, with 47% of this sample turning to externally developed methods and tools and 42% either developing frameworks themselves or taking those tools and adapting them for use in house. As We applaud those brave enough to say they don’t use anything (yet!) and have a gut sense that there are probably more out there in that category!

Harnessing the wisdom of the crowds

We harnessed the tools and methods that individuals were using (see the list/ box out below) but then we took a closer look at what they had in common.

There are plenty of models out there  Get to know them all but be a slave to none. Keep in mind two principles and get to know the research. 1 Learning is a process not an event and 2 less is more!” – Donald Clark, author of Learning Experience Design

From our co-creation session, we distilled four framework-agnostic principles that are often neglected during learning design but are essential for driving impact.. We see these elements again and again in researched & validated frameworks, and they are useful for any L&D professional reflecting on or building their own design process. 

  1. Start with the business goal, the problem to solve. Describe success and define the behavior learners need to do to achieve desired outcomes. Involvement of business stakeholders is key, and getting to the bottom of their request is crucial. One way in which to do this is using the ‘5 whys’ technique – literally asking why 5 times in a row. This increases the chances of uncovering the root causes of the issues to tackle. 
  2. Collaboration with the business, which can be done in different ways. Starting at the problem discovery phase, gather perspectives & opinions, perhaps forming a group to represent different parts of the business. During the design phase: engage internal & external experts, co-create solutions and communicate communicate communicate. Doing this well means you’ll already build a group of people who are bought-in and motivated to learn or to support learners. 
  3. Don’t design a programme without designing for learning transfer. There are many ways to support learners with applying their learnings back at work. For example getting them to bring their own use cases to practice sessions, getting them to plan for transfer, nudging them once back at work and equipping their managers to keep the conversation going. The crucial step is to plan for these initiatives in your design phase!
  4. Use data throughout. Data collection starts right at the beginning of the process: gather data on the problem to solve. Then collect data at every program phase: from gaining awareness and practicing with their use case to reflecting on a situation where they applied their skill and if their changed behavior has an effect on the original impact KPIs. Create a specific plan for data collection and don’t forget to extract the insights and tell the story.

In summary 

Key takeaways:

  • If you want to demonstrate that your programmes are having business impact, you need to start with the end in mind
  • When it comes to design, there is no need to reinvent the wheel – lots of smart people have done research and created models and frameworks that build business impact from the start!
  • From lots of frameworks, and our own experience we have distilled 4 principles that are often neglected: (1) start with the organizational goal or problem to solve, (2) collaborate with different stakeholders, (3) design for transfer, and (4) collect data throughout and tell the story. 

Gary Fenman pointed out on Linked in “Complex frameworks, in my mind, can delay action (and change)”

Join the Conversation

We’re excited to continue this learning journey with Laura Overton and Bo Dury and we invite you to Impact Lab #3. Whether we are designing, implementing or evaluating impactful interventions, our success relies on how we work with others in our organisation, not just what we do for them. In the next session we will focus on how to forge successful collaborations for impact.

Would you like to become part of the Impact Discussion? Join our next Impact Lab and take the lead on the business impact you create through L&D.

Sign Up Here


Examples of external frameworks used (provided by impact lab attendees and responders in linked in)

Name Description More information
Program performance path By Robert Brinkerhoff – Helps you link learning outcomes with business goals Book
Explanatory article on HPLJs
12 levers of transfer effectiveness By Dr. Ina Weinbauer-Heidel – from research, she highlights 12 drivers for increasing transfer of learning to work Book

Podcast explaining the levers

ADDIE By Florida State University – Instructional design framework used as a process to design learning program, with 5 steps: Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation & Evaluation Explanation website
Cognitive Task Analysis (CTA) Cognitive Task Analysis helps unpack the thought processes of experts, to teach them to others. Explanatory article
Design down learning methodology first defining outcomes / desired behaviours, and then designing the program backwards from there Explanatory article
Adult learning theory (Andragogy) By Malcolm Knowles – principles by which adults learn, for example: emphasising the why & how learning will help them, surfacing prior knowledge, using real-life use cases from their work Overview of 10 different adult learning theories
Self-directed learning By Alan Tough – relying on individuals to take initiative / responsibility in their own learning, e.g. setting goals, determining what they need, making & implementing a plan, deciding who to collaborate with Explanatory article
Experiential learning By David Kolb – learning from hands-on experiences, and then reflecting on these, e.g. role plays, sharing feedback, individual reflection The experiential learning cycle
5 Moments of Need By Bob Mosher & Dr Conrad Gottfredson – a framework for gaining and sustaining effective on-the-job performance Explanatory article
5 DI Learning design model By Nick Shackleton Jones – define, discover, design, develop, deploy (and iterate!) Explanatory article
Performance based lesson mapping By Guy Wallace Book review
Merrill’s Principles of Instruction By M. David Merrill, five core principles based on task-based learning: demonstrate, apply, activate, integrate, engage Guide to the 5 principles
OK-LCD model By Lisa Owens & Crystal Kadakia – model for designing experiential learning for modern learner needs Website & model explanation

More reading

  • Evidence informed Learning Design, Mirjam Neelen and Paul Kirschener
  • Make it stick, Brown Roediger and McDaniel
  • Learning experience Design by Donald Clark
  • Design for How People Learn – Julie Dirksen
  • Driving Performance through learning- Andy Lancaster