Design as Learning

Blog Series, Good Work, Leadership, Mission-Driven Work

After working with hundreds of impact organizations we’ve learned three important lessons: design as learning, process as advocacy, and innovation as value creation.

Design as learning: planning, design, and development are rooted in adult learning.

  • Safe places. Learning starts with trust and respect.
  • Different paths. Each journey is unique.
  • Blended learning. Face-to-face plus just-in-time.

Process as advocacy: simple, transparent, inclusive.

  • Embrace paradox. Preserve ambiguity. Build both/and solutions.
  • Bring data. Intuition and initiative informed by data.
  • Diverge to converge. Ideate, funnel, test, go.

Innovation as value creation: improvement is incremental; innovation is harder but it delights users and creates value.

  • Shared vision: Use pictures and stories to make ideas tangible.
  • Just enough. Learn just enough to try, measure iterate. Fast is better than slow.
  • Scale success. Turbocharge growth, build sustainability.

The goal of a planning and design process is a unique path to value creation. A necessary byproduct is team learning and metacognition. A thoughtful design process uncovers individual and team biases, builds mental models and change theories–the team gains appreciation for systems work and how impact might be produced and scaled.  A healthy design process examines and reshapes agreements.

Design is learning, process is advocacy, innovation is value creation.

For more see:

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is author of Smart Parents, Smart Cities and Getting Smart. He is co-founder of Getting Smart and Learn Capital and serves on the boards of 4.0 Schools, eduInnovation, Digital Learning Institute, Imagination Foundation, Charter Board Partners and Bloomboard. Follow Tom on Twitter, @tvanderark.


Roz /

Are these design tips for certain products or can the same formula be used for designing learning programs such as online training etc?

Tom Vander Ark /

Hi Roz, these lessons apply well to designing learning programs. Safe places, different pathways, and blended learning are key foundational elements. The way the program is designed and implemented is a big advocacy opportunity (i.e., let folks know what you stand for, where you’re headed). Success requires shared vision. Speed and iteration boost sustainability.