What Learning Designers can Learn from Change Management

Learning design is not just about collecting content that people need to know and putting it into a learning experience, it’s about analysing a business problem and designing a solution to solve it (Moore, 2019). In order to solve a business problem, an element of change is crucial. If there is a problem and nothing changes, it seems unlikely that it will be solved. After all, we are not training people to do things the way they always have (Iverson, 2017). Albert Einstein said it himself,

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”
- Albert Einstein

This highlights the importance of providing learners with practical actions that they can demonstrate in the real-world post the learning experience.

So, if we are designing learning that enables people to do something differently, how similar is our role of Learning Designer to a Change Management Consultant? After all, is our goal not the same? The goal being to create a process or experience that creates change that can be translated into measurable results (Iverson, 2017).

At Belvista Studios we wanted to understand the alignment between these two roles and most importantly discover what we can learn from the world of change management. If you are an Instructional Designer, HR Manager or L&D guru and you want to make a difference through the learning that you design and offer, then you are in the right place. The more research we did on the alignment between these roles, the more we realised that there is so much that we can learn from the world of change management and we think you will agree.

You might design an amazing learning solution, that is engaging and allows learners to practice and master the desired behaviour, however, what if the learner doesn’t want to change their behaviour?

This one-liner hit us like a tonne of bricks. We can become so focused on creating effective learning that we can fail to stop and think about what the learner actually wants. If they don’t want to change their behaviour, it doesn’t matter how great the learning solution is, you can wave their engagement and chances of behaviour change goodbye. Even if the learner completes the course, it doesn’t mean that there was buy-in (they were directed by their supervisor to do it after all).

Here are some strategies that Change Managers use that are transferable to the world of learning and can help you create behaviour change through the solutions that you design.

1. Have a Human-Centred Approach

If you ask change agents, what is the leading cause of change fails, the same word pops up. That word is ‘people’ (Dietze, 2017). Whether it was because ‘people’ were reluctant, ‘people’ didn’t understand the change or ‘people’ didn’t see the point of changing (Dietze, 2017), ‘people’ truly do make or break a change process.

The best way to gain buy in from the ‘people’, in our case the ‘learner’, is to involve them in the design process.

Have you ever been in a workplace that was experiencing change? If a change process was run well you may recall being involved in a session that enabled you to have a say, whether it was by speaking up as an individual or being involved in a group discussion.

Carnegie (1936) who wrote ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ had a very valid point. You are more likely to feel connected to an idea if you were able to think of it yourself. It therefore makes sense to involve your learners in the design process, whether it is through one on one interviews or focus groups (depending on what is realistic). Throughout this process, the learners may provide you with insight that you didn’t have and in turn this can support you in designing a solution that speaks their language and encourages buy-in to the behaviour change.

2. Use Champions for Change

A champion for change can be crucial to a smooth transition and successful adoption of change in a business (Portier, 2016). This involves considering who is influential in the business.

Once you have identified who is influential, assess whether they have a positive view of the actions being taken to solve the business problem. For example, if you are releasing a learning experience with a focus on improving customer service, do the leaders or influential members of the learner group believe that customer service needs to be improved? Listen to what they have to say, make adjustments to your learning solution plan where necessary and get them onboard.

Change can cause stress and uncertainty for learners, so having leaders or people that they trust in their team, promote the change, can be impactful.

3. Consider the Change States

A common model for understanding change is through assessing the ‘Current State’, the ‘Transition State’ and the ‘Future State (Creasey, 2019)’. These three states provide us with a powerful framework to articulate how the change at hand will occur. This helps us as Learning Designers view our learning solution as not just a one-off fix but as part of a bigger picture.

Consider one of your future learning projects and describe:

The Current State

  • How are things working right now? 
  • How is the business goal being met?
  • How are learners contributing to it?

“It may not be working great, but it is familiar and comfortable because we know what to expect.” (Creasey, 2019).

The Transition State

This state requires a change in how things are done. This involves the business and learners accepting new perspectives and ways of doing things, while maintaining day to day efforts (Creasey, 2019). This is where your learning solution would fit in, as it represents a lever for change.

Depending on the degree of change, this stage can become emotionally charged involving feelings of despair, frustration or even relief (Creasey, 2019). It is at this point where you can assess the emotions that may potentially be associated with your learning solution and incorporate methods to combat them. You can do this by:

  • Hearing what your learners have to say. They may provide you with insight that can totally change the direction of your learning solution.
  • Ensuring that learners understand why the change is taking place.
  • Ensuring that learners have all of the information they need to make the change possible. 
The Future State

This state is all about where you are trying to get to. 

  • What is the point of the learning solution?
  • What is the desired future state?
It is important that you determine the future state of your learning solution as this can help you design a solution that achieves it. Another important thing to consider is whether the future state could be worrisome to learners and whether it aligns with their personal and professional goals (Creasey, 2019). If your future state does not align with your learner’s needs and wants it is highly unlikely that you will achieve it through a learning solution.

That’s it for this blog on ‘What Learning Designers can Learn from Change Management’. Do you use change management strategies for your learning solutions? If so ,we would love to hear about it! 

If you would like to discuss how you can incorporate change management strategies through your learning solutions please don’t hesitate to contact our passionate founder, Kim Tuohy, via kim@belvistastudios.com or through LinkedIn. 


Carnegie, D. (1936). How to Win Friends and Influence and Influence and People. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Creasey, T. (2019). Change is a Process. Retrieved from https://blog.prosci.com/change-is-a-process 

Dietze, L. (2017). Putting people front and center: user-centred change. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtworks.com/insights/blog/putting-people-front-and-center-user-centered-change

Iverson, A. (2017). 3 Instructional Design Strategies for SMART Change. Retrieved from http://info.alleninteractions.com/three-instructional-design-strategies-for-smart-change.

Moore, C. (2019). Action Mapping Headquarters. Retrieved from http://blog.cathy-moore.com/action-mapping/.

Portier, C. (2016). 8 Traits of a Change Management Champion. Retrieved from http://www.consultparagon.com/blog/change-management-champion

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