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How to Think Strategically as a Learning Designer

Want to learn a powerful theory that helps you think strategically as a learning designer

A training project is linked to a problem that needs to be solved. Sometimes you are given the problem but it is your role to determine if it is the right problem. Solving the right problem is the foundation to a successful training project.

So, how do you know what is causing a problem and why should you care? Well, by understanding what is causing the problem, you can take specific action to resolve it. This ultimately leads to your success. 

Systems theory helps you to think strategically about problems and uncover why they exist. It is valuable for you to know as a learning designer and will help you to get the results you want. 

We have simplified the theory in this blog and provided specific actions that you can take as a learning designer to benefit from it. 

What is systems theory? 

To help you understand systems theory, imagine a jigsaw puzzle. 

Systems theory is about looking at the whole puzzle, not just the individual parts. It helps you to understand how smaller parts (jigsaw pieces) work together to create the larger system (the puzzle) (edX, 2020). 

More specifically, systems theory can be described as the input, process and output, as well as feedback loop within an organisation (Sujan, 2023).

Now let us get into how you can apply the theory to improve your craft as a learning designer. 

1. Gather information

Before jumping to a solution to solve a problem, take time to analyse what is causing it by gathering information. 

Practical actions:

1. Use the following resources to help you to gather information from key stakeholders (e.g. users, Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) and others who are connected to the problem) to find out more about it. 

Your insights will help you to connect the pieces of the puzzle and understand what is contributing to the problem you are solving. In turn, enabling you to take specific actions to address the problem successfully. 

For example, you may discover that two teams in an organisation do not communicate well with each other and/or do not get along. This could be contributing to your problem, meaning that you can take specific action to address the team’s communication problems/relationship. This is an example of the ‘input’ impacting the ‘process’, which in turn is impacting the ‘output’. 

2. Consider the big picture

Ask, ‘Why are people not already behaving in a way that helps you to meet the project goal?’.

Well, there could be a number of reasons and they need to be considered to successfully solve the problem and enable people to do something differently. 

Practical action:

1. When you are analysing your problem, identify the challenges of solving it from a skills, knowledge, motivation and environment perspective. This will help you to obtain a holistic view of what is causing the problem and what might prevent you from solving it. 

For example, ‘input’ refers to the employees in an organisation and if the employees are not motivated to meet your goal, no matter what ‘process’ you introduce, it is unlikely to make a difference (as employees will not be motivated to follow the new process). 

3. Enable feedback loops

Your solution may impact other staff, people and areas of the organisation. As we know with systems theory, there are many interconnecting parts that create the bigger picture, so it is important that you welcome feedback from the different parts and take action appropriately. 

Practical actions:

1. Refer to the following resources to help you to conduct user testing (do this at the prototype stage of your solution): 

2. Review organisational metrics post the release of your solution. For example, have more employees been leaving the organisation since your solution launched. Could your solution have had an impact on that? Be curious and look for the patterns.

Embracing systems theory as a learning designer is a powerful approach that can elevate your problem-solving skills and ensure the success of your training programs. By shifting your focus from isolated components to the interconnected whole, you gain a holistic perspective on the issues you aim to address. 

If you liked this blog, you will love our creator hub. There are heaps of resources for instructional designers and learning and development practitioners that you will find valuable, including many resources that help you achieve the strategies in this blog.





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edX. (2020). Introduction to Systems Theory in Social Work. Retrieved from

Sujan. (2023). What is System Theory? Definition, History, Features, and Pros/Cons. Retrieved from

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