Applying Design Thinking to L&D in a Digitally Savvy Workforce

A Q&A with Rachel Horwitz, former Global L&D Director for Mars University at Mars Inc.




As the former Global L&D Director for Mars University, the L&D function of Mars Incorporated, Rachel Horwitz is responsible for collaborating with global leaders to develop a capability-building strategy for digital transformation that addresses the L&D needs of associates and is aligned with Mars' business goals and objectives.

Rachel joined Mars in 2011 as an HR Business Partner in Mars Chocolate North America. In 2013, she took on the role of Global Curriculum Design Director, leading instructional design within Mars University. She worked cross-functionally on design and development of learning curriculum and created a standard instructional design process utilized throughout Mars.

In this exclusive interview, we sat down with Rachel to get an inside look into the challenges her team faced with design thinking, how they overcame (and embraced) change and her thoughts on the future on L&D.

Q: Your session at the 18th CLO Exchange will explore the application of design thinking to a digitally savvy workforce. What major takeaway will attendees learn from your session?

A: Attendees will learn about tools within design thinking methodology that can be applied within L&D in order to better understand your learners, help your SMEs understand your learners and create effective learning experiences that make an impact on the business.

Q: What was the biggest challenge in creating the standard instructional design process utilized throughout Mars? What was the initial user research like?

A: A challenge we faced was how to align an instructional design process with our current ways of working to be agile, innovation and user-centric.

When we created our process, we knew we weren’t going to get adoption if the process was too linear in nature and didn’t allow for iteration and feedback.

When specifying the roles and responsibilities to support the process, we built in feedback loops to be sure to get input from stakeholders, learners and SMEs to ensure that the process remained fluid and interactive.

The Design Thinking Approach

Q: What is the best piece of advice you would give to an L&D executive that wants to implement design thinking in their organization? How should they get started?

A: In L&D, we’re already inherently set up to consider the “user” or “learner” first. This is one of the most important aspects of design thinking: putting yourself in the user’s shoes and empathizing with them.

So when performing a needs-assessment–by gathering as much information as you can about your learner, their environment, feelings, capabilities, the way they work, etc.–you’re already setting yourself up for a human-centered design thinking approach.

You’re able to see and hear what your learners need from many different angles, so your ability to create innovative problem-solving is already built into your L&D process.

Q: How do you measure the effectiveness of your instructional design process?

A: Ultimately through the quality and business effectiveness measures in our evaluations. When we receive high net promoter scores or when learners rate their ability to apply their learning, we know that the process met their needs.

Recently, we’re experimenting with uncovering performance feedback data in the flow of work to evaluate training.

Using Artificial Intelligence (AI), we’re able to generate performance metrics on a system as the work is happening to demonstrate that our training was effective in providing the knowledge and skills necessary to complete the process and the system as the business expects.

This is a newer way we can use learning analytics to evaluate effectiveness of our learning experiences.

Looking to the Future

Q: Where do you see learning & development heading in the next five years? What are you seeing now that leads you to that conclusion?

A: We need to get more comfortable with user-generated content. As L&D professionals, we need to feel more comfortable as the brokers or curators of content–whether it's been created by an expert or someone with a passion for a topic.

It's no longer our role to be the sole proprietor of learning content; we can provide consulting roles to those who are creating learning.

Q: What current technology trends do you consider most promising? And how is technology playing a role in your L&D strategy?

A: I see AI as a currently growing technology trend in learning and development that will change the way we are valued in our profession.

We are already seeing AI in IT, manufacturing and finance, but there is a real opportunity to enable learners to get the learning they need, when they it through, through AI.

AI will enable L&D to gather and analyze data to determine the predictive behavior of learners. It will also enable learning to be made available for learners based on their development needs and skills expected for them on-the-job.

We are just at the tipping point of being able to use AI to build capabilities more quickly and we can use this as a springboard into modern L&D.


This Q&A by Paris Armstrong originally appeared on the HR Network's CLO Exchange page here.

For more great L&D content and insights from industry leaders, join us at the 19th CLO Exchange taking place December 9-11 in San Diego! Explore the full program here.

RECOMMENDED