The Define step is about narrowing in and identifying a problem, or in our case, a challenge, based on what you know and have discovered about your learner.

This is key to the design process as it is the focal point that you will use to build your solution. It is tempting to start BIG, but it is actually more productive and yields better results if you start with something small.

Make sure that the challenge that you have identified is clearly defined.

Using principles from d.school, a design thinking institute based out of Stanford University, a good learner challenge is one that:

  • Provides focus and frames the challenge
  • Inspires you and others around you
  • Informs how you will evaluate subsequent ideas
  • Captures the hearts and minds of your users
  • Helps you focus on developing concepts and plans that meet the needs for most of the people that matter (in other words, you cannot design something that is 100% perfect for 100% of all involved!)

Hopefully you will be able to easily define your learner challenge once you have created an empathy map. If not, use the map to find patterns that point to an opportunity. If you are still coming up blank, challenge your assumptions. Ask yourself, “What if?” and “How might I?”

For example:

Currently, I ask students to write a short research paper, and this exercise receives lukewarm response. How might I reimagine this activity through the use of technology?

Or is there is a concept that students tend to have trouble with? Is there a topic or a problem that benefit from being accompanied by extra examples?

Once you define your challenge, write it down and put it front and center. You will be using this for the next steps of the design thinking process.

For this DEFINE activity share your learner challenge as a post to the collaborative Learner Challenge Bank padlet.

This can be done anonymously, without logging in. Sharing here may help other spark more ideas!

Take a screenshot of the area of the padlet with your post, then either edit the image to include a box or arrow to indicate which one is yours or embed it into a document and describe it. Save the image or document to upload as your response to this activity.


This activity is part of the Define your learner challenge section of the Technologist Module.

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9 Responses for this Activity

  • Faculty Challenge: Unable to attend PD session in-person
    by Mel Young (@melyoung00)

    Originally I did the empathy map with students, but I found it more useful to complete the empathy map using my other ‘clients’ – faculty. They want to learn more but just don’t have time during the academic year to attend all of the PD sessions in-person that they’d like to. They still want to more… »

  • Ontario Extend Module 2: Activity 3: Define Your Learner Challenge: Group Work
    by Lynn Chartrand (@lynn_chartrand)

    My students often have a dislike for group work. Just the mention of group work receives a lukewarm reception. After listening to the variety of reasons as to why students dislike group work, I have created a group contract which I will be posting as a Google Doc. My hope is that this document, will more… »

  • Learner Challenge
    by Pamela Koski Bryant (@BryantKoski)

    I have been putting students in groups. I give each group a specific scenario. They have to come up with the best way to monitor the specific air quality scenario. They then teach the rest of the class the air monitoring program they have designed using the technology appropriate for that scenario. Interesting to see more… »

  • Learner Challenge
    by Melanie Lefebvre (@ProfMelLefebvre)

    Link to blog leads to link to challenge!

  • Learner Challenge
    by Sidney (@data_professor)

    In my first data analytics class, I used one of my favourite examples of analytics and statistics on the field and in the management office, the movie Moneyball. The premise is that using statistics and predictive analytics, player performance can be improved, sometimes in a more effective way than going on instinct alone. I like the more… »

  • Leveraging Use of Google Suite
    by Mel Young (@melyoung00)

    I have had students that are resistant to group work. At first, I just thought that they need to get over it — but after doing the empathy map and finding out exactly what it was about group work that students didn’t like I found out that it went far beyond just “I don’t like more… »

  • Tutor Payroll Training
    by Irene Stewart (@IrenequStewart)

    I added a section called Tutor Payroll Training. I have been thinking about how to make information accessible whenever tutors needed it as well as how to present the steps to payroll in a way that helps with onboarding (a concept in games where beginners are introduced to the game mechanics). I also got a more… »

  • Using WhatsApp to improve group work
    by Danny Smith (@ProfessorDannyS)

    Check out my post on Padlet re using WhatsApp to improve group work.  Some students have challenges communicating in groups, so I have started to use request that they make Whatsapp groups at the start of the semester.  This way I can check in on what they are discussing and to see who is a more… »

  • Challenge – code breaking in online learning
    by Helen DeWaard (@hj_dewaard)

    My post on the padlet: Students coming into the online learning space – those who are there for the first time are overwhelmed with what to do and when; those who come with previous experiences are relying on past practice to figure it out which is often not helpful. Those with some digital fluencies can more… »

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