The 8 Steps of Design


For decades, our team has used an eight-part framework to design meetings, workshops & learning experiences of all sorts. The framework was first codified by Dr. Jane Vella and we have enhanced it over the years through our international work.

Below is a snapshot of our eight-part design framework. Defining parts of the framework is, of course, a truly iterative process. As we define each of them fully, the learning event begins to take shape and emerges as a coherent whole.

1  |  Who?  |  The People
A deep understanding of who will participate in the learning program, and who will lead it.

2  |  Why?  |  The Current Situation
An insightful look at the day-to-day work of the participants and how it connects to the topics of the training or meeting.

3  |  So That?  |  The Anticipated Change
A realistic vision of what will be different as a result of this joint learning experience.

4  |  When?  |  The Time and Timing 
A detailed description of the time available for the learning, noting how this influences the possible amount and depth of content.

5  |  Where?  |  The Place and Space 
A decision on the best location —  to accommodate travelers, schedules, and the needs of the learning event.

6  |  What?  |  The Content  
A carefully-constructed set of skills, information, and perspectives to focus on in the learning.

7  |  What For?  |  Achievement-Based Objectives
A specific description of what learners will do with each and every piece of priority content.

8  |  How?  |  The Learning Tasks
A guide for the facilitation of learning exercises in which all learners build their skills and share their learning.

Over years of teaching this framework to designers and facilitators, we’ve found it very helpful to use a visual. The pyramid above is one helpful way to illustrate how the eights steps of design build on each other—and work together. We design adult learning experiences by answering the eight key questions from the ground up, beginning with the two critical questions:  Who? and Why?

We’ve discovered over the years that such a starting point is the key to a learning-centered approach. If we have a faulty or incomplete sense of the learners – or the situations they face – it’s hard to have a solid meeting or workshop design. But, when we get insights into the learners and their situation, we are ready to roll! We have a foundation that bodes well for the rest of the program, all of which is built to respond to those learners and those situations. From that foundation, we build upward, naming the specific objectives and priority content for the event or program. Finally, we design learning tasks that outline what the participants will actually do throughout their time together. Although participants often only see the How? part of a design, they inevitably appreciate the thought and care that went into the foundational steps.

Click Here for a downloadable version of the 8 Steps of Design.