Apply Design Thinking to Story-based eLearning – Tip #180

Share this article

Have you ever had an MRI or CT scan? How did you feel?

Now imagine a child going through that same scan. Chances are they’d be terrified or anxious and so would their parents.

The Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh used to sedate children under 9 years when they came for an MRI scan. That is, until they partnered with GE Healthcare in creating MRI and CT machines designed to ease kids’ anxiety.

The new “Adventure Series” scanners now took children on a journey or adventure, a “medical play” that stimulates their imagination. Coupled with effective storytelling, children no longer cry but stay perfectly still as part of their fun imagination play.  

How did GE Healthcare come up with such a great product? The answer lies in its design process.

The Design Thinking Process

Design Thinking, developed by IDEO founder David Kelley, is “a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” At its core is the goal of “creating new and innovative ideas and solving problems.” It’s a “framework for ingenuity.”

Empathising. Looking from the inside out or being in someone else’s shoes. This is a stage in the Design Thinking Process which means understanding the needs of end users. It entails setting aside assumptions and could involve consulting with experts, observing and engaging with people, and/or immersing in their physical environment. This helps designers gain insight into people and their needs.

When Doug Dietz, the creator of the Adventure Series scanners, got the idea, he was visiting the hospital to see the new MR scanner he just created in action. What he got instead was a wake up call and a new challenge, and he begun to see his machines from the children’s and parents’ perspectives.

Defining. Putting together the gathered info and data, analyzing them and defining the core problems.

Dietz identified the anxiety curve of parents and children. He realized that the scanning environment simply didn’t work for the young patients.

Ideating. This is the time to generate ideas and “think outside the box” for alternative solutions to the problem/s. And, because Design Thinking is intrinsically collaborative, it leverages “collective expertise.” If critical thinking is the “breaking down” of ideas, ideating was the “building up” of ideas.

Prototyping. An experimental phase where designers strive to determine the best possible solution.

Testing. This—along with the other stages—is an iterative process. Testing will serve to redefine problems and inform designers’ understanding of end users.

Design Thinking in Storytelling

With a few tweaks, elearning designers can use Design Thinking in creating story-based lessons. Here are some tips to keep in mind when applying Design Thinking to elearning.

“Explosive Meaning.” The main challenge in story-based learning is how to deliver lessons in the most memorable way. It can help to ask yourself: What is this lesson trying to convey?
Plot Out the Narrative. It can also help if you plot out the initial narrative—a rough sketch of the story or a simple storyboard draft. This helps you to stay on track and develop “stories with intention.”


Guy Boulton. By turning medical scans into adventures, GE eases children’s fears. Journal Sentinel, Jan. 21, 2016
GE Reports. Fun Hospital Visits & MRI Scans for Kids. YouTube, Oct. 22, 2009
David Kelley.
Kaan Turnali. What is Design Thinking?. Forbes, May 10, 2015
Rikke Dam and Teo Siang. 5 Stages in the Design Thinking Process. Interaction Design Foundation, 2018
The Pulse. From Terrifying to Terrific: The Creative Journey of the Adventure Series. GE Healthcare, Sept. 20, 2012
Adam Westbrook. Storytelling + Design Thinking: Design stories to be great user experiences. Medium, Feb. 26, 2014
Tip #113 – Empathy: Helping Learners to Feel Others
Tip #176 – Build a Culture of Critical Thinking for Learning Breakthroughs

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
“Helping Learners Learn Their Way”