Client Empathy Discover Datasheet

Brian is a mutual friend that that works with my husband, and he was was happy to let me observe him. Here are the results – the items circled and numbered on the photographs correspond to the matching numbers on the Discovery Datasheet.



I also asked Brian a few questions about his office and how he works after I had observed him for a bit.


While I might have learned a bit about Brian simply analyzing the artifacts in his office, the dialog helped explain things that couldn’t be seen or understood in just a glance.



Empathy Research with Discover Datasheets

A recent trend emerged in my department where multiple Instructional Designers submitted certain course documentation incorrectly. In order to address the issue, we needed to learn what type of problem our IDs were facing in their community of practice.

To start, I wanted to fill out a datasheet to document the problem.


Of the 11 CBE courses IDs were submitting documents for, 8 of those were submitted incorrectly. With over half of the documents submitted wrong, I surmised that there was a problem with the evidence of the learning environment.

Perusing emails from IDs to the help desk and speaking with individual IDs helped me identify their specifics needs from the learning environment: clear directions and timely responses.


Following the request for clear information, I researched the information that was presently available to the IDs. What I discovered was that the training document itself contained outdated information.


From this, I inferred one final piece of data: the IDs liked and used the instructions documents provided in the Curriculum Support Center. discoverdatasheet4

It was frustrating to be on the receiving end of so many documents submitted wrong. However, using empathy to discover the root problem demonstrated that infrastructure instead of humans was at fault. In fact, after talking to multiple instructional designers it became clear that they were as frustrated with this flaw in the learning environment as we were.

I appreciate the emphasis that has been placed on multiple methods of doing discovery research. I think combining observations, conversations, numbered data, etc. gives a more complete picture of the learning environment. When the picture is clear, it’s easy to empathize with the difficulties or victories of an individual learner in a learning environment.

Client Discovery Focus Board

A family member teaches Spanish at a grade 6-8 level and while she was visiting we sat down and had a discussion about some of the challenges she’s facing in her current classroom. Her biggest problem was trying to target students of various skill levels, so we turned to the Focus Board!

Focus_v02_Form.jpg My client appreciated how the Focus Board separated elements of the learning environment so that she could focus on each element separately. Having the problem laid out clearly made it easier to map different levels of evidence back to the solution.

The supporting knowledge/skill section was the only thorny part of the Focus Board. Being realistic, my client acknowledged that many of her students will not retain necessary information/skills from week to week. In her mind these were all secondary to the big question, “What will the learner be able to DO?”


Getting Focused – First Focus Board

Here is my first Focus Board:


I’m going to a conference soon and I’ll be expected to bring back information and that my department can use in some way/shape/form. The general expectation is that one sets a meeting and presents a powerpoint.

Filling out the Focus board helped me hone in on the primary goal. For instance, I wrote down several pieces of “evidence” before I was able to hone in on one idea. Even now, reading the focus board I think I can sum up the Evidence better:

 Learners will demonstrate understanding of current best practices and solutions for enhancing elements of accessibility in online courses.

Doing a Focus Board digitally may cut down on some of the messiness of doing my manual brainstorming on the board itself. In a focus meeting, for instance, it might be easier to listen to the ideas and then agree upon a summed up statement to write down on the focus board. Since these are tools for clarity, I think filling these out digitally also helps keep the document neat and clear for everyone involved.

It was difficult to think of every bit of knowledge or skills would be needed to include in the learning environment. I think I scratched the surface with this first focus board, and would want to continue adding (and refining) with a second focus board. If I made a second focus board post-conference I might have clearer knowledge about some of those aspects. That’s one of the great things about focus boards – you can continue making them throughout the process to continue getting to the meat of a matter.

My Re-Designed LEM

For this exercise, I did not change the building blocks of my LEM, rather given the feedback received, it seemed more appropriate to edit the notation for clarity.


There had been a question as to the purpose of the quizzes of the LEM. The first quiz is a diagnostic quiz that assists students in understanding how well they know a week’s material before diving into the lecture materials. The quiz could point a student with some prior knowledge to focus on areas where he needed a refresher, for instance. The latter quiz, on the Evidence Block, is a formative assessment of the information students learned in that module.

I also added notation to the Module Lecture chain. This module is split into sections, which follow the same pattern. I’ve circled that chain and added a note to repeat as needed, but to change the method of the activity for each section. For instance, if section 1 used flip cards then section 2 might have a fill in the blank interactive.

Discover Interview Reflections

A few years ago, I worked as a project manager at a small self-publishing company. As a project manager a large part of my job was teaching my authors the company’s process and guiding them through that as smoothly as possible. The biggest road block in product came when an author needed to decide on their book cover. They were presented with several options to choose from, and once they had chosen a book cover, they were only allowed one round of edits to bring it closer to their satisfaction.

Needless to say, the book cover conversation was very important and it became necessary to know as specifically as possible what the author’s vision was for their one allowed round of book cover edits. We needed to be able to empathize with their vision in order to see it fully realized. Here are some of the techniques I tried to use in this process.

Ask “Yes or No” Questions

Sometimes my authors weren’t able to describe what they wanted. They had a vision, but they weren’t able to express it. In situations like this I found asking “Yes or No” questions to be helpful.  We could narrow down what they were trying to get at, and often times these questions led to the author’s finally finding their voice again.

Ask Probing Questions

On the other hand, sometimes my authors were very verbose in their desires, which led to a lot of white noise about what they really wanted. In this type of situation, asking probing questions helped break through some of that clutter and redirect towards specific things that could be changed or fixed.

Remind Yourself of Personal Details

Now I have to admit, I was more likely to do this when I was having a rough day with an author than anything else. Book cover negotiations could get tense! However, reminding myself of some of their personal details such as their inspiration for writing, their perseverance with self-publishing while working multiples jobs, etc. helped me stay on track and be a better advocate for their projects.

My Learning Environment Design Pattern

Here is my adapted learning environment design pattern:


I can understand that a LEM of a research paper assignment might not be that exciting to most people….but a lightbulb went off after seeing a colleague’s model. I’ve done this assignment in a classroom environment previously, and I also appreciated how easily it translates to an online environment.

I would use this model in a 100-200 level course where students are still learning/struggling with essays and writing. I like that each step of the writing process is broken out, and that feedback is provided at many of the important steps in the process. I envision breaking this assignment into weeks, and adding each week’s elements to an overall week’s LEM.