About LAS

LAS is an award-winning provider of elearning consultancy, design, development and training services in the UK and internationally. 

Established in 2005 as LearningAge Solutions, we work with some of the best known organisations in the world to boost their performance through the innovative use of learning technologies. Working in partnership with our customers, we draw on proven principles from human behaviour, how people learn and how the brain works to create impactful digital learning solutions with real return on investment.

About Tess Robinson

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Tess is a director of LAS. She has worked in a learning environment for over twenty years. First, as a senior manager in universities, moving into digital learning ten years ago.

The art of ‘looking’ and how it can improve your learning design

By Tess Robinson
Posted 29 January 2024

A little while ago, an L&D colleague recommended a book to me – ‘See What You’re Missing: Thirty-one Ways Artists Notice the World – and How You Can Too’ by Will Gompertz. I have been dipping in and out of this book ever since, but one chapter has stayed with me – the one about David Hockney.

David Hockney is considered one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century. He is an English painter, draughtsman, printmaker, stage designer, and photographer, as well as an important contributor to the pop art movement of the 1960s. Now, well into his 80s, he moved to France a few years ago, allegedly because you can smoke everywhere there.

It was in France, in 2022, that I saw an exhibition of Hockney’s in Bayeux. It was a frieze of iPad drawings that he had done in lockdown. Startlingly colourful and to be honest, fairly rudimentary, I must admit that I couldn’t really see what the hype was about, or why he is one of the top selling living artists (Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) sold for an incredible $90.3m in 2019). However, reading the chapter about him in Will Gompertz’s book changed my perspective.

You might be thinking ‘what has this got to do with learning?’.

Well, a lot actually – bear with me. The thing that struck me most was this quote:

‘Look longer at something and maybe you’ll see more’
David Hockney

In this fast-paced world, even more so with gen-AI speeding everything up, are we forgetting the importance of stopping and looking, and in the process, making our learning interventions much less effective?

It’s certainly true that ‘really looking is really difficult’. As Will Gompertz points out ‘there’s a lifetime’s worth of preconceptions [and biases] to overcome, preconceptions that obscure’. It takes a bit of extra time on a project to undertake user-research and may result in your own notion of what the learning should be, being challenged. However, if we can listen, be open to different perspectives and flexible enough to change tack, this can propel the learning we design from being just ‘passable’ to being ‘truly transformative’ in terms of impact.

Data certainly helps us some of the way in gaining insights and AI can help us to analyse it. But I would argue that as the learning is for humans, you need a human to get to the crux of people’s motivations, hopes and needs by talking to them and ideally observing them too. I’m reminded of an IDEO presentation I went to years ago, where they interviewed an elderly lady about how she took her arthritis medication. Verbally, she said she had no problems getting into the pill bottle, but the IDEO team then observed her dangerously cutting off the top of the bottle with an electric bacon slicer, because she didn’t have the strength in her hands to overcome the childproof lid – very dangerous obviously. They wouldn’t have uncovered this if they had taken her first answer at face value. Like Hockney, they attempted to really look and it got them a better result. Will Gompertz describes Hockney’s technique as ‘centred on his obsession with looking properly. He would use a camera to take dozens of photographs of the same person or object from every conceivable angle. He would scale ladders and crawl along the ground to make sure he had seen everything. Only when he was satisfied he had fully interrogated his subject would he begin to piece together a fragmented artwork made up of multiple images’.

In L&D we rarely have time or resources to be able to go into the depth and detail that Hockney and IDEO are able to, but even a little bit of user-research is better than none at all. If we try to be open-minded, curious and willing to have our initial ideas for the learning changed, we will produce better quality, more impactful learning that will get better results for our organisations and the people in them.

See What You’re Missing: Thirty-one Ways Artists Notice the World and How You Can Too by Will Gompertz is published by Viking/Penguin Random House UK, 2023

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