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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.

6 ways that sketchbooking can improve your learning design creativity 

By Tess Robinson
Posted 18 June 2021

I have always fancied myself as a bit of an artist but have never really learned how to paint properly. In lockdown, I tentatively began to experiment with brushes and canvas, but I found that without any real technique, I was only getting so far with it. I decided to take a step back and found an online course on the Art of the Sketchbook from an abstract landscape artist who I really admire. 

Many artists use sketchbooks to develop ideas or play with textures, colours or composition. The course really helped me to experiment, try out different techniques and observe what worked, what didn’t and what I was most drawn to and why. Some of the stuff I produced looked great. Some looked like absolute rubbish, but even then, I found that there were still things that I could learn from it – nothing was wasted.  

After the course it struck me that there were actually a lot of parallels with learning design. There are lessons to be learnt from artistic sketchbooking that can really help when coming up with creative learning design solutions: 

1.    Observe
Look around you. What is the problem you are trying to solve or the opportunity that the learning will help to capitalise on? Is it what you think it is at first glance?  

It’s sometimes difficult to be objective, particularly if you’re part of the internal team, so here’s a good tip: They say that in order to improve your drawing – a key pre-requisite of painting – you should narrow your eyes and really look at areas of light and shade. You need to temporarily hold off judgement and try not to second guess what you think the thing should look like, as opposed to what it actually looks like.This a great metaphorical technique for the research phase of any digital learning project. In getting to know your audience and accurately assessing the business need, you need to try to put your own assumptions and prejudices to one side and really look at the shape of what is there.  

2.    Make notes
Rob, LAS’s Creative Lead, always has a way to capture thoughts and ideas on him, even by his bed at night, because he never knows when inspiration will come. When your unconscious brain has had time to mull a learning design conundrum over, it will sometimes provide a solution that you need to be able to capture before the moment is gone.  

Sketchbooking involves a surprising amount of note taking, as well as painting. You might describe what inspired you, what techniques you used, what worked and what didn’t turn out quite as you expected. You might note down things that you’d like to try in future or that you’ve seen others do well.  

3.    Experiment
This is one of the principles of design thinking and is really the essence of sketchbooking. A real or virtual sketchbook allows you to try things out and explore ideas in a safe space. You can take your ideas and notes and develop them further. It allows you to take risks with your design and see how it might turn out before doing it for real. 

4.    Look for inspiration
How are other people using learning to solve similar problems? Could that (or a version of that) work in this case? Save websites, images, articles etc. that provide you with inspiration so that you can circle back to them when putting your design together. 

What graphic styles have you seen that you like and that might work in your design? Create mood boards and sense check them with your audience - just because you like the way something looks or flows, doesn’t mean that the people for whom the learning is intended will. Artistic sketchbooking is much more about finding what you like. With learning design it’s important to remember that there are a lot more stakeholders to take into account.  

5.    Be regular
Of course, you can be looking for inspirational l the time, not just when you have a specific project to design for. We have found that people who make the best learning designers are perpetually curious about the world around them. Making notes, capturing images, bookmarking links for things you could use for future inspiration, should all become part of your routine.

6.    Embrace failure
When creating art, for me, this still feels like a hard thing to do, even though I’m very well versed on how important it is for creativity. I have that paralysing fear of the blank page and of not wanting to start something that isn’t going to turn out perfect first time. I often have to give myself a real talking to about this. To come up with the best solutions, both in art and in learning design, it’s really important to allow yourself to fail sometimes. Failure can be a really good thing, as long as you can learn from it, iterate and improve. 

The Art of the Sketchbook course taught me a lot about creative exploration. In particular, it taught me not to worry about things being perfect to start with and the importance of noting down ideas and observations – all really useful things when it comes to learning design.   

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