Empathy in distance learning design practice

I was invited to be part of this paper due to my interest and some professional experience in encouraging instructional designers to be more empathetic towards those they serve. The first two authors were students at the time this research was conducted.


The notion of designer empathy has become a cornerstone of design philosophy in fields such as product design, human-computer interaction, and service design. But the literature on instructional designer empathy and learner analysis suggests that distance learning designers are generally quite removed from the learners with whom they could be empathizing. We describe a qualitative study conducted with practicing distance learning designers across the United States. We selected designers in varying sectors within the workforce, and interviewed our participants via videoconferencing. Our inquiry uncovered important tensions designers live with regarding empathy in practice. Designers struggle to know how much learner analysis is sufficient, which of many stakeholders to empathize with, and navigating constraints. Future work in this area could help designers practice more empathically and, in doing so, improve the learning environments they create for learners.

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Matthews, M. T., Williams, G. S., Yanchar, S. C., & McDonald, J. K. (2017). Empathy in distance learning design practice. TechTrends, 61(5), 486–493. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11528-017-0212-2