Survival following sudden cardiac arrest in the community can be framed as a complex systems problem for which systems thinking and design methodologies may be applied. Focusing on the subsystem of the learning experience of cardiopulmonary resuscitation and use of an automated external defibrillator (CPR/AED), we used a systems approach to understand the current state of learning and a design methodology to identify improvements. A systems diagnosis identified six elements within the learning experience - need for training, opportunity for training, training class characteristics, perceived competence, anticipated event characteristics, and perceived readiness to act – each of which had positive and negative meanings and outcomes. As the elements are interactive and complex, the expected central property of learning – likelihood to act - may not be realized because of significant conflicts and obstructions. Design methodology identified 250 elements for an ideal CPR/AED learning experience which could be arranged as a containing system with eight interactive categories. Based on a system thinking and design methodology approach we suggested ten changes to improve the current state of the CPR/AED learning experience.