Bring the Learner into the Design

Who’s at the heart of the e-learning design process?  Why the learner, of course!  And yet, the dear learner so often lies lonely and forlorn amidst the piles of binders, the loads of text bullets and the pages and pages of content.  So how can you bring them front and centre?  Why, bring them into the design process!  

When the stars are properly aligned it may actually be possible to have a sampling of real live learners with you as you map out the content and craft your project.  Often, reality interferes and we must come up with an alternative.  Enter the user persona.

Let’s setthe scene:  a bright corporate conference room; you, a young and aspiring instructional designer; three subject matter experts; a 52 slide PowerPoint deck; a whiteboard; a lot of coffee.  It’s the content kickoff meeting.

After the intros and the agenda review, you say, “Let’s just try something here.  Let’s imagine four people who might take this program.  You mentioned new hires.  So let’s say Nancy has just started in accounting.”  You draw a smiley face head on the whiteboard and label it Nancy, new hire accounting.   “She needs to know about this topic because…”

“You also mentioned that someone transferring from another department would need this program.  Let’s call him Joe.  He’s been here for five years and has heard a bit about this topic, but now he’ll be making decisions that impact it.”  You draw Joe on the board.

As you build your “learner team” you identify qualities about them, make them real people.  

The content experts think this is fun – George the learner has no time to take e-learning, but he really needs this content yesterday, while Alexis, who’s in the call centre needs to understand the big picture but only to a point.

Now as you start reviewing the content, bring your four people into the conversation.  “What about Joe?  Does he need to know that?  What’s he going to do with that bit there? Does Alexis really care about that?  No – well, then maybe we need to rethink that section.”

As you – and your subject matter experts – think through the content in terms of the learners – the people who will actually need to DO something with this material, you’ll design a better learning program.   We regularly use personas to get there - it doesn't take long to generate them, it helps your SMEs focus on addressing real needs, and it keeps you honest as a designer - you're designing for individuals, rather than an abstract mass. Why not try it on your next project?