Persona development may be rooted in marketing, but it can offer important lessons for instructional designers, too.
Here's what this looks like in practice. For a recent project, our instructional designers developed training to support users in navigating a complex web-based data entry system. First, we collaborated with the project stakeholders to develop learner personas. During a two-day workshop, our stakeholders shared with us that there were four different types of users in their data entry system.
We assigned each stakeholder to one of these types of users and then handed them markers to draw us pictures of their learners on easel pad. As part of these drawings, we asked the group to name the learners and give us a small biographical sketch of them. In fact, we refer to our learners by name—Nancy, Marty, and Susan—to humanize them.
Then, we asked stakeholders to identify how the learners interact with the system. What were the common pain points and challenges? In this case, our stakeholders interact with the learners on a regular basis, so they were able to provide ample insight.
Finally, we conducted interviews with our target learners, which helped us confirm what we heard from the stakeholders. It also helped us build empathy towards those learners—a critical piece of the process. If you can imagine how your learners are spending their time, you are better positioned to develop a learning experience that will resonate with them.
Learning personas should focus on:
- Goals and attitudes: What drives or motivates your learners? What is their attitude about learning? About the content you are teaching?
- Behaviors: How do your learners currently experience training? What do they like? Or what don’t they like?
- Visual and sensory preferences or needs: How should we design the learning so it meets their needs. For example, If we know they have low bandwidth internet connections, then we should make sure that we don’t include too much multimedia that will keep the learners from effectively using our training solution.
- Educational level: Do your learners have advanced degrees?
Applying persona knowledge to design
We can bring back learner personas throughout the development process to ensure that we continue to design effective solutions. Throughout the process, we can check in on Nancy and Marty and make sure that the learning solution we design for them will work for them. Are we helping Nancy do her job better? We can ask at every stage of the design process, what would Nancy want? What would be most helpful to Marty at this point?
In addition to building empathy for the learners, developing personas encourages instructional designers to think about what the learners need from a bottom-up approach. We often begin projects with a list of learning objectives that our clients believe that learners need to master. But if we began our projects by asking the learners what they need to know, we could develop training that is focused on meeting the learner’s pain points and challenges.
Our teams design experiences that are driven by the learners’ needs, and incorporating persona development into our projects helps us to do just that. We can’t ignore our learners; ultimately, they are our clients’ customers and, as a result, our customers.Have you used similar methods to develop training programs? Tell us more about your experiences on LinkedIn and Twitter.