Get up close with your learners for better design

By robkeywood June 24, 2015

photo od doctor using a stethoscopeHow do you research the target audience before starting on development of a piece of bespoke learning content? Chances are, what comes to mind is a series of SME workshops, followed by hours at the desktop.

At Lumesse we like to do things differently. Just as we believe in the value of really getting to know our clients’ businesses, we also take any opportunity we can to get up close and personal with their learners. It is this depth of research that takes a course from valuable to valued, and creates a bespoke learning experience that connects with and engages the learner to make an impact on how they work.

Recently we had the chance to get face to face with learners when working on a sales product learning project for one of our valued clients, a global healthcare company. I’d like to tell you about that experience – about how it influenced the shape of the final design, moving us towards a more ‘gamified’ (if that’s a word!) approach – and then give 5 tips for researching your learning project.

Trade show visit: a window on the learners’ world

We’ve worked with this particular client for a while now, creating training pieces for their medical products. For this latest project we are creating sales training to enable their sales guys to talk knowledgably about some complicated technical and clinical material.

As part of our ongoing work with them, the Lumesse design team was invited to attend an international medical specialty congress in London. We knew we could get all the clinical details we needed from the project from our existing SMEs, but attending this event would allow us to meet and talk to the people who would form the audience for the learning – our client’s sales and marketing people. We wanted to know where they work, how they think … who they are.

Researching the sales situation

We started by having a look around the conference and seeing what the competition was up to, and the messages they were putting out. Visiting our client’s stand, we then got a demonstration and hands-on time with some of the products we are working with. This was also a great opportunity to hear what the sales people talk about with stand visitors, and to get a feel for the product itself, rather than just reading about it in studies. We also got to see some of the buyers of the product; the people our learners have to inform, serve and convince in their sales interactions.

We then sat down with some of the client’s sales and marketing people to chat about training and sales. We got inside what they would want to see, what they think is important to know, and how they like to learn. We also shared a small demo of some of the content we had developed already, and asked for their honest feedback on it.

After taking advantage of the complimentary coffee on the stand (delicious!) the core project team from Lumesse and the client company sat down and had an informal chat about our findings. This quickly morphed into a brainstorm session with fresh ideas from all sides.

Gamifying the learning

The result of our trip was a new approach to the learning, which would reflect the environment we had seen and the experience of selling the products. We found that our learners are a competitive bunch – so we decided to increase the amount of gaming and competitive elements in the training.

Gamifying our planned scenario content, we turned it into a series of levels, each of which the learner had to complete before unlocking the next. Starting with a ‘trade show’ level, where the learner has to answer customer questions, they then proceed to a ‘presentation’ level, where they build their own pitch to give to a customer. Any misstep along the way means they don’t earn enough points to proceed and have to try again. Finally they are asked to video themselves giving a presentation and enter it into a competition to see who is the best.

Five tips for researching your learning project

I think this example serves to show really well how face-to-face learner research and close collaboration between design team and client team can feed directly into a better programme design.

Reflecting on this experience – and others where I’ve had the opportunity to do in-depth learner research – I’ve come up with five tips that you can apply more generally.

  1. Meet the learner. As learning designers, we’re often given a description of our learners in terms of a high-level breakdown of age, gender, education (and whether or not they like elearning). But by actually meeting them you can find out what they like, dislike and what they’ve experienced already.
  2. Get out there. Seeing where the learner works, and observing the working situation within which the knowledge she gains from the learning will be applied, gives you a real context for the learning. The realistic scenarios, environments and activities you can create as a result will connect with the learner a lot more than generic multiple choice questions.
  3. Share your thinking. Learning designs are often shared with stakeholders and SMEs, who then interpret what they think the learner will like. Why not share that thinking with the learner directly? If possible give them a demo to play with. If they hate it, or just don’t get it, then you need to think again. If they love it, ask what they love about it and do more of that.
  4. Ask early. Focus groups or testing groups are often invited to get involved at a later stage of the project, but it’s rare for the schedule and budget to include major rework at that stage. Why ask a learner what they think if you’re not going to do anything about it? Getting the learner involved early – before the money is spent – lets them shape the learning as it develops, not just tweak it before it’s launched.
  5. Test objectives. Performance and learning objectives are usually developed by the project stakeholders, SMEs and learning designers. “We want our learners to do X so we need to teach them Y”. Why not ask the learner, “What do you need to be able to do X?” Perhaps they don’t need to learn Y but need to practice Z!

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