How is a persona useful?
I was in an eLearning module design meeting recently for one of our clients. While the discussion drifted to pedagogical and technical considerations, much was debated at an abstraction level that did little to support progress. The instructional designer on the project then asked the perfect question. Who are we building this module for? The response is, of course, our client, but in the end, who is the ultimate consumer of our product? Our client employees. Great, but it’s still quite vague. This is where personas are useful. They put a name, a background, an age group and many other factors in front of the design team and essentially state who our effort is targeted to.
Based on age group, we can design around generational aspects of learning. Based on technological mastery (or lack of), we add or remove technical components. Based on culture, or educational level we will adapt the module to a specific environment, context, language and much more. In the end, we still achieve the same learning objectives, but we may choose a different path to get there.
While you may not use personas in learning content development, personas are fundamental in advertising, marketing, industrial design and many other fields.
Where should you start?
The first step is to get a team together that can talk about the learners; get the discussion centered on your target audience demographics, purpose, values, fears or constraints, motivations and anything else that is relevant. One persona is usually not enough to fairly represent your target audience, you may need to build 3 to 5 in the end. Build the personas on paper and include photos to make the personas as real as possible. The whole exercise is a team effort and helps build buy-in to use the personas in later stages.
Second, ensure your learning design team keeps a copy of the project personas handy at all times. Specifically, refer to the personas by name during the design phase. For example, you could say “I don’t think this content will connect with Lizzie, it’s too theoretical. Can we add an actual situation that occurred on her production line to provide context?” The instructional designers, graphics and UX designers will also benefit from the personas when they start developing and building content.
Third, provide the personas to the Quality Assurance team. They will close the loop by ensuring the training module is as focused as possible on the target audience.
In the end, consider personas as the bridge between your learning and development work and the real world of your learners. If you need help in taking that bridge, get in touch, we can help.