‘Design for your learner’ has been a popular mantra in the L&D world and learner personas have been at the centre of this concept. By taking a leaf from marketing’s playbook and adopting personas to combat generalizations and stereotypes, user-centric learning has leaped to new levels. Organizations who have adopted this marketing-aligned method in creating personalized learning tend to see better learning engagement, improved learner responsibility and evolving growth mindsets in their employees. See our learner persona example below.

Observing learners’ behavior patterns and creating fitting learner personas give us a more in-depth perspective on unique learning needs that we can use in tailoring instruction to achieve proficiency in training. Demographics, education, employment and skill levels, online ‘watering holes’, goals and motivations are just some of the traits you need to consider in creating learner personas.

Our Case Study

In order to put this topic into perspective, it is only fitting to provide a working learner persona example. We observed and collected data on call centre employees who were specialists in their roles. Using our detailed guide, we were able to create a representative learner persona example. We took these steps:

A. Data Gathering

We collected relevant data about the employees through different means. We created it from qualitative means such as:

  1. Observing their environment at the call centre, seeing the motivational posters and recognition on the walls. Also, seeing the wallboard with call centre stats like wait time, seeing what was on their desks and which job aids were pinned to their cubicle walls. Even seeing the demographics of the learners and observing that their environment was noisy.
  2. Talking with a manager to get an understanding of the strengths/challenges for their employees.
  3. Sitting with the employees and listening to their calls with clients. We sat with both exemplary, ordinary and “under-performing” employees. The intent was not to evaluate them; it was just to get a sense of what “average” could be for the learner persona. We were able to hear first-hand what skills were needed to perform their job, what struggles were inherent, what they were doing while not talking (e.g. looking up information, pre-filling in information, taking notes) which we could not have observed if we were not physically present.
  4. We also had 1:1 interviews with select employees to get insight into their motivations, aspirations and frustrations.

Besides qualitative data, se also looked at quantitative data such as:

  • The number of employees, their tenure, their past role at the company
  • Their percentage completeness on past eLearning training as measured in the LMS.
  • Their aggregate scorecard metrics vs. the stated goals and vs. prior years

Through this quantitative and qualitative data gathering process, we also realized some of our information gaps that we hadn’t anticipated. It would have been great to listen on a coaching conversation to see what type of support they get from their manager, but this was not feasible, and the results would have been skewed. So instead we sought this information indirectly.

As an alternative, we talked with senior management to get a feel for the level of support these front-line employees received and why. In our case, their level of support was adequate because the team was still new and not operating at a frantic pace. Furthermore, the employees were hand-picked for this team as they had demonstrated track records of success. Through that senior management conversation, we also were able to grasp a sense of the employee’s overall challenges and learned things like how they deal with ambiguity in their role as many processes are not defined.

We then validated this information with second interviews with select employees. It would have been great if we had built these questions in from the start, as this would have avoided the re-work of asking employees further questions.

B. Insight Generation

Next, we had a small internal team meeting with the two people who were present for the qualitative research and the other three people on the team who were not. We discussed, shared and aligned our findings and asked each other a lot of questions.

For our learner persona example, we used the learner persona templates to organize our insights and findings. We used judgement to fill in the gaps as we inevitably had incomplete information.

C. Persona Creation

We then used the learner persona data and, through discussions and task division, we came up with a name for our learner, a photo, and a back-story. We divided our small team into two and one half searched for suitable images and a name and the other group created a story about the needs of the learner using a template similar to the one I have shared at conferences. We re-grouped and presented our findings, changing it based on our conversation.

After this messy iterative process of discussion and alignment, we came out with our learner “Aleeyah” who represented our savvy, skilled call centre specialist who was driven by her scorecard and a desire to get promoted. Keen to collaborate within the hours of her shift, but seeing training as a mandatory, antiquated form of learning and drudgery, we were able to bring her to life.

D. Persona Use

We used these insights to shape our learning solution (and other future learning solutions for this group). We ended up cutting a lot of the formal e-learning, which we originally had planned. Instead, we replaced it with easier-to-access e-books that had practical, application-focused activities. We also chose more peer activities, recommended updating the call centre’s SharePoint site for better process documentation and developed job aids for pinning up at their desks. These are elements that we wouldn’t have necessarily recommended before the learner persona activity. At every turn asking: ‘What would Aleeyah?’ think helped us make the training more relevant to the learners’ needs.

Your Turn

More than just having a picture of who you are designing for in mind, learner personas create a sense of understanding and empathy for the learner. The learner persona tool provides an opportunity for L&D teams to quickly share ideas and research to develop a backstory, such as Aleeyah’s, that is employed in every step of creating the training program. After seeing our learner persona example, it’s now your turn to try a learner persona and share back how it goes.