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Personas in Program Design

There is a new way to define the needs for each role within your workforce.

January 31, 2013
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Related Topics: Management, Blended Learning, Formal Learning, Learning Delivery, Informal Learning, Management
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The world has become highly interconnected, more mobile and more dynamic. Learning needs and opportunities now occur everywhere and at all times. As learning leaders we have to shift our design paradigm every few years as technology and work environments change.

In addition to these changes in our working environment, organizations are becoming more specialized and flatter. Success in business today requires a dynamic organization model that enables people to work as experts and to continuously improve their skills and experience.

This explains why Bersin & Associates’ 2012 “High-Impact Learning Organization” research identifies a critical new aspect of excellent learning programs: audience analysis. Only 14 percent of the organizations we surveyed this year told us they have an excellent understanding of the role, work environment, skills, culture, demographics and general behaviors of their learning audience.

Typically audience analysis is part of the “A” in the ADDIE model consisting of five phases: analysis, design, development, implementation and evaluation. Each step produces an outcome that informs and feeds into the next step in the process:
Analysis calls for the instructional problem to be defined, the instructional goals and objectives established and the learning environment to be described. Here you should perform audience analysis, understanding the learner’s existing knowledge, skills, needs and other relevant characteristics.

Design often includes building an instructional plan and then creating storyboards and prototypes, along with aspects such as the look and feel, graphic design, user interface and content.

Development includes the actual production of the content and learning materials based on the design phase.
Implementation is the program rollout, where we manage the learners’ progress and support them. Materials are delivered to the learners, and the training materials’ effectiveness is evaluated.

Evaluation includes various forms of learning, program and business evaluation to understand the program’s effectiveness, efficiency and impact. Typically there are two types of evaluations: Formative evaluation, which occurs during each stage of the ADDIE process; and summative evaluation, which measures the program’s effectiveness at meeting defined goals. It also provides opportunities for feedback from the users, which may then be used to make changes and improvements to the program.

Our research shows that today, with so many informal learning activities available, we must focus heavily on analysis. Rather than focus on one particular problem or learning objective alone, focus on the audience. This involves creating a persona.

A persona is a prototype or hypothetical person who characterizes a typical worker in your company. The persona has a name — such as Steve Smith, large account sales representative. You develop the persona through extensive workforce study, and create a small set of personas that represent common roles in the company. Development of such personas provides a great foundational starting point for any subsequent instructional design because it allows you to more concretely identify and define the needs and characteristics of each role within the learning audience.

Shell uses personas in its compliance training. The company has eight specifically designed personas for compliance training in its refining operations, and these personas are now used throughout the learning design and strategy process.

Marketing firms also use personas extensively. The persona has a picture, a name, a title, family, hobbies, a city he or she lives in and lots of distinguishing characteristics. Many companies create trading cards of these personas so they can use them extensively in program design and analysis.

When you develop a new sales training program, you should ask yourself, “would Steve Smith understand this? How well would he like it?” The continuous use of Steve and other personas gives your whole team a focus when building programs that have deep and continuous value to your audience.

The learning world has become more dynamic, continuous, mobile and focused on daily performance support. Personas are a powerful tool to help you understand your audiences better than ever before.

Josh Bersin is the principal and founder of Bersin by Deloitte. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.
With so many informal learning activities available, we must focus heavily on analysis.

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