Friday, September 02, 2016

10 deep dive questions to ask about LEARNERS before you start

The whole ‘Blended learning’ thing turned out to be an excuse for ‘Blended teaching’. It's largely used as an excuse for using teaching techniques you've used before with a couple of new things thrown in, whereas the promise had been delivery based on an analysis of learners and learning (the clue was in the second word – learning). To partly rectify this, here’s ten questions you may want to ask to inform your blend, questions about your learners. It’s easy to ignore learners when teaching but teaching, remember, is a means to an end, not an end in itself, and that end is learners and learning. 
Most methods of audience analysis focus on attributes such as age, gender, ethnicity and so on. Sure, you need to know whether you’re learners are children or adults and at what level in the education system but you need to take a deeper dive to get to the issues that inform design. So these are not the usual questions about age, gender, educational background and diversity. That’s dead easy – takes about five minutes. These are the questions that allow you to create, adjust and target your delivery to make it a success. These are the harder, more oblique questions that dig deeper.
1. Personas – mmm…
Personally, I’m not a fan of personas, named profiles of typical audience. You know the line, ‘This is Matt, he’s 23 and loves sports…..” They tend to focus too much on the average, which is dangerous with a wide and diverse audience. I’d much rather get some concrete ideas that will really shape the experience. Nevertheless, they can be useful as a means to communicate intention to a team. Each to their own and if you think this helps – OK by me.
2. Why?
Why? That’s a great question to start with. Why should they do this? Why should they learn this? Understand their motivations (or lack of) and you can respond accordingly. Is it compulsory? Do they care? Why should they take it seriously or even do it at all? Teachers and trainers tend to assume that people are gagging for learning – when much of it makes them gag.
3. What will they NOT like?
People love online stuff, that’s why 1.7 billion are on Facebook and online time is soaring. Yet they often recoil when they get very structured online learning. Why is this? Have a look at these 20 reasons why online learning sucks. You may be surprised to learn that they don’t want all of that jazzy graphics, animation, cartoons, beeps and gamification. Maybe they do. How can you find out what they don’t like? Ask them.
4. What will they like?
What would your target audience like to experience? Do they want the light touch or more solid, challenging learning?
You may be surprised when a bunch of engineers come back and say they want it straight, no frills. How can you find out what they want? Ask them.
5. How distributed are they?
If you have a highly distributed, global audience, you may wish to seriously consider the social side of learning. Or are they all on one site – makes blended learning a lot easier. Different time zones, different cultures, different languages are all issues you may have to wrestle with. Do you really want virtual classrooms across seven time zones? Or should the design be more asynchronous, so that all can access the experience in their own time. What has one location got than another does not? Can you leverage their differences?
6. Language(s)
This matters, especially when learners are taking a course in a second language (often English). This doesn’t mean dumbing it down but being smarter in the level of language you use and media mix. Take it easy on long sentences and jargon when it’s in the target audience’s second language. It may also influence media mix. Ultimately cultural and literal translation may be necessary. Think about this, as you can stay more culturally neutral. They may even want the learning in their second language, if that is the language of business or medicine.
7. Personality types?
Forget Learning Styles – they don’t exist. Let me repeat that – they don’t exist. Forget Myers Briggs – it’s a Ponzi scheme. What does matter is personality types. Are you dealing with extrovert sales people, largely introverted IT types, sceptical academics? The OCEAN (openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism) is a scheme that is well researched, stable and a good guide. Get a feel for this, as it will affect the language you use and media mix. This often uncovers features of the audience that relate directly to design in terms of language used, formality and images.
8. What went before?
How is training currently delivered? Are they used to full-day classroom courses? Do they have experience of online learning? People come with expectations and if you shatter those expectations, explain why. If this is a dramatic change you may have to consider marketing and change management issues.
9. Where do they learn?
Will they learn in a formal learning centre, at their desk, during class, in the library, at home, on the move, while commuting? It may be a combination of these. Know where they are likely to learn and tailor your design to that environment.
10. What time do they have for learning?
When will they learn? Do they have time off their normal work to do this? How much time will they have? This will determine the ‘chunking’ of the content as well as its target devices. If mobile, remember to keep the chunks short.
You can use what you have harvested here in your blended and online learning design. Tell your audience what you learned from them and why you’ve responded with the current solution. That would impress me – it should impress them. Beyond that, be sensitive not just to who, what, when and where they are but their deeper needs – what they want and how they can help you design your learning experiences.
For a further 500 learning design tips click here.

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