Thursday, May 5, 2011

Power of Learner Analysis

When I starting writing this blog, I posted 'Why I like doing what I do'. Every other juncture in my life, I continue to reflect on why I like doing what I do and surprising my list only grows longer.

Understanding the inner workings for the learner
I think the importance of learner analysis is understated. There is so much we can learn by talking to the people we are designing the training for. The more obvious results are training needs, but what interests me more is the psyche of the learner. When you meet 'real' people with 'real ideologies and beliefs', you know before hand what will work and what won't.

I recently conducted face-to-face interviews with learners from an automobile research and development company. The management knew that they wanted training on time management. Now, when I heard time management, I thought of a noisy company with overworked staff who are continuously missing deadlines. I was in for a pleasant surprise. After I spoke to 5 people, I began to see a trend. This organization had a dream work culture and ideal work timings. Being a European company, working late was frowned upon and working over weekends was a sure no. As I walked through the office to reach the cafeteria during the lunch break, I was stunned by the hushed tones and the 'quiet'. I remember thinking to myself, the biggest distraction at work must be the silence. :) So, why did they need a session on time management? Well, as I spoke to people I realized that while the work culture and timelines was relaxed, they still missed deadlines. Therefore, it was important for the people to understand the value of time and how they can manage their self better.

If my trainer had gone into the training program without knowing this, we may have delivered a canned training program with the 4 quadrants and prioritizing theories. It is important to understand what makes the learners tick and then build a program that will be effective.

Strategies for any training are thought of as a result of learner analysis. Understand the people, the need and then device the solution. We designed a product training for sales force of an MNC. The product was meant to help smokers quit smoking.We realized that the learners had to empathize with the smokers to understand why people were addicted and then how the product works. We designed a case study approach where we introduced a couple and helped learners understand that while a smoker may want to quit, it is not an easy task. But, how can we help him? This made the problem of smoking very real and therefore, learning of how the product works was very useful.

This is why I love doing what I do. Every project I work on is different from the other. A client of ours once fell love with a course we had designed for another client. They told us you can follow the same style. But, did we? No! It is easy right, follow the same strategy, don't use your brains too much. After all, CLIENT requested it. After we spoke to the learners, the strategy, automatically fell in place. It was not only visually different, but also in terms of the instructional strategy used. The instructional strategy is dependent on the work culture, the people, and the learning objective. Work culture plays an extremely crucial role and it would help to understand this well enough before you storyboard. In this organization, the hierarchy was very clear. If I am the manager, you listen. Knowing this helped us design really good scenarios that people could relate to.  

During lunch break of the time management training session, two really sweet participants kept me company. During small talk, they wanted to know what I do. I explained that I was an instructional designer and so on. One of them asked me, 'How do you decide which session should be elearning and which ILTs?' Now, the real answer to this (as it happens in most organizations) is the client decides based on their own logic and budgets. Some of the weirdest reasons I have heard are:
  • 'Learning is effective only when it is face-to-face. There has to be a human contact.'
  • 'People don't take onus of learning and therefore, have to be put in a classroom.'
  • 'Complicated topics have to be tackled by experts face-to-face.'
I have designed strategies for both eLearning and ILTs and have immense respect for both. What should be the deciding factors?

  • If you want to discuss personal issues such as workplace violence, sexual harassment, conflict management, personal hygiene and so on, eLearning is possible your solution. Why? Because learners may not come out and discuss these topics. With eLearning, they can reflect on these in their own space and be honest to themselves.
  • If you want to the people in the office to mix with each other and (like most companies in India) do not have social media support, you can arrange an ILT. People come and share their experience and learn from each other as well as from the session. It helps for them to understand that there are people who experience similar things. 
  • If you want a refresher, eLearning works like a dream. The content can be really crisp and always available for people as they work.
  • When you want sustainability of learning, it has to be a blended approach. Learning is most effective when it is holistic. 
  • Finally, I think both work extremely well, if designed right. 
 All the effort we put into learner analysis pays off when we sit behind our learners and watch them take our course during learner testing. We always get inputs and value ads, but till date we have never been off our mark. Recently, we got a rating of 6.5 out of 7 for our course and it was reason enough for all of us to rejoice. If learners like it, we have understood them well and designed for them. The satisfaction you feel for doing your job right is incomparable. So, do you understand the inner workings of your learner?