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Include Learners in Audience Analysis for Better Instructional Design

Posted by Brian Ziemba on January 4, 2017

steel worker.jpgRarely are the learners—the folks actually working in the job day to day—asked for their input into shaping learning deliverables. These are people who may have an intimate knowledge of the content, and at the very least, they can provide a voice to help shape and focus the training on what learners really need to know. 

Often, the audience of learners has no idea that a performance solution is even being developed—it's created and delivered from the top down. But there are many good reasons to request and consider learner input during the audience analysis and instructional design phases.

For starters, the people doing the job can provide a more complete picture of how the new task or knowledge will fit into their work processes. This valuable intelligence can help instructional designers push back against the "everything including the kitchen sink" approach often requested by subject matter experts. Additionally, the change management component of the learning intervention rollout can be better planned with advance knowledge of how it will ultimately be received and used by the target audience.

Conduct a Comprehensive Audience Analysis

At the outset of the project, press stakeholders for a thorough learner analysis. Directly interview a representative sample of learners, making sure to include participants from each affected department and role. Every audience group brings different perspectives, challenges, and needs, and by listening to all of them, you can design a more holistic intervention that addresses those challenges.

Watch the Webinar: A Learning Leader’s Guide to Cohesive Content CurationStart by talking to a department or team manager separately from their reports. Ask questions with the goal of identifying performance gaps and to gain insight into how top performers achieve their goals, and what common struggles new hires might face. Additionally, if you haven't done so already, use this opportunity to determine exactly how the learning intervention will help achieve business objectives, and the relevant metrics that need to be measured to determine impact.

Your discussion with management serves another purpose: to begin building a representative cohort of learners. Find out who the top performers are, as well as some of the newer team members who have shown promise. Perhaps even include a brand-new hire, especially if the organization has a high turnover rate.

Once you've identified the participants, decide on the best way to learn from them. Being on site to observe a day in the life of their work is ideal, but time consuming and possibly unrealistic; phone interview or video chat might be a more effective option. Seek to understand how they use existing performance support solutions, job aids, and training materials, how they use technology, and what practical challenges they encounter during the workday. 

Ask questions for an even deeper audience analysis, including:
  • How do you feel you perform at your job?
  • What tools do you use to help you be successful?
  • What challenges do you face regularly?
  • How were you trained to do your job, and how effective was that training?
  • How do you think this new learning solution will impact you?

Weigh their responses against your own observations, as well as the feedback from their managers. If there are incongruities, that may signal an underlying performance improvement need that can't be solved by training.

After conducting this thorough audience analysis, you should have a more complete picture of the need for training, the performance tasks around it, and how it will impact the learners. You can refine your performance objectives to focus the learning on how it will be used and how it will tie to achieving business goals. All of this will make the learning content richer and more realistic. You'll also have a better idea of what supplemental performance support materials are needed, as well as other tangential performance needs that should be addressed in future initiatives.

Finally, as part of the instructional design process, remember to beta test the deliverables with a representative sample of learners. Ask for constructive feedback, including whether it was practical and realistic for their needs and the needs of their colleagues. Even if it is too late to overhaul the deliverable, you may be able to identify minor tweaks to improve it.

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Topics: Instructional Design

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