The target group’s voice

What do our users actually want?

What do our users actually want?

At a recent brainstorm session, I heard myself say: ‘When I go to Netflix, I always open my recommendations immediately, using that little bell at the top.’

Oops! At that very moment, I broke rule number one of user experience design: never take yourself as a benchmark. This false consensus effect is tempting: we easily overestimate the extent to which our opinions, convictions, preferences and habits are typical of other people.

Know thy user

During the design activities, your target group should be essential, not you or those who happen to be your co-designers. There is a reason why much jargon begins with ‘user’: User Experience, User Interface, User Interaction. Understandably, learning solutions often begin with ‘learner’. As a learning designer you always have to be aware that people can only learn in the best way possible if they are offered the right environment and means.

Target group research is essential here. How is the attention of these employees retained? What does this team do on an average day? Which means do they use? When exactly? When do they get stuck? Why? The success of your learning solution depends on how well you can fathom the answers to these questions.

The Learner’s Voice

What would happen if you added up the needs of these various target groups? Would there be a common denominator? Could we use them as objective basic principles for our learning solutions?

The Digital Learning Consortium has an answer to the first question. It sounded out more than 5,000 adult learners, spread across 114 countries and active in 15 fields of work, about their preferences concerning (digital) learning.

I summarise the highlights and points for attention below.

1. Personalised learning via AI

Everybody is pressed for time, and learners are no exception. We all look for ways to achieve a meaningful and applicable learning result as fast and efficiently as possible. In short, the holy grail of learning.

They want a fully tailored learning experience to fit it into the flow of work and life.

But how? Artificial intelligence (AI). Many respondents describe some kind of learning companion that continuously performs analyses for gaps in your knowledge and skills and very specifically adjusts your learning supply accordingly. Also when you are looking for information, AI should help you achieve personal results quickly. It is interesting that not only learners but alsoL&D professionals identify this as a major theme for the next few years. So we and our target group are on the same wavelength her

2. Work-transcending learning via learning records

Learners not only look for personalised learning in their work; they should also like to have a learning record that travels with them throughout their career as some super learning CV, if you like.

If you have an object in mind that goes beyond your current tasks or job, you can use such a record to focus more specifically on your learning process as a professional. It could even move beyond your professional context, since learning experiences outside your work also contribute to your development.

It sounds like something everybody can use. Again we can ask: how? A learning record travelling with you requires industry-wide efforts to make learning results transferrable. There is no lack of ideas: there are proposals to set up Learning Record Stores (LRS) and to log learning activities via the xAPI model. In practice, however, implementing this type of standard and the technology that goes with it is a slow and laborious process.

3. Privacy concerns

When reading the above, you may think (like I do): ‘That’s all well and good, but...’ Probably, you have the same concern as many of the 5,000 respondents: what about my privacy?

This shows that the big learning data medal has two sides: the more data we collect, the more convenience and efficiency this affords, but also the bigger the risk of data abuse. Analysing everything you do easily causes the feeling that you are no longer allowed to make mistakes or mess about. After all, the data will tell in great detail. This in turn can be abused by a manager who assesses your job performance, a misunderstood colleague who wants to have you fired, or competitors who want to damage your company image. AI and LRS need far-reaching personal supervision over who has what kind of access to this data and when. Of course this is not only a current need in learning, but it is a recurrent theme in today’s world.

4. One place to learn longer

One of the worst frustrations among learners is that learning does not take place at one place. As many as 78% indicate that learning should be at one place. Something should be done about learning activity fragmentation across various platforms, apps and other channels: they want a single, comprehensive portal that is accessible from any device.

One of the more surprising findings from this report is in line with this wish: there is no preference for micro-learning of several minutes. Professionals would rather learn for a longer period (20-45 minutes) and with more focus than in many brief sessions in between, where they have no other choice but to start a new little piece of learning every time again.

It should be noted that this survey is based on self-reporting, where preference is not always consistent with actual behaviour. I wonder if the longer option of focused learning leads to better learning results than the short, varied interactions in a well-designed learning flow. This need also depends on the context: perhaps short interventions (e.g. performance support) are appreciated in on-the-job situations.

What does the collective voice say?

In summary, what exactly does the average learner want? What do we have to take into account in all of our learning solutions?

At any rate, the learning process has to be tailored precisely to the needs of the specific individual. Not from the learner’s department, job or organisation, but tailored on the basis of individual behaviour, measured over a longer period of time. We want a learning aid for life, which knows us well and which offers us what we were looking for in one click, swipe or command – even things we were looking for unknowingly. This should only be possible if no one has access to the highly personal and sensitive data required for this aid. This is quite a need.

There will always be questions about the feasibility of meeting this need within the restrictions of time and money. Be that as it may, I will try to ignore my own frame of reference at my next brainstorm session and take this fundamental need as a major point of departure.

(And now a quick Netflix recommendations check.)

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