Learning Leaps Part 4: Using empathy to uncover the needs of your learners

Welcome to another edition of Learning Leaps, where I’ll be sharing lessons learned from my first 16 months as a product manager at Pluralsight.

While transitioning into a Product Manager role, one of the biggest responsibilities of my role became leading my team through a human-centered design process in order to deliver meaningful learning experiences to our customers.

That’s why for this weeks Learning Leaps, I’ll be taking a deeper look into how learning practitioners can use empathy to help uncover the needs of their learners.

A human-centered approach to learning

After spending the past 9 years designing and delivering learning experiences, I was no stranger to the need to connect to learners in order identify their needs. Historically, I spent a lot of time using the ADDIE framework (analyze, design, develop, implement, and evaluate) to create the learning that I was creating. This all came to a head during 2016, when I transitioned to the user experience team at the company I was working for.

My time on the team exposed me to using a human-centered approach to solving problems. For those unfamiliar, human-centered design is an approach that focuses on building a deep empathy with the people you’re creating for, using brainstorming and ideation to identify possible solutions, sharing your ideas with your audience to get their feedback, and then eventually pushing your solution out into the world.

By incorporating this approach into the way that I was already working, I was able to iterate quicker and truly connect to the needs of the learners I was serving. Since moving into Product Management at Pluralsight, I’ve seen the true power of human-centered design in action. Part of my daily role is leading a team through the human-centered design process in order to deliver impactful experiences to our learners. I’ve become such a huge advocate for this framework that I wanted to share some tips and tricks for how other practitioners can incorporate this framework into how they design and deliver learning experiences.

Tips to use empathy while creating learning experiences

Identify your purpose for connecting with learners

As I shared during the last Learning Leaps article, learning interventions are proposed solutions to help solve performance problems inside of an organization. Thats why before you jump into meeting directly with learners, you’ll want to first take a step back to determine the outcomes you’re hoping for.

Some questions you may want to ask yourself are:

  • What is the current performance taking place? What is the ideal performance the organization is looking for?
  • What are my learners backgrounds?
  • What am I looking to find out by connecting with learners?
  • What decisions am I looking to make with the information that I find out?
  • How many learners do I need to connect with in order to get an accurate picture of what is happening?

Determine the best way to connect with your learners

Once you have your intentions nailed down, you can start to identify questions that you’d like to ask learners and determine the best way to connect with them.

Where I am in the discovery process, will usually impact the type of method I might use to gain empathy with my learners. For example, if i’m trying to identify the problems I’m looking to solve for customers, I’ll usually use some type of qualitative research method like sending out surveys, conducting interviews, or focus groups. If i’m trying to gain a better idea of how a learning solution is already performing, I might use some type of quantitative measure.

Below are some things I keep in mind when choosing the best way to connect with learners:

SurveysSurveys can sometimes get a bad rap because of overuse and poorly written questions.

They’re a great tool if you’re looking to collect data from a large group of people or identify trends over time.

I’ll often send out a survey to identify general themes from my audience and help narrow down participants that I may want to interview in person.
InterviewsInterviews are a great way to meet directly with learners and ask them about their needs, motivations, and preferences.

It can take some time to recruit, conduct, and synthesize information from interviews so be sure you schedule enough time in your process.
Focus GroupsFocus groups can be a helpful tool if you’re looking to facilitate a group discussion around the area you’re exploring.

As learning practitioners, we often conduct focus groups without even realizing it. It could be in the form of a group discussion or debrief at the end of a course or training session.

In any case, they’re a helpful way of getting feedback from multiple learners at the same time. Just watch out for any bias that this may cause!

Regardless of the method you choose, connecting with your learners doesn’t have to be a labor-intensive process. Connecting with only 5-7 learners can help you to notice themes and trends that may be occurring.

Practice mindful communication

Once you’re able to connect directly with learners, remember to practice mindful communication. This might include being mindful of asking non-leading questions, asking open ended questions, embracing silence, and keeping your reactions neutral when learners are responding to you.

Synthesis always takes longer than you think it will

Finally, once you’re done speaking with your learners, you’ll want to synthesize your findings into a way that is manageable for you and your team. I find that incorporating stakeholders in your synthesis process is a great way to get buy-in from them when you’re designing solutions later on.

One general rule of thumb when conducting synthesis is that it always takes longer than you think it’s going to. I’ll usually try to schedule a block of time on my teams calendar for the session.

Some questions you may want during the session might include:

  • What were our expectations going into this?
  • Are we surprised by what learners told us?
  • How does what we learned impact decisions related to our experience?
  • Whats the best way to communicate what we learned to others?

Do you have any tips for others on how to use empathy to meet the needs of their learners? Post them in the comments below!

Be sure to check out the final edition of Learning Leaps where we’ll be diving the need for learning science in technology products offered today.

Learning Leaps Part 3: Using data to make informed training decisions

Welcome to another edition of Learning Leaps, where I’ll be sharing lessons learned from my first 16 months as a product manager at Pluralsight. Since transitioning into Product Management, one of the biggest lessons I’ve had to learn was about how to use data to make decisions related to learning products. Thats why for this week’s Learning Leaps, I’ll be taking a deeper look into how data can be used to make informed training decisions.

Data in learning (a curious past)

After spending the past 9 years designing and delivering learning experiences, I was no stranger to using data to improve learning. When I first started out in the industry, this data came in the form of “smile sheets” or feedback forms that was presented to learners at the end of a training program. This form would asks learners about their perception and reaction to the learning program that they just attended.

In general, these sheets are a great way to let learners know that we respected their opinions and wanted to know about their overall satisfaction with the learning experience. As my time in the industry went on, I found myself getting more and more frustrated with these forms because satisfaction with learning does not equal learning.

Over time, some of the companies I worked for moved beyond the simple collection of satisfaction scores and measured things like assessment scores or behavioral change. But overall, this was few and far between.

At the same time, there was an increased growth in technology platforms entering the learning industry. These platforms housed digital learning experiences and began to provide practitioners with more insights into how audiences were interacting with their experiences. It was an exciting time to be in learning!

My relationship with learning data underwent another change when I moved into learning experience design, and more recently my PM role at Pluralsight. So I decided to put together a few tips that I’ve learned over the past year that I hope will inspire others while they’re thinking about how data can help inform their learning interventions.

Tips on how to use data to make informed training decisions

Learning interventions are experiments

First and foremost, at their very core, learning interventions are experiments.

Whether it’s instructor led training, elearning, or another solution; a learning intervention is a proposed solution to help solve a performance problem inside of an organization. Ideally, it’s been proposed because there is some type of current behavior taking place that is not aligning with the desired behavior of the organization. After some type of analysis, a practitioner has determined that learning might be a potential solution to help encourage the outcomes the organization is looking for.

As learning practitioners, this means we cannot guarantee that learning will indeed be successful to deliver those outcomes. However, if we take an experimental approach to designing learning experiences we may be able to increase the likelihood that it might succeed. Taking an experimental approach means taking the time to identify the outcomes you’re hoping to implement, clarifying our hypothesis and assumptions, and determining how you’ll measure success. If you don’t determine these things from the outset, you will never be able to identify whether you’ve been successful or not.

Measure enough data to make a decision

Once you have a better idea of the outcomes you’re looking to drive, you’ll then be able to use data to help guide any decisions related to your interventions.

You can use data while you’re in discovery or identifying the problems you’re looking to solve for customers. Typically this type of data might include qualitative research like conducting surveys or observations.

You can also collect evaluative data after your solution has been released into the wild to help you assess how well it’s solving the audiences problem. Based on your overall goals, these could mean measuring things like drop-off rate, learning impact, retention rates, and more.

Whatever your reasons for measurement are, it’s important to remember that the goal of measurement in learning is to gather enough data to make a decision. It is not to collect ALL of the data you possibly can to be absolutely certain of something. If you’ve gathered enough data to make a decision and you keep collecting data, then you’ve gone too far.

Storytelling with data is a skill

Once you’ve collected some type of data is where the fun part comes in. Storytelling! Take the time to think about the story you’re looking to tell to your stakeholders. Ask yourself things like:

  • What were my expectations going into this?
  • Am I surprised by what the data is telling me?
  • What do my stakeholders care about?
  • What decisions am I trying to influence?
  • Whats the best way to convey this to others?

Have this information feed into the way that you craft your story and any decisions you make based off of the data you’ve collected. Remember that anyone can collect metrics and simply report them but it takes skills to turn that data into a story that truly resonates with others.

Do you have any tips for others on how to use data to make informed training decisions? Post them in the comments below!

Be sure to check out next week’s Learning Leaps where I’ll be diving into how to use empathy to uncover the needs of your learners.

Lessons Learned from DevLearn 2019

Last week I attended The eLearning Guild’s DevLearn conference in Las Vegas, NV. It was my second time attending the event (my previous visit was in 2016). For those who haven’t attended a DevLearn conference before, it is a 3 day event where practitioners in the industry gather to discuss industry trends, best practices, and tips and tricks. On top of all of that, the guild also offers 2 days of pre-conference workshops for those looking to expand their skills even more.

Overall, I’m a big fan of the guild events. They’re actually my favorite in the industry to attend. It’s a great opportunity to connect with others, see what their working on, and share stories. I always come back with key nuggets that I cant wait to share with my team. This trip was no exception, below are a few highlights from the trip:

I LOVE my learning network!

First and foremost it must be said. I love my learning network! At this years DevLearn, I was able to meet some amazing people that I’ve been chatting with online for years now (like Tim Slade, Cara North, and Nick Floro).

Spending time with Matthew Pierce & Cara North at Demo Fest

I spent time with some of my former teammates at The Predictive Index. I also met others who are creating learning experiences for industries completely different than mine, such as emergency response and law. It is an amazing experience when you’re connect with others who share the same passion as you. You’re able to learn from their each others experiences, discuss differences, and challenges. It just goes to show how much of a common thread learning and education truly is.

Industry Trends

Overall, I attended about 15+ sessions over a span of 3 days and noticed some trends occurring in the industry:

AI is coming and as learning professionals we need to adapt.

There was a-lot of talk about whether AI is going to take over the future of work or not. This was definitely highlighted by the fact that one of the main keynoters was Sophia, the Robot. The key takeaway from these discussions is that AI will absolutely transform the way we do our work. It has the potential to automate many of the manual processes we do in our work , like capturing screenshots, creating step by step instructions for job-aids, helping write assessment questions, and curating learning content. As practitioners, this will leave us with time to do more of the creative work we love – YAY!

The rise of Learning Data is here!

With the rise of xAPI over the past few years, many in the industry are beginning to think more critically of their learning data. In total, there were over 13 sessions focused solely on data and measurement! I actually attended a pre-conference workshop with Sam Rogers of SnapSynapse about How to Make Better Training Decisions with Your Learning Data.

One of the major takeaways I got from Sam’s session is that in order to truly track the impact of our learning interventions, we need to take time from the outset to identify the outcomes and behaviors were looking to change. If we don’t know this, how will we know if were successful?

Additionally, one major area is the collection of data but what happens next? This is where the beauty of storytelling comes in. As practitioners, we need to think about the what our stakeholders care about, what decisions are we trying to influence with our data, and what is the best way to convey this to them?

There is a difference between learning strategy and product strategy

By far, the biggest takeaway for me came during Frank Nguyen’s guided panel discussion on Transforming from Learning Professional to Learning Leader. Frank and the panel highlighted the importance that as learning leaders we need to force others to think about the instructional strategy rather than immediately jumping to solutioning. This means identifying the true performance problems taking place, advocating for the learners and their needs, and determining an instructional strategy and experiences that support that. Learning is not simply defined by one up learning events but rather an entire ecosystem and all of their parts working together.

Overall, DevLearn was such a great experience. I’m so grateful to meet many of my friends in person. I can also say, i’m really happy to be home in my introvert cave with my cats. I look forward to seeing everyone at Learning Solutions in March 2020!

Moving from Instructional Design to Learning Experience Design

Last week I was fortunate to participate in the Transitioning from ID to Learning Experience Design session that was part of the Training, Learning, and Development Community Playlist. Matt Sustatia and I spoke about the growing use of the term Learning Experience Design and how Instructional Designers can make the jump to LXD.

The session was absolutely amazing and I couldn’t wait to share some of the insights learned throughout the session!

 

What is Learning Experience Design?

I would define Learning Experience Design as the practice of creating learning experiences that enables learners to achieve a desired performance outcome. Learning Experience Design uses an iterative approach that focuses on understanding the users challenges and experiences to design iterative solutions to help solve their needs.

This doesn’t mean limiting learning experiences to formal learning that take place in a school or classroom. Quite the opposite, learning experiences can take place anywhere; at home, while working, or on the go.

Learning Experience Designers focus on the holistic learning experience and what the learner is going through. This means that rather than simply focusing on designing curriculum or instruction, the learning experience designer will consider the learner and everything they’re experiencing. They’ll then use that information to create solutions such as:

  • content (what does the learner need to do in order to perform a task)
  • the look and feel of the learning experience
  • materials
  • communication about the content
  • how the learner interacts with the content

 

What skills can IDers grow to move into LXD?

With any job, the actual responsibilities that someone carries out can truly vary from company to company. Learning Experience Design is no different!

I made the jump to Learning Experience Design roughly a year ago after moving to the User Experience team within my organization. The move made me responsible for designing in-product learning experiences for users of our software platform. With the transition, I’ve been able to work on some pretty exciting projects like designing in-software user onboarding for our beta software, designing wireframes, and user flows for new features, low fidelity prototypes of product features, and UX Content.

I’ve talked to many other learning experience designers who design all different types of learning experiences including elearning and instructor led training. Regardless of your background, I’ve noticed a few skills that can come in handy with making the transition to learning experience.

 

Practice Design Thinking

Most instructional Designers are very familiar with using the traditional ADDIE model to create learning experiences. Design Thinking is actually an almost identical process – you can see this by simply comparing the ADDIE and Design Thinking graphics below.

Screen Shot 2018-09-02 at 6.29.13 AM.png
Instructional Design ADDIE Model

 

Screen Shot 2018-09-02 at 6.29.19 AM
Traditional UX Model: Design Thinking (Source)

 

Popularized by Tim Brown, David M Kelly, and Roger Martin; design thinking focuses on using a human-centered approach to solving problems. It’s helpful to take the holistic view of a problem to truly understand all the different aspects that a learner is going through and then determine a solution. Since moving I’ve started using design thinking to craft learning experiences, I’ve been able to iterate quicker and have started developing things like user personas, empathy maps, and journey maps.

 

Brush up on those design skills

I definitely see e-learning design as a huge jumping point into learning experience design. Brushing up on graphic design skills like how to incorporate color, typography, layout into designs will make a huge impact on your work. Interaction design will also have a huge impact on your work. I challenge those looking to make the transition to LXD to begin by thinking about the types of elearning interactions you want to provide your learners with. You may want to consider questions such as:

  • Whats the overall goal of this learning interaction?
  • How is the learner going to move through these screens in my lesson?
  • What happens if they click this button?
  • How will they see the results of this interaction?
  • What types of graphics should I include in this interaction?

 

Change is hard

Everyone knows that change is hard! I can tell you first hand that my transition to our UX team did not come easy. My way of thinking and working completely shifted. It taught me how to incorporate design thinking, user centered design, prototyping and iteration to my approach. I was forced to think more strategically about getting to the root of a users problem and identify their pain points. But with the change also came tons of insecurities, battling perfectionism, and cognitive load. I was fortunate enough to reach out to others in the industry, have supportive coworkers, and read tons of books that helped ease the transition. If you’re feeling hesitant about making the move to learning experience design, don’t be! Feel free to reach out for any tips and tricks as you embark on your journey.

 

Sources

Design Thinking 101. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nngroup.com/articles/design-thinking/

Dombrowski, R. (2018, April 15). Using Design Thinking to Craft Learning Experiences. Retrieved from https://robertamedia.com/2018/04/14/using-design-thinking-to-craft-learning-experiences/

The Training Learning and Development Community (2018, August). Instructional Design Playlist. Retrieved from https://www.crowdcast.io/e/id-playlist/4

My Love Affair with Task Analysis

My name is Roberta and I have a confession to make. I LOVE doing task analyses. I’m not even sure exactly when this love affair started. It makes sense when I really stop to think about it.  I’ve always loved processes, procedures, and organizing things. What better way to get my perfectionist tendencies out by writing laundry lists of instructions?

In fact, if you stop by my desk at any given time of the day, you’ll be sure to find a giant note to-do list written in order of how I plan to get things done. Now, I’m not advocating for my Type A tendencies by any means. My perfectionism can get me into a lot of trouble – it slows me down and makes me hyper focus on things that don’t matter. It’s also one of the many reasons why I’ve gained such an expertise with task analysis that have proven to be pivotal in my role as an instructional designer and now as a user experience designer.

What exactly is a task analysis?

A task analysis is exactly what it sounds like! It’s when you analyze a task in order to document step by step how it’s completed.

It might seem straight forward but even the simplest of things are very complex. I find that as soon as I start breaking things down into steps, there’s way more involved in a process or procedure than I originally thought.

A Multipurpose Tool

Task Analysis have become a mainstay in the instructional designers toolbox. Why? Instructional designers create training on how to do something and task analysis tell you the steps to do it.

I created a ton of task analysis when I was writing help articles for The Predictive Index help center a few years ago. Since I’ve moved into user experience, I’ve noticed task analysis popping up again but in a slightly different way.

User Experience Design is all about creating products. UX Designers will perform task analysis to gain an understanding of how users are performing tasks within their products, websites, or apps. This then enables a UX Designer to figure out where help might be needed or allow them to improve an existing feature or functionality. Since becoming a Learning Experience Designer, I find myself doing task analysis the most during requirements gathering. I’ll also use them when creating prototypes, wireframes, and performing usability tests.

A Simple Equation

Writing task analysis are super simple! Let’s look at some easy steps to help get you started.

Identify the task – The first thing you’ll want to do is identify the task you want to analyze. Tasks could include a process or procedure that someone does in order to perform. This could be anything from sending an email to tying your shoes. When picking a task to analyze you’ll want to be sure you describe it with an action verb.

Break down the task into subtasks – Next you’ll want to break your main task down into smaller chunks of the main task. These should be short, and again start with an action verb.

Identify steps in the subtasks – Finally, you’ll want to identify and list the steps for each of your subtasks. You can do this by breaking down the actions of the subtasks and placing them in chronological order. You’ll want to find a balance between providing users with just the right amount of information – not too much and not too little. Again, begin each subtask step with an action verb.

Below is an example of a task analysis from the University of Strathclyde. The analysis walks through the process of warming up a furnace. As you can see, when you begin to write out the steps you can see that there is more involved than one might think. It’s important to note that the university also did their task analysis in a flow diagram format. This format can be helpful to visually display a users flow to the audience.

891db68260e343d97dd6a381abc8ffa1
University of Strathclyde, Management Science Dept., Wikimedia. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Overall, task analysis are one of the most powerful tools in a learning and user experience designers toolbox.  Keep in mind when creating a task analysis, they should always be performed from the users perspective. It’s so easy to get started using a task analysis in your practice and once you do, you might find yourself in a love affair of your own!