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March 10, 2014

Engage your end-users with a "Persona-based Learning Approach"

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In an earlier blog, I wrote about "engaging your end-users" in the transformational journey from start to finish.  I explained that by doing so you would help to drive ownership and adoption among your end-user groups.  In another earlier blog, I pleaded with you to stop clinging to outdated train-the-trainer and point and click application simulation based learning as these approaches have not kept paced with the speed of change and the ways end-users REALLY learn and want to consume learning content.  In this blog, I am going to share with you a new method of learning I call "Persona-based Learning" that brings end-user engagement and adoption to a whole new level.  Persona-based Learning is about putting the learner (end-user) at the center of the transformational journey through the use of real life business scenarios brought to life through short, engaging, high impact animated videos.  Read on to learn more...


There is no denying the fact that the business world has significantly changed - engagement models for customers, suppliers, business partners, and even employees have all gone digital.  The applications, technologies, and even devices that businesses use to engage each of these groups has or is moving to the cloud and has or is going mobile.  Furthermore, organizations are breaking down walls between departments, business units, geographies, business partners, and especially consumers, all in an attempt to enable more collaboration and social engagement.  These new realities (cloud, mobile, social) are being driven more and more by the experiences, behaviors, and high expectations of two key generations in the workforce and buying public today who have grown up on technology and fully expect to operate at the speed of the digital world.  They are highly mobile and highly social, and they expect and loudly demand the same from the companies they work for, do business with, and engage with from a consumer perspective. 


In this digital world, the way people consume information and learn has also significantly changed - it too is cloud-based, mobile and social.  Today, people seek answers to immediate questions by turning to their favorite search engine to find wiki-type answers, to view video and audio clips, and to connect with others interested in the same topic or question to share experiences and seek advice. 


I know this all too well in my own home:  When a question is raised ("what does xxx mean, or how do I do yyy") by someone in our family that does not have an immediate answer, my wife instinctively and instantly turns to Google on her smartphone or tablet and I turn to YouTube for help.  This happens dozens of times throughout the day with amazing ease, simplicity, and positive impact to our lives.  In the world today, learning is done at the point of need, and content is sought that is highly visual and contextualized to our specific situation, and our learning experiences are increasingly mobile and social in nature. 


Clearly, new learning approaches today must be mobile accessible, socially engaging, dynamic, contextually relevant, personalized, fun and engaging.  WOW, that's a mouth full.  But what about our so-called traditional training approaches, don't they work?  They must, right?  Because, it would seem, that everyone is following the same model for teaching end-users new business processes and new applications and systems.  That is, building libraries of content that sit on the shelf or in learning management systems (LMSs) virtually untouched by the various end-users they were intended to support.  Let's look at this traditional training approach a bit closer while keeping in mind what we have already discussed about the digital world.


Our traditional methods of building and delivering training content are clearly outdated and out of step with the digital world that we all live and work in every day.  These traditional training techniques focus on teaching new business processes and applications from a technologist's point of view (the folks who build and implement new systems).  That is, through the use of technical flow-charts and system diagrams depicting business process flows on PowerPoint slides delivered by a subject matter expert in a classroom or virtual classroom.  To build "engaging and self-paced" content, the traditional method would have us load these same technical flow-chart diagrams into eLearning authoring tools, add voice-over narration to replace the live classroom instructor, add a few drag-and-drop interactions, and maybe even a few questions.  And finally, in an overly used technique, to teach end-users how to use new systems, the traditional methods would have us build what are commonly referred to as application simulations - point-and-click video-based screen captures - whose sole benefit is to show how to enter data into an online form. 


During a typical large ERP transformation, the traditional method would have us build hundreds of these application simulations and dozens of these technical flow-chart driven PowerPoint decks.  However, the "context" from the learner or end-user perspective is missing.  For any of this training content to be of use, the learner must first, on their own, figure out the "context."  How does any of this apply to me, in my job, in my department, in my part of the world, with the internal and external people and groups that I work with? How does this help me serve my customers better? How will this help me and my company achieve our goals? And many more "context"-related questions.  No, I am not saying that we should abandon these traditional training techniques or stop building these kinds of training artifacts all together.   What I am saying is we need a new training approach that is in step with the digital world and digital training consumer (learner or end-user).  So let's take a look at a new model that I call "persona-based learning". 


With persona-based learning, we are shifting from learning modules based on system screenshots and point-and-click application simulations to short dynamic animated vignettes based on key Personas and User Journey Maps that depict key impacted workforce roles engaged in detailed day in the life scenarios.


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Persona-based Learning programs are designed from defined User Journey Maps that engage key personas in scenarios of the to-be organization in animated vignettes.  Each persona-based learning program is context-driven and tangibly addresses the way each individual (learner / end-user) will understand and experience a change or new ways of working.  This new approach to learning creates a personalized learning perspective that is better able to help learners to answer the age old adoption questions - "What's changing for me" and "What's in it for me".  The persona-based learning approach is concise, contextual, and dynamic, allowing today's learners to engage in a relevant and visual storyline about new ways of working that directly impact them.  Persona-based Learning programs are mobile and socially-enabled through a cloud-based personal learning environment which allows for on-demand, flexible training that is highly interactive and engaging.  Role-based characters allow end-users to identify themselves in their new activities and responsibilities. 


Here are a few examples of persona-based learning programs:


·         Image a retail store associate empowered with a tablet device and access to a library of short (3-5min) persona-based learning programs.  When they are not directly assisting a customer, this retail store associate is able to access these animated vignettes.  One in particulate would demonstrate the proper way to engage a customer, search inventory from other store locations via the new seamless inventory system, and complete the sale including verifying at-home shipping of the merchandise.  The primary benefits of this vignette are to improve confidence in the retail store associates and improve in-store sales while driving a more rewarding customer experience.


·         In another example, imagine an outside sales rep that has a few minutes before her next client meeting.  While sitting in the parking lot, she is able to access her library of short (3-5min) persona-based learning programs using her tablet device.  In her case, she selects one that will help her to address client objections to purchasing a particular product.  She is able to engage a mock sales call with a particularly difficult client and see how to address his objections and to successfully close the sale.


·         And finally, in yet another example, a demand planner in a manufacturing facility in unsure whether to trust the data coming from a new demand planning and forecasting application.  He accesses his personal learning environment from his desktop computer to launch a persona-based learning program that demonstrates via an animated vignette the importance of proper demand forecasting and the effects on the overall business in a given region.  In this vignette, he is able to engage and visualize the impact of proper and poor demand planning across multiple sales groups and manufacturing facilities in a region.  He is able build his confidence in the system, the data that is flowing through the system, and how it impacts decision making and key business performance indicators. 


With persona-based learning, we create a personal learning environment filled with context-sensitive, engaging day in the life animated video vignettes that are mobile and social-enabled which deliver a more impactful learning experience for each learner.


What do you think about Persona-based Learning or other new digital learning approaches?  Share your experiences!


          - Michael Hendrix, Partner - Organizational Transformation, Consulting & Systems Integration