How to do ‘User-Centred Design’ and ‘Performance Support’ in L&D

I read the terms ‘Design Thinking’, ‘User Experience’ and ‘Audience-Centricity’ a lot in L&D articles and blogs at the moment. At the same time a common objection I hear to speaking to the audience is, ‘they don’t know what they don’t know’.

The result is SME-led training where knowledge is cascaded down from the people ‘who know best’. This is affectionately known in the Learning and Performance Innovation team as ‘content dumping’. You probably refer to it as ‘knowledge transfer’, a traditional approach derived from the idea that one human being can ‘transmit’ information to another.

I drew this diagram to try and explain why speaking to a cross-section of the audience – rather than those who suffer from the ‘curse of knowledge’ – is the only sensible way to yield useful learning.

I’m going to assume that this is gobbledygook so let me walk you through it. Firstly, let’s assume that for every job there’s a baseline level of performance that you want every person in a particular role to achieve. Next, let’s assume that there’s a ‘capability gap’ which has been identified through a Training Needs Analysis or an Executive who’s good enough to keep an eye on the abilities of his/her staff. The idea is fairly simple, by asking, ‘what are you most concerned about’, and, ‘what do you find most challenging in your role’, you can find the moments where an individual will look for help.

This creates a ‘pull’ in learning you don’t get from SMEs telling people what they need to know. It drives engagement and builds advocates for your work in the employee population. Further, if you marry the ‘pull’ with the ‘push’ – the things that people think they’re already good at, or aren’t concerned about. You can create a complete picture of stuff people will ask for and share, and stuff people need to be convinced about to change their ways. A few tips for applying this approach:

1. Remember, don’t ask ‘what do you need’ or ‘what do you want’, ask what the learner’s challenges or concerns are. There’s the famous quote attributed to Henry Ford, ‘if I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse’. So Henry Ford understood the consumer challenges or concerns were related to how to get from one place to another as fast as possible. Consumers didn’t have the best solution but Henry knew they would buy something that solved those issues.

2. In any task there are pain points, it might be the software, process or people. Whatever it is, understanding audience challenges will help you identify the performance dips and also what you as an L&D professional needs to do to help the audience.

3. Any task can be broken down into a checklist, like a recipe. This can be supplement with experience which counts when a decision needs to be made. Experience takes time but can passed on through storytelling, ‘I did this and this went wrong, don’t do that’. In practice this looks like a series of interviews with SMEs where they share how they learned to do what they do.

You can hopefully see a picture developing of a better way to do L&D.

1. Identify the tasks that need to be performed for a role.

2. Find out where the audience is challenged or concerned.

3. Find out whether it’s an experience problem or a process problem.

4. Make something that will be helpful to your audience at point if need – think Google and YouTube, not a course.

5. Give your learners a tool which means they can access these resources when they need them – mobile Apps are usually a good place to start.

Et voilà, you have some ‘Performance Support’ developed through ‘User-Centred design’.


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