Consider this: You are conversing with Max on the phone. He asks you to describe your office space.
What would you do? You will probably mention the size of the room, the objects it has, the place where you’re sitting, your desk and so on.
Now, Let’s say Max was to visit you. How will you provide the required information for him to reach you? You’ll take the bird’s eye view of the map and provide him directions from his starting point. He lands at your city. Now you’ll begin with a statement like, “When you board the cab, take a left and then a right…”
Max reaches your workplace. You’ll provide him instructions and he reaches your room. There you see, Max standing at the door—a well-dressed man, wearing sunglasses with a walking cane in his left hand. He walks towards you, touching each object that he comes across. But wait! What’s this? It never occurred to you that he could be blind!
Coming back to the first question now: Can you describe the details of your room to Max now?
You will now begin by saying, “Ten steps into the room, on the left-hand side is my cupboard”. Your instructions and depictions just changed dramatically once you learnt the audience you are connecting with.
The reason why most of our training programs are not able to have an impact on the learners is that we don’t know who our learners are. Better, we focus on training them even before knowing about them.
To determine which learning content would suit our audience, we first need to determine who our audience is. Target audience analysis not only helps to understand the age, culture, and other demographic traits of the audience, but it is also a vital method to analyze the skill and will of the audience you are catering to.
You’ll need to take a set of parameters to analyze your audience that will determine the way you treat the learning content.
First and foremost, you’d need to conduct a DEMOGRAPHIC ANALYSIS. It’s important to understand where your audience is coming from, literally! What is the area they are situated in? If the learners are diversified, is your training capable of catering to a global audience?
The next thing is to learn about their age and their educational background. Are you going to write for a group that comprises largely of high-school dropouts or PhD graduates? Are you creating training for millennials or for a matured group of learners? Your language, the nature of examples, and the empiricism of your approach should be adjusted according to this.
The next question is, what is the sex ratio of the learners? Are there more females as compared to males? This will determine the examples and images that you choose.
Then, find out what kind of government the audience have. This will guide the content treatment and the nature of examples you choose.
Also, learning a bit about the kind of society and the culture they live in would help. For instance, you cannot include stock library images of intermingling of gender in a training program targeted for a conservative society where men and women don’t usually intermingle in public places.
These questions may seem like going a bit too far. But demographic analysis helps you to imagine your learners in a context. Once you picturize them, it makes it easier to determine how to handle your learning content.
Imagine a fruit seller. With the right demographic analysis, you’ll be able to construct an imaginary environment in which this fruit seller works. By analyzing his or her WORK-CONTEXT, you will be able to gain more clarity on the way this fruit seller works—Is she self-employed? Is she working for a store? Is she a fruit vendor or sells fruits in a store?
Once you chalk out the work-context in which the learner is performing the tasks, the next step is to determine what the learner lacks in performing the requisite task.
Through SKILL-GAP ANALYSIS, you can identify the current performance of your learners and the gap between their current performance and the performance desired from them.
If the learners are unable to reach the desired performance, there is always a skill or performance gap that needs to be mended. This performance gap is not just related to their work style but also the work style of the organization that might affect their mood or will to perform.
After conducting the analysis, a further step in the direction to knowing your audience better is to empathize with them. Empathy is the first step in the design thinking process. Not only does it help you to create something that will be used by people, but it also helps in creating what people will use and whether it will be meaningful to them.
Going back to Max, if we were to create a training for him, will it be the same as creating it for someone who can see? Here, the first step will be to close our eyes and imagine what we will need from the training if we were Max. (Also, we don’t need to imagine at all. There is well-established body of research available that guides us on how to build training for visually challenged learners.)
As learning professionals, empathizing enables us to gauge the requirements of our audience by shadowing and observing them and creating a learning experience that in turn, enables them.
Ask yourself these questions:
Once you define the problem that you are aiming to solve, ask yourself this vital question:
Do your learners really need the training to overcome that problem?
The above question has two operative words to it: Learners and Training.
If we say, “do your learners really need the training?” maybe the problem is not with the learners. The problem could be with the structures or strategies of the organization or environment they are in.
Alternatively, if we say, “do your learners really need the training,” perhaps the problem requires a one-time interaction with the learners or some coaching that can help them.
List down all the options/ideas/solutions you are considering for your training. Then, down-select those options. To determine a suitable learning content for your learners, you must determine the larger problem that your training aims to solve. If your learners are the millennials, you can’t propose a level 1 training that will be a mere page-turner. They will become bored quickly. If your learners are already at the “Analysis” level, you can’t propose an application-based training for them. While the key is to not underestimate your audience, it’s important to know the challenges they face everyday to ensure that your training is engaging and user-friendly.
What most training providers focus on is the need to “train” the learners and overload them with all the information they think learners should know. However, what you really need to focus on is how to provide them an experience in their context: train them in a way that they can look back with joy and a sense of achievement. We always remember not to touch a hot object because of the experience of burning ourselves we had in our childhoods. In a similar manner, offer them choices, let them see the consequences and reflect upon how their choices did or did not work. Let them fail and learn from it. A failure in expectations leads to learning. We lack in giving them that experience.
If the goal is to just create training for an individual or a cohort of people, all of us can flourish in that. But the key is to be aware that the training will have an impact on someone’s life, and that someone will further train someone else and have an impact on their life. It’s about creating not one, but a series of experiences for everyone. After all, what is learning but a shared experience!
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