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Meeting Learners Where They Are

By Mark Burke, Ed.D.

There’s a level of compassion required in instructional design. Of course, training design skills are core to the job, but over the years I have found that the best instructional designers are those that spend time putting themselves in the shoes of the learner.

The learner is a complex animal. A new software engineer has a different set of needs than one with ten years of experience. A field sales rep won’t react the same to training as one that does cold calling. With all these nuances, it is up to the designer to look through the learners’ eyes so that the best possible learning experience is created.

I love how Design Thinking focuses on empathy early in the process. But empathy typically isn’t taught in instructional design courses. Sure, we can create checklists and questions that get at the experience of the learner, but it’s the ability to put your heart into understanding the learner that makes all the difference. If the organization is experiencing a huge change, what does that mean for the way you’ll approach teaching new processes? When new products come out and sales has aggressive launch metrics, how does that impact the way the sales reps will feel about the new product and the related training?

There is so much power in talking to the audience before designing training. But it can’t be just a series of basic questions about the learning gap, what it takes to be successful on the job, and the current level of understanding about the topic. Consider using these questions that can help clarify the emotional state of your learner:

  • How does the change we’re discussing affect you?
  • What additional context would make these new skills easier for you to understand?
  • Tell me about your struggles with the previous process.
  • What do you think about the new way of doing this work?

The interview will take a little longer than a standard learner meeting, but the details about how the learner feels about the topic and what they need to master it are worth the time. The best training connects with the learner on both an intellectual and emotional level. The only way to get to that high-quality learning is to see your learner more, hear their needs, and use your skills to create a truly connected learning experience.

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Topics : Articles, Instructional Design, Judge Learning Solutions, Learning, Learning Development, Learning Solutions, Training

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