Why the decision of conducting user research and learning needs assessments can make or break your program.
5 min read
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We’ve all been there before, having been told that all we had to do was to “follow our passion” and we’d automatically attract the right type of clients — learners for our course, in this case. The best thing is that you don’t even need to be an expert to start teaching, creating a course or even leading your own training program. That’s great, right? So great that it sounds almost too easy to be true.
That’s because we’re missing a crucial step: knowing enough about our learners so that we deliver the best program for them.
You see, a course is a product. A training program is a product. A workshop is a product. You can be passionate about your product all you want, but if the product doesn’t solve a problem for your audience or you’re simply targeting the wrong audience, then the product won’t work.
That’s where learner-centered research and learning needs assessments come in.
What does learner research even mean?
Learner research means nothing more than user research within a learning context.
Being user-centered, in this case, means being learner-centered, where your user — the person using your product — is your learner. While user research is all about understanding your users, their needs and pain points, learner research is focused on your learner, also known as the user of your course or training program.
What makes this type of research so unique is that its main purpose needs to be aligned with identifying the learning needs of your audience. This is much like the standard learning needs assessment (LNA), which is already a prerequisite within formal contexts.
In user research, we use both behavioral and attitudinal research methods to assess our users’ needs. This is crucial in learning design because identifying our audience’s learning needs will allow us to design an impactful program that meets them. For example, amongst other variables, the perception of knowledge and actual knowledge our learners possess about a specific topic may vary. Having this information about our learners will help us identify what they know and think they know, as well as what they want and need.
This way, research centered around your learners may involve traditional research methods such as interviews but also learning assessments such as formative and other evaluation methodologies.
Conducting research is essential before starting to design your course or program. But it doesn’t stop there. It’s indeed an ongoing and cyclical process where you need to constantly reassess and evaluate the impact of your program.
What are the risks of disregarding research?
These are some of the most common consequences that course creators and educators face without understanding the root of the issue:
The course doesn’t solve a real problem for their audience because they never conducted research around the potential learners’ needs and pain points.
The course isn’t the right solution for their learners’ problem because the learning solution needs to be tested and evaluated continuously.
The course is being sold to the wrong people.
The course has a great premise, but its contents don’t match the learners’ expectations or needs, which means you’re delivering a bad experience to your users.
In a world where selling as fast and as much as possible is often seen as the priority, it’s worth remembering the enormous business benefits of providing a great user experience — learning experience, in this case — in all the products you deliver:
Providing a great experience to your audience leads to improvement of customer loyalty and lifetime customer value — and customer retention is cheaper than customer acquisition.
When your products provide a great experience, it’ll affect your brand and reputation. When done right, it’ll lead to raving fans who’ll recommend you to their own friends and family — that’s free marketing and social proof for you.
Delivering impactful programs in your company will increase employee retention, help you build and retain talent, and improve overall performance.
In business and life, it’s tempting to use shortcuts to achieve certain goals. We’re all fans of being more productive and use only the necessary tools. However, for the sake of your business and your learners, if there’s one thing you won’t want to skip when planning a course or training program, it is learner-centered research.