Regarding the Use of Personas in L&D

I’ve always included Target Audience Analysis as one of my 4 types of Instructional Analysis.

Given L&D’s fixation on folding in things from Marketing – as if that will better sell/convince the target audience and their management to involve themselves in L&D’s offerings – we now have the concept of Personas to help us better understand/empathize with the audience and their needs and wants.

Given that most of the time the Target Audience doesn’t know what they really need, or whether or not what they know is true or false, and how to best acquire and develop what they really need – I try to be careful in this part of my Instructional Analysis not to set expectations prematurely.

I’m conscious of, “what am I trying to achieve with this kind of Analysis? How will I use this data downstream?”

We also need to know about the population size, their turnover rates, and their distribution across the footprint of the Enterprise – all as input to the Design efforts, before Development.

Focus on the Performance – Not the Personas

My focus always starts and ends with the Performance Competence Requirements – and then I can better assess what is needed and variable, what they might know and what variation exists across the target audiences, and what attributes or abilities they might have or not and that variation – as it’s that variation that leads to a robust design.

Robustness – in what I learned back in the 90s when working with the Ford Design Institute on Robust Engineering – was that a product or service is robust when it is fit for use … and abuse.

Not unlimited abuse – but some level of abuse.

My Instructional Products (Job Aids and Training or Performance Support or Learning Experiences or Resources and Courses) must be “robust” to the variations across the entire Target Audience – unless the client and other key stakeholders decide (as a Business Decision) to not attend to very last variation.


If 99.9% of the Target Audience only speaks German and the rest speak 12 different languages – the client and stakeholders might decide that the L&D product should be in German only. And the product then would not be robust to 100% – but only to 99.9%.

And I don’t know if High-German or Low-German comes into play here – but I do recall my grandfather talking about that when I was a young boy and my takeaway is that that regional dialect difference might be an issue – but I’m just guessing. I would need to understand that as well.

Modularity, Modes, and Media

Depending on your Design methods – mine is typically, preferably, but not exclusively, via a Facilitated Group Process – I can have my assembled team of Master Performers, and Other Subject Matter Experts, and sometimes Supervisors, and sometimes Novice Performers, make all of key decisions about the Modularity of the Content, the appropriate Modes, and the Media to use.

I mean, who else would you ask who truly understands the nuances of the Performance Requirements and the Performance Context and any and all variation in both?

And rather than ask one person at a time, I much prefer asking a group and letting them talk through it – or me facilitating them talking through it – to explore the pros and cons of all of the appropriate options to settle on what would seem to work best.

Beware the Consensus?

And – just because you can bring a group to a consensus doesn’t make them right.

Meaning – always “test test test” – as the late Bob Mager taught us to do back in the day.


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