Personas in Instructional Design

Design thinking has been around for quite awhile, but most recently it has begun graining traction in Higher Education. Instructional designers are in a unique position to champion design thinking strategies and methodologies to enhance our practice through a research-based, innovative and human-centered approach.

One of the techniques to human-centered design, is the use of Personas. Personas are fictional, yet realistic, descriptions of a target “user” to a service or product. They are data-driven tools to serve as an archetype to design empathetically. Quite often, teams and organizations would have several personas to cover various functions including websites, specialty projects, products and services.  Persona’s help designers to “know your audience”.

Instructional designers can use personas when creating courses, presentations, instructional materials or professional development activities. Last year I led a research team through a series of design thinking techniques, including personas, to develop a lesson in an online course. We created and utilized a “family of Personas” based on qualitative and quantitative research that included:

  • a description of the user’s learning environment and personal factors,
  • an understanding of the user’s goals, values and beliefs, and
  • comprehension of user skills, competencies and experiences.

Our family of Persona’s included students (ultimate end-user), faculty-instructors (implementers), faculty- course authors (SMEs), and users with disabilities (universal design is the best design).

Example Persona of a Student Named MarieWe used Xtensio, to synthesize our user data and create our personas. Our persona’s included images, a favorite quote, age, employment, family status, geographical location, learning preference, goals, frustrations, motivations, personality-type, and a detailed biography. During the development process, we accepted, advocated and refereed to our Personas as if they were real people.

Through the lens of our Personas and the lens of our instructional design experience, we utilized design thinking strategies like behavior analysis  and experience mapping to test and brainstorm multiple conceptual solutions in the course development process.

Personas take time to develop and may need to be created every 3-5 years as projects,  goals, learning outcomes, and technologies evolve. However, they can provide valuable insight to course design and the user-experience.

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