Why the decision to conduct user research and learning needs assessments can make or break your program.
We’ve all been there before, we were told that all we had to do was “follow our passion” and we would automatically attract the right kind of clients – students for our course, in this case. The best thing is that you don’t even need to be an expert to start teaching, create a course or even lead your own training program. That’s great, right? So cool that it seems too easy to be true.
This is because we are missing a crucial step: knowing enough about our students to be able to offer them the best program.
You see, a course is a product. A training program is a product. A workshop is a product. You can be as passionate about your product as you want, but if the product doesn’t solve a problem for your audience or you’re just targeting the wrong audience, then the product won’t work.
That’s where learner-centered research and learning needs assessments come into play.
What does student research mean?
Student research means nothing more than user research within a learning context.
Being user-centric, in this case, means being learner-centric, where your user, the person using your product, is your learner. While user research is about understanding users, their needs and pain points, learner research focuses on your learner, also known as the user of your course or training program.
What makes this type of research so unique is that your primary goal must 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 behavioral and attitudinal research methods to assess the needs of our users. This is crucial in learning design because identifying the learning needs of our audience will allow us to design an impactful program that meets them. For example, among other variables, the perception of knowledge and the actual knowledge that our students have on a specific topic may vary. Having this information about our students will help us identify what they know and think they know, as well as what they want and need.
In this way, your student-focused research can involve traditional research methods, such as interviews, but also learning assessments, such as formative and other assessment methodologies.
Research is essential before you start designing your course or program. But it doesn’t stop there. In fact, it is an ongoing, cyclical process where you need to constantly reevaluate and evaluate the impact of your program.
What are the risks of ignoring research?
Here are some of the most common consequences course creators and educators face without understanding the root of the problem:
- The course doesn’t solve a real problem for their audience because they never did any research on the needs and pain points of potential students.
- The course is not the right solution for your students’ problem because the learning solution must be continuously tested and evaluated.
- The course is being sold to the wrong people.
- The course has a great premise, but its content doesn’t match learners’ expectations or needs, which means you’re providing a poor experience for your users.
In a world where selling as fast and as much as possible is often seen as a priority, it’s worth remembering the huge business benefits of providing a great user experience (learning experience, in this case) on every product you deliver. :
- Delivering a great experience to your audience leads to improved customer loyalty and lifetime customer value, and customer retention is cheaper than customer acquisition.
- When your products provide a great experience, it will affect your brand and reputation. When done right, it will lead to enthusiastic fans who will recommend it to their own friends and family; that’s free marketing and social proof for you.
- Implementing impactful programs in your company will increase employee retention, help you develop and retain talent, and improve overall performance.
In business and in life, it’s tempting to use shortcuts to achieve certain goals. We are all fans of being more productive and using only the necessary tools. However, for the sake of your business and your learners, if there’s one thing you don’t want to miss out on when planning a course or training program, it’s learner-focused research.