Your people—your employees—are your most important stakeholders. They’re bringing unique opinions, perspectives, and strengths into the workplace. This means it’s incredibly important that you give them the support they need to grow and thrive.

But often, all responsibility for learning falls on the learner. They’re required to intake information, understand the different applications for it, then apply that information within the context of their job. This type of learning ignores who the learners are and what they already know, leading to wasted time and mental energy.

To prevent this, we need to find out who our learners are, what problems they’re trying to solve, and how we can make their lives easier through learning. We need to get to know our learners like they’re our closest friends.

Your first step involves understanding the world through your learner’s eyes. This often happens during content discovery, where you sit down and study the content you need to write learning about. But your learners are more than their job descriptions—your learners have opinions, strengths, and great ideas stored in their minds. Don’t let those go to waste.

What getting to know your learner really means

In order to understand your learners’ world, you have to get to know who they are as people. This doesn’t mean asking them a few questions over email or taking a few phone calls—this means stepping into their daily life. Go on-site and meet with them face-to-face, ask tons of questions, walk with them through a day on the job.

Become the learner. If you’re working on courses for sales reps, go through the current training and become a certified sales rep. Take in every ounce of information. And every step of the way, ask three core questions:

  1. Who is your learner?
  2. What problem are they trying to solve?
  3. Why does solving the problem matter to them?

1. Who is your learner?

Start by taking a look at who your learner is in the context of their life. Just like marketing demands customer research before you create messaging, do your learner research. This involves sociographics, demographics, and asking a lot of questions.

  • What’s their first language?
  • What’s their educational background?
  • What’s their position in the company?
  • What motivates them to get up in the morning?

This information about the learner comes before everything else—even the learning problem itself. Because before you can approach a learning problem, you need to know who you’re talking to.

Depending on who you’re talking to, you’ll completely change how you approach the problem and the words you use so that it’s meaningful to them. While not all learners are in the same situation, you’ll probably run into a fair amount of similarities depending on the job description.

For example, for a beginning management position, you might notice correlations in age between 22 to 35, often still finishing their degree, with young kids and very little free time. This means learning needs to be quick, clear, and to the point. This learner doesn’t have much extra time, so everything should be done at work, with optional additional resources available online that the learner can access on their own time.

2. What problem is the learner trying to solve?

At first glance, learning is all about giving learners the knowledge they need to solve on-the-job problems. Whether it’s making sales more efficient, properly setting a table, or managing other employees, learners need problem-solving information that works in real life.

But when you talk with your learners, you’ll find that their motivation to solve these problems is often less tangible and more emotional. In fact, people are motivated to solve external problems not simply because those problems exist, but because those problems inspire internal feelings of frustration, anxiety, or fear. Instead of saying, “I want to know how to properly schedule hours for company employees,” they might say, “Not knowing how to schedule hours stresses me out, and I can’t sleep at night” or “I want to feel confident about time scheduling, so I know I’m doing the best I can for everyone.”

Once you discover how your learner feels about the problem, reframe the learning using the learner’s perspective (not company jargon). Doing this explains how the learning makes their lives better, making it meaningful to the learner. And this leads right into what’s in it for me (WIIFM).

3. Why does solving this problem matter to the learner?

WIIFM (what’s in it for me) is a marketing and sales term that explains why the product or service is valuable to the customer. For example, if you’re selling mattresses, you want to explain all the reasons your mattress makes the daily lives of your customers better. It could help them rest better, eliminate back pain, or give them more energy to spend with their family. You appeal to basic human needs that your customer cares about: better rest, less pain, and more energy.

On the other hand, telling them that you’ve been in business for fifty years or how your mattress uses a special hybrid foam system doesn’t really tell the customer why they should care about the product. In fact, they might check out entirely.

In learning, WIIFM is equally important. To give the learner some buy-in, you need to look at how solving the problem affects the learner directly. Abstract ideas like, “Because it’s the right thing to do” or “Because company policy says so” aren’t going to inspire the motivation you need.

Explain in clear detail how the learning works toward helping your learners. For example, you could explain how compliance training or company policy training will increase their chances for success at work or their chances for a promotion. And this information shouldn’t be at the end of the course—it should get established at the very start. People naturally remember information they consider more important. Telling the learner what’s in it for them right at the get-go gives them fresh motivation and increases retention.

People-focused learning

Designing effective learning depends on placing your learner first. Because when you start with people and clearly communicate how solving the problem makes your learners’ lives better, you’ll create a strong connection with your people. In turn, this increases employee motivation, retention, and satisfaction, leading to an incredible impact on your bottom line.

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