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Needs-based learning design: 9 reasons to speak to your target audience

December 3rd 2020 | By Charlie Kneen

Here at Solvd, we believe a human-centred approach is the only way to do learning design. Surfacing the challenges and concerns of your target audience is what we do in the Discover phase of 5Di.


Unfortunately, justifying some of these activities can be challenging, especially if your stakeholders are used to a more conventional approach. Here are 9 reasons to speak to your target audience, if you're challenged by less enthusiastic stakeholders.

1. "We need to validate what came out of the training needs analysis."

You can avoid annoying stakeholders who have spent time and possibly budget conducting a thorough training needs analysis by positioning audience research as a 'build' on, or a 'validation' of the training needs analysis.


The things your audience are already doing, and the resources they already rely on, provide 'oven-ready' insights into what does and doesn't need to change in their workflow.

2. "We need to immerse ourselves in our audience's world to understand their needs."


Empathy with your audience's lived experience is a core principle of design thinking and the 5Di methodology.


Making the effort to experience what your audience goes through first hand, or observing them in action, gives you an opportunity to spot blockers, needs, motivations and goals that may have otherwise escaped your attention.

3. "We need to check that business expectations align with audience needs."

We often see L&D teams begin with an assumption about a learning requirement, only to be surprised when our audience discovery reveals the problem isn't a learning one after all.


You can't design an effective solution for your business without first understanding what your audience finds difficult, what they care about, and what gets in their way.

4. "We need to speak to a cross-section of our audience to understand pain points."

If you only speak to people who are already performing well, you may never understand what prevents others from improving their performance.


No single employee is the same, and often needs are slightly different depending on things like their role, individual capabilities, the team they're in, and how they've applied lessons from past experience.

5. "We need to understand when someone needs help, not just what they need."


Understanding when someone needs something is almost as important as understanding what they need. If a solution isn't available when your audience needs it, it will never get used.

To deliver support at point-of-need you need to understand your audience's day-to-day and anticipate the best way to deliver the support. This is based on where they are, what they are doing, how they are feeling and who they are with.

Redesigning the Ikea Store App to improve the shopping experience


Ikea gathered point-of-need insights into customer behaviours to inform the redesign their Ikea Store App.


New features to improve the customer experience included a shopping checklist that saved in the app, and the ability to view how many Ikea Family Card points were available.

6. "Researching with the audience creates allies for the work and identifies potential contributors to solution development, which comes after."

When it comes to providing support and improving capability in the workplace, colleagues and managers are often part of the solution.


This might be as simple as providing input on the design itself, or giving feedback on the relevance of a solution. Good advocates can also be instrumental in a successful solution implementation, or be part of the solution itself as a mentor, subject matter expert, or coach.

7. "Experts suffer from the ‘curse of knowledge’. High performers forget what it’s like not to know how to do things. That’s why we need to ask a cross-section of the audience."


We often forget what it was like trying to do something for the first time. Or we assume that because we found it easy, someone else will too.

By asking a cross-section of your audience what they find difficult, you get a fuller understanding of the diversity of challenges you must help solve with your solution.

8. "We’re using human-centred design because it makes design relevant to needs, not just wants."


"If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses." This famous quote attributed to Henry Ford shows that someone's response to the question "What do you want?" is limited by their own experience and knowledge. Ask someone what they find difficult and what concerns them, and you sharpen your understanding what problem your solution will solve.


If you've ever asked someone what will help them to improve more often than not, the answer is, more training.

9. "If training needs analysis has not worked in the past, why are you still asking for it?"


The trigger for most training projects is a perception that people are not behaving or performing as required. This is often despite existing underused courses or resources. Pointing out that using the same approach (training needs analysis) won't deliver a different result is slightly combative, so use this as a last resort.

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