Most instructional design models start with analysis. During this time, the learning experience designer gathers and analyzes data and information related to one or more performance problems, such as workplace issues, audience characteristics, and workplace environment.
And although part of the standard process involves gathering information, the spirit of discovery is often lost in the mindset of conducting an analysis. This is why I think the research and discovery process needs greater emphasis in learning experience design.
Analysis Versus Research and Discovery
Notice the difference in these definitions. Merriam-Webster defines analysis as “a detailed examination of anything complex in order to understand its nature or to determine its essential features.” And they define research as an “investigation or experimentation aimed at the discovery and interpretation of facts …”
Difference in Attitude and Mindset
The point is that the attitude we need for research and discovery is likely to be more open and receptive than the attitude we adopt when conducting an analysis. During research and discovery, we empathize and gain new perspectives. We explore context and develop insights. Analysis brings all of this together to form conclusions. When research and discovery are robust, it is likely that our conclusions will be more accurate.
How Do We Discover?
One aspect to discovery is curiosity. How curious are you about an audience member’s responses? How many questions do you ask that take you beneath the surface? Developing your curiosity muscle is one way to learn to discover.
Then there are techniques. Although interviews, focus groups, personas and empathy maps are useful strategies for understanding an audience, user experience designers have a few other tools for research and discovery. Some techniques of interest that may get you out of the office or help you understand the user’s environment are described below.
1. Customer Safaris: This is when a team leaves the office and goes to the customer’s site, observes people at work and talks to the target audience about their challenges. A customer safari provides the context you need to empathize with your audience.
2. Diary Studies: Use this if you want to study members of the target audience over a period of time. They will create a log to self-report their activities, challenges, thoughts and ideas.
3. Field Studies: Observing and taking notes about processes, tasks and activities that your target audience engages in.
4. Cultural Probes: This ethnographic technique for studying other cultures may only make sense if you are designing for an unfamiliar culture. Participants are provided with simple communication tools, like a blog, audio recorder or camera (they can use their phone) and asked to record their interactions, feelings, observations or events for whatever it is you are studying. The purpose is to capture what is happening to audience members in real time. See the reference below to read more about this.
5. Customer or Learner Journey: These are visualizations that show the touchpoints or pain points a person has with their current challenging environment or with your solution. For example, if there are performance problems in a factory, the user journey would show the pain points of where the problems occur. This might lead to a performance support or training solution.
Research and discovery have a real purpose: to inform the design of a solution. With an emphasis on research and discovery, you are more likely to validate your assumptions about your target audience and to design the learning experiences that best meet their needs and context.
- Boulton, Emma. Research methods for discovery. https://medium.com/@emmaboulton/research-methods-for-discovery-5c7623f1b2fb
- Interaction Design Foundation. 7 Great, Tried and Tested UX Research Techniques. https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/7-great-tried-and-tested-ux-research-techniques
- Nunnally, B. and David Farkas. UX Research. O’Reilly Media, 2016.
- Wikipedia. Cultural Probe. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_probe