User research? If it's 20 glasses of wine, I'm in!
Why unstructured learner feedback is better than no feedback at all
Last week, my wife and I attended a tasting at our local wine bar.
(If this strikes you as unbearably pretentious, just substitute ‘beer’ or ‘chocolate’ whenever you read ‘wine’ from this point onwards. But stick with me.)
We’d bought the tickets on a whim the previous month. I’d been sold on the opportunity to ‘try 20 wines’. But as the event approached, I started to feel apprehensive.
It occurred to me that the tasting would likely be attended by local vinophiles, who would expect me to have more to say about each wine than ‘I like it.’.
This feeling was amplified when, on arrival, we were handed a pencil and a piece of paper, listing each of the wines on the menu, with space on the right to add our thoughts or comments.
I needn’t have worried.
As it turned out, the goal for the tasting was to help the bar select their menu for the coming months. The owners knew what they liked, but they wanted to know what their customers liked.
Different people took different approaches to sharing their feedback: some left detailed tasting notes; some scored each wine out of ten; others simply left a smiley face next to the wines they liked.
As market research, this approach was far from scientific, but it did lead the owners of the bar to re-think some of the selections for their new menu, and challenge some of their assumptions about what customers would like.
Fast-forward to this week, where the Learning Experience team at Mind Tools have been discussing how and when to gather input from learners.
Luckily, we have an in-house Insights team who specialise in this sort of stuff, and often partner with our team to develop surveys, or conduct structured interviews with learners.
But for projects where this approach isn’t feasible, either due to budget or time constraints, how do we go about understanding the challenges our learners are facing? How do we ensure the intervention we design is tailored to their needs?
What my experience at the wine bar taught me was that, while I’d much rather rely on academically validated research methods, unstructured feedback from customers is better than no feedback at all.
In L&D, we rightly focus on the business as our primary customer. But learners are our customers, too.
If you can speak to only one learner, you might weight their opinions a little less heavily than you would a representative sample of the target population. But isn’t input from one learner more valuable than input from no learners?
While L&D has design expertise, and SMEs know their subject inside and out, they don’t necessarily know what learners care about, what challenges they’re facing, and what’s going to drive their performance.
If we don’t ask even one of them, we risk leaving a bitter taste in their mouths.
🎧 On the podcast
This week on the podcast, Dr Anna Barnett from our Insights team joined Gemma and Nahdia to reveal the findings of our report ‘Turning pressures into opportunities’ - and had a stark warning for L&D:
'Saving money, at this point in time, is definitely a necessity for all businesses. It's no longer a “nice to have”... It's now: “If you don't, you're going to struggle or you're not going to survive.'
Of course the priorities for L&D are always shaped by the wider business context, and that’s the ‘red thread’ which runs through the whole report. But if that wider business context is to cut down on costs, then L&D needs to get creative with how it finds opportunities to contribute.
Check out the full podcast here:
You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Spotify or the podcast page of our website. Want to share your thoughts? Get in touch @RossDickieMT, @RossGarnerMT or #MindToolsPodcast
📖 Deep dive
If, after listening to this week’s podcast, your interest has been piqued and you want to explore our latest Leadership Report in more detail, you can download a copy of ‘Turning pressures into opportunities’ from the Mind Tools website.
At a time when leadership teams are most concerned about reducing costs and are having to make difficult decisions about what is and isn’t worth backing, the report explores how L&D teams can become better at showing the impact of their efforts and initiatives to build stronger relationships with their leaders.
👹 Missing links
🐙 Inside the Minds of Spiders, Octopuses, and Artificial Intelligence
In this episode of the Ezra Klein Show, Ezra interviews the author Adrian Tchaikovsky, whose novel ‘Children of Memory’ is ostensibly about a civilisation run by corvids, but also provides a model for understanding what it means to interact with artificial intelligence systems like ChatGPT. If you’re curious about the intersections of AI and creativity, I think you’ll enjoy this conversation.
⏱️ How Quora became the hottest website of the year
I don’t remember how I stumbled across this 2011 article from Wired, but it’s fascinating as a tech-buzz time-capsule. At a time when there’s a lot of hype around technologies like ChatGPT, and their potential to reshape the way information is accessed and distributed online, it’s interesting to note that Quora was once seen as the successor to Google.
In the latest edition of the New Yorker, Nathan Heller writes about the declining enrolment in humanities degrees at colleges across the United States. As a language and literature graduate, I feel sad but not surprised by this trend. I also wonder what it will mean for future generations of university-leavers, who may have different skillsets and ways of thinking than their predecessors did when they entered the workforce.
We enjoyed this AI-generated representation of our evolving relationship with technology, from 1910 to 2030. We also enjoyed the bangin beat.
Thanks for reading The L&D Dispatch from Mind Tools! If you’d like to speak to us, work with us, or make a suggestion, you can get in touch @RossDickieMT, @RossGarnerMT or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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