Personas: what are they good for? 1

When I learned about personas recently I thought this is so obvious, why haven’t we done this before?

But often the best ideas are the ones that seem obvious after the fact.

The idea of building up a description of one or more users can have several applications. I see it now as a possibility for guiding the work of projects such as the Erasmus+ projects which I often work with.

The example below is a customer persona.

Sample User Persona Drake Motors Ltd

I don’t think that the persona need be included in the project application for funding but it would be a useful exercise to go through as part of the development of an application and then later, if funding is secured, as one of the first exercises to agree on when the partner consortium meets for the first time.

According to Schlomo Goltz the persona(s) can be used to

  • build empathy,
  • develop focus in the project team,
  • communicate and defend consensus,
  • make and defend decisions and
  • measure effectiveness.

A well built persona or set of personas, including graphics and an interesting back story could even be used as part of the dissemination later on in the project. What a great starting point on which to base a project website or leaflet! Their strength lies in the story element around which they are built.

I was introduced to the concept of personas when I joined the TESOL Electronic Village session called Teachers as Designers . Originally used by designers of online experiences, websites, apps and so forth, the idea turns out to have great power in education as an aid for designing for a specific target group.

Using personas is a way of concentrating the mind by imaging who is going to be your student or user. What needs and expectations will they have. How do they plan on using the learning that you offer.

Learning about personas then led me to Brinkerhoff’s Success Case Method of assessing quality by looking for both success stories and failure stories. The idea is not to aggregate feedback into averages which give little guidance as to why things went right and why they went wrong. The successes are used to adjust the training to raise the chance of success in the next round and are used to promote the training while the failure stories can also be mined for information about how to improve the learner experience but are not disseminated.

Using personas

  1. Find out more about what personas are and how they are used in used in user interface design here.
  2. Look at a case study persona here.
  3. Use this template to run a workshop to create one or more personas for your course or project.
  4. Extend the use of personas to the implementation of the Success Case Method as part of the Quality Assurance process of the project.

Thanks to Ania Rolinska for introducing me to personas.

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