Personas in Learning Design

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The GLbD Express workshops here in the College of Design and Social Context here at RMIT involve taking an in-depth look at a course—who studies it, who teaches it, what it’s about, and how it’s delivered and assessed. Check out our other posts about Express for more information.

To try to understand who is involved and how they’re affected, we use personas. Personas are a tool to highlight the needs of the different student and staff groups throughout the design process, and ensure that everyone involved in the design and development of the project has a shared understanding of their needs. They combine demographic information with the kind of details and visuals that will help bring the personas to life.

A user persona is a representation of the goals and behavior of a hypothesized group of users… They are captured in 1–2-page descriptions that include behavior patterns, goals, skills, attitudes, and the environment, with a few fictional personal details to make the persona a realistic character. Wikipedia editors July 2015

In our process, the creation of personas makes academic staff’s implicit understanding of students and the teaching team concrete and visual. Personas have been widely adopted in marketing and user-centred design since Alan Cooper introduced them in his 1998 book The Inmates are Running the Asylum. Their use in higher education has not been widely documented, but some examples include:

  • Using personas to better understand distance learning students in the Computer Science Usability Group at the University of Hertfordshire (Lilley, Pyper & Attwood)
  • During the development of an undergraduate program in human-centred design and development in the College of Technology at Purdue University (Vorvoreanu & Connolly)
  • For online instructional design at Ohio State University

How we’re creating personas

During the Express workshop the academic lead, Senior Advisor of Learning and Teaching, and project coordinator will work together to create student and staff personas, using the template above. We’ll provide you with a printed copy at the workshop, but all the Express resources (including the personas) are also available in Drive (RMIT login required).

Interested in learning more about personas?

Dr. Lene Nielsen’s 2014 book The Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction features a chapter on personas, including criticisms of this approach, different perspectives on their use and examples.

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