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User Personas: The Secret to Learning System Adoption

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Who is our audience? How can we deliver a product that they will want to engage with?

These common questions are often asked by marketers and designers but rarely by companies about to purchase a learning system. So how do marketers and designers know their audience? Simple: They do their research and build user personas.

User Personas

I use a modified version of Tony Zambito’s persona definition: “User personas are research-based archetypal (modeled) representations of who users are, what they are trying to accomplish, and what factors drive their behavior.”

Essentially, a user persona will contain demographical and topical information about the modeled user group. It will allow you to have a point of reference to refer to when building use cases, completing RFPs, and making build decisions.

Each user persona (and I recommend no more than three or four) should be personalized and represent your company’s largest work groups. For example, if you are a retailer, your largest work group may be hourly store associates, followed by individual contributors working at company headquarters, and then hourly store leadership. An additional benefit of the user persona process is that it allows you to table many of the extreme “what if . . .” scenarios that occur during system builds and focus on gaining the largest ROI and adoption for your system implementation.

Building a User Persona

I want to share one of the ways I build user personas for systems and large learning programs.


Demographics. I need demographic information about the organization’s employee group, so my first step is to reach out to the HRIS (human resource information system) team. I ask them to identify the three largest work groups; for example, hourly customer service employees or individual contributor programmers. From there, I ask for the average age, education, and seniority. In addition, I ask for gender.

With that information, I can start building out user personas for a fictional retailer (see table below).

An important part of building user personas is to create avatars that you can refer to throughout the RFP, building, demo, and implementation process. One of the best tricks to making avatars live and breathe is to personalize them.


The next step is to humanize the personas. By giving each avatar a name and a face, I can have a concrete idea of who I am sourcing and building for. Many times, as the process goes on, I find people will push back against a feature with, “Would Kat really use that? How would that help her?” This is when you know your user personas are working.

Side note: I have been asked why I ask some of these demographic questions, and my reason is voice and tone. I want to make sure that when I communicate with the user group that I am using a professional yet natural tone, as well as not writing below or above my user. As for gender, I think about the trend of gendered language that fills a lot of communication in the work place, down to even something so basic as the job description. With that thought in mind, I want to ensure that my change management efforts throughout the process are not gender biased or turn away the majority of my user group.

Project need. The next step is to draft questions related to the project. I want to create questions that will generate simple answers that help me determine any boundaries for the user group. If I was preparing to generate an RFP, I would use a set of questions such as:

  • How often do they take training?
  • What type of training do they take?
  • Can they assign themselves training?
  • Will they have training assigned to them?
  • Will they schedule their own training?
  • Will they have training scheduled for them?
  • Will training be taken from a mobile device and/or computer?
  • Can they login and take training after hours?

These questions and their answers combined with the demographic information will allow me to build out use cases, rank a features list, and have applicable demos for each user persona.

Want to learn more? Join me February 7 at ATD TechKnowledge 2019 for the session, User Personas for Improved Learning System Adoption.

About the Author

I love what I do because I help people thrive at work.

I am the founder of the Combs Cantu Group, a woman owned talent development firm in Austin, TX. The Combs Cantu Group is a transformation agent that works with organizations to build, implement, and stabilize learning processes, programs, and systems that reinforce a positive employee experience and drive business results.

My leadership style is collaborative and empowers others to contribute while generating positive business results. I thrive in environments that focus on innovation, collaboration, and results.

I am a current National Advisor for Chapters, and a former President, for the Association for Talent Development. I have worked in global Learning and HR leadership capacities for Fortune 500 companies such as Continental Airlines and Whole Foods Market.

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In my organization, I see this being used for our students and also during role plays where we could have customer personas! This could be visuals with personas listed to help make the learner' connect the dots with various customer types.
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I have been hearing more about user personas and had an idea of what that meant, and this article helped solidify and expand on my thoughts. Thank you for sharing, Traci! Now to think about how to start using..
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A very timely article Tracie. I am in the process of creating personas for a training and this was useful.
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