Use Personas to Improve Your Education Technology Website or Product
What’s one of the biggest mistakes you can make on your education technology website or software as a service? Creating it for yourself and not your users. That’s why we have our clients create personas.
A teacher, for example, will change the content and format of lessons for seventh grade students in a traditional classroom versus college-level students in an online learning environment. That teacher wouldn’t use the same content and format for the two groups simply because he or she preferred to teach that way. Both the content and context are different for those scenarios–and the students’ understanding of the lesson is impacted by how the lesson is presented. Similarly, your website and its content needs to reflect the groups of people using the site, not your subjective opinions. Grade school students will have difficulty comprehending web content written for college students. A teacher dashboard will have different functionality and complexity than the dashboard for fifth grade students. To make informed decisions about design and content we identify the behaviors and preferences of groups of users and use that information to create a story describing fictitious people (called personas) who represent our user base. The following steps will guide you through the process:
1. Talk to real users, preferably in their own environments.
Interview actual users or potential users at their office, school, or other site where they’ll use your website or product. You’ll often be able to gather important information while visiting the site that you wouldn't get otherwise. Sometimes site visits will be impossible, in which case a video chat or phone call is required. Education technology companies typically have several groups of key users. If your website caters to school administrators, teachers, students, and parents, meet with people from all of those groups–you’ll create personas for each distinct group that has different needs and behaviors.
2. Ask questions about the user’s routine and behaviors.
Some questions may become apparent once you enter the user’s physical space. Are they in an environment where there are many distractions? Will they perform tasks on a mobile device while traveling from place to place? What is the user’s end goal in using your site? What information is crucial for them to achieve these goals? Ultimately, though, you will need to ask questions that reference past behavior. If teachers don’t currently use your software to create lessons plans, how do they currently do so? Have them walk you through the last time they created one. Your goal is to uncover user preconceptions and behavior patterns that will impact how the user interacts with your site. There are many questions you can ask during the interview, but they will be tailored to your organization’s specific situation.
3. Analyze the information you gather to write a story about a fictitious person for each group you have identified.
Identify common threads: teachers may be concerned about how easy your online product is to use or how they can incorporate it into their classroom teaching. They may require tutorials or case studies on how the technology is currently being used in classrooms. A young student is likely to prioritize having fun over accomplishing any given task, while a parent will be far more interested in being able to measure the student’s progress. Give your persona a name and age and any demographic information that is relevant to your website. Remember you are representing a group, so don’t use the interviewees’ actual names or descriptive information. The personas should be just long enough to paint the picture of the goals and behaviors of the group you’re trying to represent–each one will probably be less than a page.
4. Use the personas as the basis for design and content decisions and to keep your team members on the same page.
After you create the personas, you’ll expand on them to create scenarios for why users come to your site in the first place. Personas will help inform user flows and use cases. When producing content, making design changes, or adding a new feature, refer back to the personas to make informed decisions based on research, not on assumptions or personal preferences. Everyone on your team should be familiar with the personas and should be able to access them easily. Place the documents on the company intranet, create a team wiki, or create posters if that will help spread the information.