The Combs Cantu Group, LLC d.b.a Metamorphosis Learning

PO Box 1334 Manchaca, TX 78652

The Secret to Learning Adoption? User Personas.

Updated: Dec 26, 2018

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

These are common questions are often asked by marketers and designers, but rarely by companies about to work with a talent development consultant or purchase a learning system.  So how do marketers and designers know their audience?  Simple.  They do their research and build 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.  

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 3-4, will 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 HQ individual contributors, 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. 


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


My first step is to reach out to the HRIS team. If their isn't one, head to your payroll person or vendor.

 I need demographic information about the organization’s employee group.   I ask them for 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.   

So, what do we have now?  Let’s start building out user personas for a fictional retailer.

An important part of building user personas is to create avatars that you can refer to throughout the RFP, demo, build, and implementation process.   One of the best tricks to make these avatars live and breathe is to personalize them.   The next step I take is the following: HUMANIZE THEM.

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 communications 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 through out the process are not gender bias and turning away the majority of my user group.

Project Need

The next step I have is to draft up questions related to the project.  I want to create questions that will generate simple answers that help me determine what the boundaries are for the user group.   If I was getting ready to generate an RFP for a learning system, I would use a set of questions like these:

  • 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 and have demos or prototypes for each user persona.