Should I use Jobs to Be Done or User Personas to create learning products?

How do you decide what content a learning product requires? What approach do you use to identify learning needs and outcomes? In this article I will briefly explore two approaches: Jobs to Be Done and User Personas.

I was going to write about something completely different this week but a few days ago I went to a Meetup that discussed the Jobs to be Done (JTBD) framework. During the talk it was mentioned that there is a debate over whether to use JTBD or User Personas. As I use both approaches but never written about them, I thought a quick example of each approach would be useful.

I am not going to rehash the debate, this has already been covered very well by Emerson Schroeter in his 2021 article Personas vs. Jobs-To-Be-Done: What’s The Difference And When To Use Them (11-mins read). As he concludes, it doesn’t have to be a battle of one over the other but instead to ‘…embrace the compatible strengths of both approaches, their combined power…’.

Nor am I going to delve into the two ‘types’ of JTBD that Alan Klement covers brilliantly in his 2018 article Know the Two – Very – Different Interpretations of Jobs to be Done (19-mins read).

Instead I’m going to provide a brief example of both approaches applied to a learning product context. Let’s begin.

Jobs to Be Done example

The JTBD framework, as its name suggests, focuses on the functional and emotional progress (i.e. ‘job’) a person seeks to achieve by using a product. For example, to learn a language, the product/design team may consider the following:

1. Job definition – Identify the learning ‘job’

  • Identify the core job or goal that users are trying to accomplish. This is the functional and emotional progress they seek.
  • Example: Instead of saying “learning a new language,” the job might be defined as “successfully communicate in a foreign language.”

2. Job Execution: Break down learning tasks

  • Break down the job into smaller tasks or steps that users need to perform to accomplish the overall goal.
  • Example: For the job of communicating in a foreign language, tasks might include learning vocabulary, practicing pronunciation, and understanding cultural nuances.
  • Job statement formula: ‘When <situation> I want to <motivation> so I can <desired outcome>’.

3. Contextual Factors: consider context and motivation

  • Understand the circumstances and context in which users are trying to accomplish the job. This includes external factors that might influence their decisions.
  • Example: Consider whether users are learning the language for travel, work, or personal enrichment, as it can impact their learning preferences and goals.

4. Switching Triggers:

  • Identify the circumstances or triggers that lead users to switch from one solution to another. This could be due to dissatisfaction with their current approach or the discovery of a more effective solution.
  • Example: Users might switch from traditional language classes to language-learning apps because of convenience, interactivity, or personalised learning features.

5. Outcomes and Constraints:

  • Explore the desired outcomes users expect from completing the job and any constraints they might face.
  • Example: Outcomes could include fluency, confidence in conversation, and cultural understanding. Constraints might involve time limitations, available resources, or prior learning experiences.

User Personas example

User personas are fictional characters created to represent different segments of a target audience to empathise with the needs, behaviours, and goal (desired outcome) of specific user groups. For Instructional Designers (ID) and Learning Experience (LX) people, this approach may be more common than JTBD. Let’s use the same ‘learning a language’ topic used in the JTBD above but how it would be approached using personas:

1. Identification of Target Audience:

  • Objective: Identify individuals who are learning a new language, considering demographics, motivations, and learning contexts.
  • Example: Individuals in their 30s, working professionals, with a primary motivation for learning a new language tied to career advancement and cultural enrichment.

2. Segmentation and Grouping:

  • Objective: Group learners with similar characteristics, behaviours and learning goals.
  • Example: Segment learners into groups based on their primary motivations e.g. “Career Advancers,” “Cultural Explorers,” and “Academic Pursuers.”

3. Persona Creation:

  • Objective: Develop detailed and realistic personas representing each user segment.
  • Example for Persona “Career Advancer”:
    • Demographics: 32-year-old professional, works in international business.
    • Background and Goals: Aims to enhance communication skills for global business interactions.
    • Behavioural Patterns: Prefers practical language application, time-sensitive learning approach.
    • Needs and Pain Points: Limited time availability, seeks industry-specific language skills.

4. Visualisation:

  • Objective: Create visual representations of the personas for easy reference.
  • Example: Design visual personas with images, key characteristics, and summary information for each type of learner e.g. using Miro, mood board, PowerPoint.

5. Communication and Sharing:

  • Objective: Ensure that personas are shared and understood across the product/design team.
  • Example: Conduct workshops to introduce the personas, share persona profiles in documentation, and use visuals during team meetings.

What to do with the information?

Whether you use one approach, both or a completely different one, you need to turn that information into value by applying it to your learning product. Here are some suggestions of how it helps:

1. Understanding Learning Preferences:

  • JTBD: design team understand when a job needs to be done to meet a user’s goal.
  • Personas: design team understand learners’ preferred learning styles (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic), time constraints, and technological preferences.

2. Tailoring Content and Delivery:

  • JTBD: guide which goals are most important and fundamental and emotional to users.
  • Personas: guide the creation of learning materials that resonate with specific user groups.

3. Identifying Challenges:

  • Both: help identify common challenges learners face, such as time constraints, lack of resources, or specific learning barriers. This knowledge informs the development of supportive resources and interventions.

4. Personalising Learning Journeys:

  • Both: Understanding the goals and motivations of learners allows for the creation of personalised learning journeys that align with individual aspirations and career paths.

5. Adapting Instructional Strategies:

  • Both: design team can tailor instructional strategies based on information gathered.

6. Feedback and Improvement:

  • Both: by comparing product feedback with original JTBD/Persona, design team can iterate and improve the learning experience.

And finally

Both JTBD and Personas are design thinking tools that can be used by design teams to help create better learning products. Both are examples of an user-centred design (UCD) approach, and it can only be a good thing whenever we put the learner in the centre. Both approaches are used to define the learning-problem(s) by empathising with our users/learners before we offer solutions. I’m agnostic about which approach to recommend, in practice, the choice – if you decide to choose one and not both – will depend on the nature of your product, your industry and your design team’s preferences.

If either approach is completely new to you, I recommend you do some more research before using it on a real-life project, Have a design team discussion on the benefits the new approach may bring to your current process. Above all, don’t change your process for something new and shiny, instead change your process when it’s useful to do so.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *