How to make an effective WBT - building Persona

How to make an effective WBT – building Persona

Meet Mr Müller

This is Mr Müller. Mr Müller is an engineer graduated from a prestigious university and works in a large, global and successful corporation. He is 47 years old and has been working and climbing the career ladder at the same company for the last 12 years. He lives and works in Munich, has a wife, and two children.

Mr Müller is very experienced in working in corporate environments and understands inside politics. As you may have guessed, he is very busy, and while still curious at heart and still feeling that inner push to further develop and grow he does not feel he needs any further formal training for this, nor would he have any time to lose on them.

Apart from the time management perspective, where Mr Müller does not have any empty time slots in his Outlook Calendar waiting to be filled with a training activity, and while excellent on his job, he cannot deny to feel the breath of young wolves that do not have families yet and easily dedicate overtime to their work with great ambitions. In order to keep them off his back, Mr Müller focuses on his skills and experience to continue to deliver great results and he relies on further fostering his internal network.

Only sometimes he gets a slight nagging feeling in the back of his head that maybe it would not be thatsilly to take part in the one or other training beyond the usual leadership activities he has been through. And just recently he overheard a conversation by some of his colleagues (among them a number of wolves) discussing excitedly about how great some or other training was.

One thing that quickly lets him to overcome such “weak moments” is a brief look into the rear mirror of passed training activities. In his experience, many of them were not effective, too long, not revealing anything really new or helpful and seemingly geared towards lower, inexperienced levels. The ones with a few really helpful elements were diluted by lots of irrelevant, boring glazing.

In his eyes, this is especially true for web-based trainings (WBTs). Almost each and every time he stayed wondering what he was supposed to take away from this training, what the real message was – how it was supposed to make him a higher qualified employee and leave its marks in his daily business. Often, to him WBTs appear to be a “one-fits-all-solution-not-focussed-on-real-value-add-but-to-formally-cover-a-maximum-number-of-employees-with-a-minimum-effort.”. And subsequently, a waste of time. (While the wolves exhale their warm breath on his neck).

Mr Müller really has a solid opinion on the value-add of WBTs.

Oh, one more thing: Mr Müller is not a real person.

What is a Persona?

Mr Müller is not real and not ONE person. He is a collage of many individuals very similar in education, in way of thinking, operational and hierarchical position within an organization, worldview, soft and hard skills and other characteristics. This is what is called Persona. By contrast to the term “stereotype”, it does not suffer from oversimplification. Rather, a Persona is a skilfully developed fictitious profile capturing all relevant aspects to describe a specific group of people – in this case, a target group for a WBT.

This can go down to visual and cultural aspects – if they are relevant to properly characterize the target group. What clothes does the Persona wear? Does the Persona prefer tea of coffee? Does the Persona prefer an deductive or an inductive approach to learning? These aspects really will help, as long as they are in line with the concept of “a much as necessary, as little as possible”.

What a Persona description should reflect

Before we focus on the key elements of a Persona description, let us remind ourselves the purpose at the example of a Web Based Training: A Web Based Training is a product that – like any other product – requires designed functionality and appearance to “work” for the desired target group in terms of appeal and benefit. In other words, a Persona captures key user requirements in an implicit way. Some of them are:

  • Goal: What does the Persona achieve with the WBT?
  • Impact: What is the value-add for the Persona in his role, function, and member of the organization?
  • Motivation: Why is the Persona interested in this particular WBT?
  • Entry-Barriers: What potentially irritates and discourages the Persona him from booking the WBT?
  • Exit-Barriers: What potentially discourages the Persona from finishing the WBT, or “fast-forwarding” through it?
  • Opportunities: What potentially increases the Persona’s interest taking this WBT?

In addition, one should then add details to the description that will allow personifying the Persona. Typical examples are:

  • First name and last name;
  • Age;
  • Role and Function;
  • Hierarchical level;
  • Language of communication;
  • Level of language including use of technical jargon;
  • Education and knowledge base;
  • Cultural specifics

One should not leave it at this. You can add an actual picture of the Persona, imagine exactly how the Persona walks, talks, how the Persona moves and behaves during a conversation, how the Persona reacts to people, whether the Persona is open-minded, introvert, curious etc.

The more details you find and add to the description, the better the implicit requirements for the WBT you are designing become. Only keep in mind that you only add what actually is relevant.

How to collect data on a Persona

In the previous paragraph a number of key items are listed in order to create a good description of the Persona in focus. But how can you be sure that the answers provided are actually correctly describing e.g. Mr Müller?

Where possible, these answers should be based on data. A best practice approach to this is to first collect comprehensive data on the complete user base. In a second step the data set is segmented based on key criteria as mentioned above. In a third step, these “data buckets” can then be added to, or further subdivided based on actual interviews and/or additional observations. Lastly, the “final touches” are applied, such as giving the Persona a specific name, or photo.

One extremely helpful step of “quality check” can be applied as soon as more than one Persona is established. Individual Personae can be compared using cross-reference tables. A key factor for the quality check is the degree of differentiation between them, and the amount and data driving that differentiation.

In this way, a set of clearly outlined and distinct Personae can be established.

The right number of Persona

 There is no fixed “right” number of Personae. It can be just one, a dozen, or any number in-between. It clearly depends on the number of actual target groups, but also on the resources available to create a targeted WBT for each Persona. Sometimes, specifically the latter is a delimiter that leads to lumping different Personae together, and if done skilfully, the trade-off in terms of goal, value-add and the other key elements for the WBT can be kept to a minimum. On the other end of the spectrum, as a rule of thumb if you significantly exceed a dozen Personae for a WBT, then you might want to revisit the “quality check” as differentiation may become too subtle, and the benefit involved in serving each individual Persona does not justify the effort. YMMV. The key here is the word “expression” – creating multiple Personae only makes sense when the groups of recipients differ so much that the actual product – in this case, the WBT – needs to be differentiated.

Oh, and another good practice in case you only have one Persona is to create a corresponding “anti-Persona” in order to understand how well the differentiating and decisive elements have been captured.

Benefits and side effects of establishing Personae

In the end the overall target is to have any training activity – in this case a WBT – to have a “positive business case”; that the investment related to creating, offering and maintaining the WBT clearly pays off for the organization as a whole in terms of overall productivity and workplace attractiveness through maximising impact on the target group in terms of “fulfil rate”, but also tangible impact for the individual participant.

So how does the set of “implicit requirements” that a Persona represents actually help in achieving this target? Here a couple of answers:

  1. The WBT’s target and group are clearly defined.

By creating a Persona you clearly define whom this WBT needs to be developed for, what its target is and for this WBT can provide a value-add for the organization. As a side effect, if you come to the point that you create more than one Persona for the overall target group you already know that in this case there is not really an effective “one-fits-all”-approach, and that more than one actual WBT version for each Persona needs to be tailored.

  1. The specific design requirements can be derived

The overall purpose of the WBT needs then obviously to be realized. Therefore you require rather simple boundary conditions, such as language, overall time for completing it. Subsequently, this frame needs to be filled with a specific storyline that ideally captures and maintains the participants’ interest all along during the WBT, while providing the information required to fulfil the WBTs goal. Also, related decisions such as implied level of knowledge, level of granularity, level of language, balance of text versus imagery, level of interaction, etc. need to be taken. All those HOW-related questions are answered through the Persona in order to create an interesting, effective and pleasant learning experience.

  1. Plug and Play.

You will find that even across different WBTs and even organizations there is ultimately a finite number of Personae that the training requires tailoring for. Hence, over time, if this set of Personae is created and maintained consequently, it is quite easy to adapt existing WBTs, expand material to different learning platforms and media (Webinar, Explain Movies, Flyers, etc.), and to create new WBTs from scratch.

If you like this article why don’t you check out the second part, where we look at practical examples and provide some ready templates (link).


Personae provide an efficient tool for deriving functional and design requirements for Web-Based Trainings and e-learning in general.

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