Friday, March 06, 2009

Designing learning resources like dog food?

I think about odd things while walking my dawg, I confess!

Have you seen the ads for dog food? Have you noticed the varieties available? It has been a rich source of material for many a stand-up comedian that dog food should come in flavours like 'Neighbour's cat', 'Park squirrel' and 'Disgusting smelling dead thing found in the bush', rather than 'Roast lamb and mint' and 'Beef and gravy'.

It never occured to me until I became a dog owner to wonder why some dog foods come in multi-coloured chunks. Dogs are colour blind! The multi-colours are to appeal to the dog owner. The person paying, rather than the 'person' consuming. Now this wouldn't be a problem, except that those colours are usually achieved by adding artificial colourants to the food which are not good for your pet.

If you buy dog food based on your own preference, you will buy the tinned stuff that looks more appetising to you, with tastier sounding ingredients.

But if you buy dog food based what's good for your dog, you will buy bags of uniformly coloured grey 'kibble' type things. Your vet will tell you the hard food is better for your dog's digestive system (I won't go into the gory details), and the absence of preservatives and colourants is far healthier.

When we design learning resources, are we designing them to appeal to the buyer or the user? I'm not suggesting we should design uniformly bland materials - let's not push the metaphor that far. What I'm getting at is fitness for purpose. If we can please the buyer while serving the purposes of the user, well and good. But what happens when serving the purposes of the user will not please the buyer because (s)he is unable to consider things from the user's perspective, and just wants lots of whizzy stuff, like the 'excellent course' (s)he saw at such-and-such a place (referring to something with magnificent graphics and the worst instructional design you've seen in a decade).

This is when our consultancy skills are tested! This is when we need to explain why the design that we are putting together is better for the user than the thing (s)he wants. This is when we need to know our stuff, and be able to present a cogent argument (and I use the word in its broader sense) based on a solid foundation.

After all, surely the litmus test for both dog food and learning resources is: does it do what it is supposed to do? And does it do it well? Is my dog healthy and fit? Is my staff member able to do his/her job with confidently and well?

'Fit for purpose' didn't become a cliché by chance.

1 comment:

V Yonkers said...

That is basic marketing. Where are the candy and sweet cereals placed in a grocery store? At the eye level of the child who will scream if they want something they see (or, their little rubber arms just happen to grab it so you don't see it until you are cashing out).

However, the other thing that basic marketing addresses during the decision making process is 1)indepth vs. impulse decisions and 2)the influence of reference groups on decisions.

In the first case, the decision making process for something like education is very complex initially. However, after a few courses, you develop brand loyalty and you can pretty much do what you want. Lesson? Identify the decision maker and give them what they want. But once they trust you, begin to push for better ideas.

In the second case, identify the reference groups that will help sway the decision makers. If you can present data from groups that they are part of that support your position, then you have a better chance of changing their mind.