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3 Hurdles that Flaw Learner Persona Interviews

Feb 17, 2021

Learner Persona Interviews

What motivates your learner? The answer is more complex and complicated than you may think, certainly more complex and more complicated than popular business books would lead you to believe. 

At Sententia Gamification, we use the Reiss Motivation Profile to help us determine the motivational profile of a group of learners. The Reiss Profile, based on 16 Core Desires or Motivators, was established by a highly respected professor of psychology and has been supported by dozens of peer-reviewed scientific articles. Because of this, we have the confidence that the profile questions deliver truthful answers and the resulting framework truly reflects the respondent.

Once we have a representation of potential learners, we still prefer to interview “typical” learners in person. The purpose of this interview is to gain insight into thoughts and feelings about the learning experience, company dynamics, and so on. The information we receive in person provides a setting of the environment in which the learners live and interact. We also filter responses through the lens of the interviewee’s motivation profile. (A high Social Contact motivated person will lament how there is a lack of camaraderie; a low Social Contact motivated person will complain that so much time is spent in idle conversation.)


Designer Beware:

So why are you interviewing or assessing in the first place? What do you seek to learn, determine, or conclude? Are you, for instance, gathering a sense of potential learners so that you can construct a Learner Persona that will represent them as you create a program? 

Or perhaps you want to insert game mechanics and want to determine which will be effective and which will cause people to disengage from your program? 

Your purpose will determine the types of questions you ask, how you ask, and the intensity of your inquiry. 

For instance, if you believe your target learners are High Acceptance and Tranquility, but low Independence, you can ask questions focused on those three categories to test your assumptions. 

While we have all of the 16 Core Desires, we place different priorities on them. This is what makes us different from each other, and ultimately determines the choices we make in life. And if you know your own Motivation Profile, you will perceive whether or not a person is similar to you in motivation, and then ask them according to your perceptions. Which brings us to the first hurdle…

Hurdle #1 Self-Hugging:  

When it comes to assessing the motivational profile of learners, the first and biggest hurdle is Self-Hugging—yours and theirs. Self-hugging assumes everyone is like you, and they assume everyone is like them. Therefore, when you interview a learner, you will assume they have similar motivations as you, and you will tend to ask questions from your frame of reference. 

For them, they won’t perceive that their motivations are different from other people. If they are very different from you, they may not hear the question the way you meant it, and they will respond according to what they heard and what they assume about you. 

The cycle will continue, because you will hear their response from your frame. You may assume they are saying one thing, when in fact they meant something completely different. 

For example, if you are high Power motivated, you might assume everyone wants a better position at work. In your Learner Persona Interview, you ask, “Tell me about a time you were promoted.”

Imagine the person you are interviewing is low Power motivated, and therefore they don’t like power-hungry people. A promotion to them means more opportunity to serve, and maybe more responsibility to help other people. Their answer will stress these qualities and they will take pride in how they served. They certainly won’t brag about how it was their ambition that caused them to be a leader. 

Since their answer stresses teamwork and service (things in which you are low motivated), you will believe they are not ambitious, that there is something fishy or wishy-washy about them. It sounds to you like they don’t value the promotion, and certainly aren’t fit to lead.  


Hurdle #2 Cultural Norms:

The next big hurdle is cultural norms. If you ask someone if morals and character are important to them, most will answer, “Yes.” Or if you ask whether it is important to them to strike back against those who offend them, most people will not agree strongly with that statement. In fact, on a 1 to 10 scale, the most Vengeance motivated people may only self-assess themselves as a 5 or 6, again, believing they are like most people. 

In reality, most people would answer the question a 3 or 4. So without a large data set, it is difficult to determine a person’s true Motivation Profile. 


Hurdle #3 The Power of the Question:

And the sneakiest barrier to truly learning what motivates another person is the power of the question. In short, realize that the brain has to answer a question. The way you ask the question will force a response. More interestingly, the brain will consider that response a reality. 

The reason law enforcement officers are not allowed to ask questions like, “When did you stop beating your wife,” has nothing to do with the assumption of guilt. Instead, studies found that later when people were asked during a polygraph test whether or not they beat their wife, the polygraph showed that they did indeed believe they had beaten their wife. In other words, the manner in which the question was asked created a belief in the person. 

The point? Beware the questions you ask, and the conclusions you draw from those questions. 

In the end, your goal is to create a learning program with gamification that appeals to the most people. This is done by using game mechanics that attract the most people in your target group and avoid mechanics that cause them to disengage either by boring them, frustrating them, or even ticking them off. 

You cannot create a program that appeals to everyone. There will always be that group that will love whatever you do and a group that will hate whatever everyone else loves. A great goal would be to create for the middle 60%. Realize that you will have outliers and rebels. Anticipate them and maybe mitigate their disruption. But don’t focus on them at the detriment of the middle 60%. If you, say, create a program that 80% of your learners enjoy, you will be way ahead of even the most engaging learning programs.  

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