Monday, March 17, 2008

Who is your Customer? – The Client or the End User?


Am sure as experienced instructional designers, this is one thought that may have crossed your mind more than once!

This is one of the most important thoughts that comes to my mind (since only over the last few years) while I am developing courses. Let me delve a little deeper into what I really comprehend of this thought.

In my initial years as an instructional designer, I understood that “client” is our customer. And since the customer is “always right”, we created courses based on what they said – not necessarily keeping the end user in mind.

Let me explain this to you through an example. I’ll take you back by a few years when I was working on text books for one of our very old and prestigious clients. I was part of the first team that was formed for this project, and also the first time we started with text books at NIIT. As part of the client requirements, we understood that we need to create technical books for some students. Inspite of the lack of indepth knowledge about the varied content areas (books on hacking, gaming, high-end networking, and so on) we struggled hard, very hard to write the books - this trend continued for about two years; as the number of books we delivered to the client increased, so did the error count in most of the books!!

When I look back, I clearly remember that we always worked for the “client” and didn’t have a clue about who our “end users” were!

Well, things started to change when one of the team members traveled to the client's office: attended the various classes conducted at the client's campus, met the students, understood their background and culture, and their needs and limitations; and finally shared all of his experiences, especially w.r.t the “end user” with the entire project team on his return. He shared with us how our courses taken up by the students affected their life... - the students actually banked upon these courses for their livelihood!

I personally felt..what a pity! We had never imagined how what we were doing - only as a “project”, churning out books months after months in a tight-deadline mode, is impacting someone’s life.

For the first time then, it really made me think who is our actual customer – the client who we interact with day in and day out understanding their requirements; or the end user who actually take the brunt of whatever we create and provide to them?

This brings me to another thought: how many of us actually spend time in doing a good “audience analysis”? How many times can you confidently say the following?

  • I understand my end user
  • I know their age and educational experience
  • I understand what their current knowledge or skills are and theie confidence in the content area
  • I understand their motivational levels and learning ability
  • (Last but also one of the most neglected ones) - I know their attitude towards instruction

I believe doing a thorough audience analysis is one of the first steps in designing good “instruction” for the learner! Some of the other aspects it all also helps determine is the tone or language you use for the course, the content depth and complexity you need to bring in, or the examples or scenarios that you use across the course.

There is more to this.......for this time, however, if you have any experiences around doing a detailed audience analysis that impacted your course, do share!

Till then, don’t forget to analyze your end user! It'll be worth it!

3 comments:

Sandipan on March 18, 2008 at 12:24 PM said...

Hi Sonali,
Congrats for posting such a eye-opener! Most of the times, what we develop is just another course for us, but we tend to forget that the end-user may be depending on those courses for earning livelihood. As ID, we are also responsible for "what people learn". And most often than not, what we create goes largely unscrutinized for information accuracy (I don't want to read much into SME reviews-- they are time-starved people who gives only cursory glances to the courses). Therefore, any mistake that creeps in our product-development may cause endless number of learners to learn the wrong thing.
Unfortunately, in corporate training arena, we rarely get the chance to get in touch with the end user. A pity, really!

Swatika said...

Sonali, I think the article raises some good questions. Here's my two cents to it.

I think for all practical purposes the client is the one you contract with, even though the instructions you create are/may be for the end user - the client's client. I agree that to do our job well, we absolutely must know our end user. It's our responsibility to work our client management magic to get the answers we need.

But personally, I think our responsibility is to cater to both audiences - the end user AND our client. Why should we not know why our clients do what they do? What is their interest and motivation in doing this?

Only when we are able to deliver to both sets of needs can our intervention be a success AND ensure OUR success and survivability in the long run.

In reality, we fail to do both, or most often are not able to read into changing requirements as well as we should.

Sonali on March 19, 2008 at 12:27 PM said...

I agree with what you said Swatika.

The point I was trying to make was that we try our best to fulfill our client's requirements without knowing anything about our audience or even wanting to know about it. In order to come up with a "good" course, it is imperative that we know our end users - apart from understanding the client's vision for meeting that requirement.

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