What’s in it for me?

I’m currently writing a course for a retail client about climate change and this has really made me think about the ‘What’s in it for me?’ question. We always talk about engaging the learner and getting their buy-in, but what do we actually mean? For this course in particular I realised the importance of this because we’ve heard it all before about environmental issues. ‘Because of climate change the polar bears won’t have a home, so remember to turn off your computer every night.’ But do people really care about these things? Well, I’m sure there are some people who genuinely care about the plight of the polar bear but in reality most of us are more concerned with what we’re having for dinner.

It’s nothing new that teachers and instructors need to be salespeople in order to sell the benefits of the learning and engage their audience. This started me thinking that as well as writing learning outcomes at the start of designing a training course, maybe we should also write ‘audience drivers’. That is, answer the question that the learners will be asking themselves when their manager tells them to take the course: ‘OK, but what’s in it for me?’ We need to find out what really makes our audience tick, what is it that’s going to make them take 30 minutes out of their day to complete this course? But not just complete it, not just click Next and fluke the test at the end, actually, dare I say it, enjoy and appreciate it?

The course I’m currently designing is aimed at store managers within a retail company and so at the kick-off meeting for the project I asked:

  1. What motivates store managers in their everyday job?
  2. What don’t store managers like?
  3. What three things come into your head when describing store managers?

It didn’t take them long to come up with the answers below:

  1. Costs and making more profit, therefore bigger bonuses
  2. Wasting time, long sentences, vague opinions
  3. Task-oriented, matter-of-fact, competitive

Well, no surprises there then. So, how do we bring that into the course? We can’t just say ‘by taking this course you will be able to save money by reducing your energy usage’. Yes, this type of signposting can be useful but it’s not that engaging. If their number one priority is to make more profit, I decided to brainstorm a list of things that might help them do that:

  • Refurbishing their store to attract more customers and increase sales
  • Hiring more sales staff to increase sales
  • Increasing their marketing activities to increase sales
  • Being at the top of their monthly store managers’ sales league table (and getting a bigger bonus)

Now, instead of statements such as ‘turning off the lights saves you money’, we can tell them that ‘turning off the lights saves you money which you can use to hire more staff to increase sales and therefore profits.’ But, in order to really engage these people, it’s essential to consider the way we convey the message to them too and that last sentence was rather long-winded. Taking on board answers two and three from my original questions I began to focus more on using bullet points, short sentences and matter-of-fact statements about the ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘why’.

And the result? A much punchier and more motivating e-learning module that speaks to the learners using language they connect to naturally, about a topic they are truly invested in.

About the author

Jennifer Wrigley - Instructional designer
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