Understand Your Learners Better: How to Conduct a Learning Environment Analysis

Two diamonds representing the LEA process

At Maestro, we believe that learning is one of the most powerful tools for creating change. Learning, when done right, equips learners with the skills they need to grow in their careers and to impact the business.

But we’ve found that too many programs are focused more on the content and less on the learners who will enact that change. Maestro’s view has always been that these two areas deserve equal focus. That’s why we created our learning environment analysis, or LEA for short, framework.

What is a learning environment analysis (LEA)?

An LEA is a framework for better getting to know your learners and the world they live in, empowering you to create better, more learner-centric experiences. The specific set of tools that you’ll use in an LEA will allow you to, above all else, eliminate assumptions from your work.

When used at the beginning of a project, an LEA helps to better define problems, constraints, and the needs of learners before forging ahead on an assumptive solution that might not be the best option for the challenge at hand. We believe learners deserve intentionally designed experiences that help them build skills, not just pass a knowledge check.

So if you’re ready to take your understanding of your learners to the next level and change the way you approach your most important learning projects, here are a few simple first steps to get started. Interested in learning the entire LEA process, from start to finish? Download our comprehensive guide, How to Conduct a Learning Environment Analysis.

How to conduct a learning environment analysis

Which discovery tools will help you gain a robust understanding of your learners? An LEA provides a framework for approaching any new learning challenge, including the specific tools to use and the order in which we recommend you sequence them to get the best results.

The LEA process is fairly thorough, and we share all of the details in our guide, but here’s a quick overview of each of the steps in the LEA process:

1. Review pre-existing materials

Starting with a review of pre-existing materials lays the groundwork for all of the discovery activities to follow. Take stock by evaluating current content, missing content, and available data. The goal here is twofold: you’re looking to build empathy with the learner by putting yourself in their shoes and experiencing the learning for yourself. You’ll want to make note of both your struggles and lightbulb moments.

Second, you’re looking to build familiarity with the subject matter so you can dissect and reassemble it in a way that lends itself to a sound instructional design approach—not just the will of the subject-matter expert.

2. Host a working session

The primary purpose of a working session is to generate alignment among project stakeholders. Everyone who has a say in the project’s strategy, execution, and launch needs to be included in this session.

Prepare for the working session by reviewing objectives, developing intentional activities, and preparing an agenda. Afterwards, summarize your working session takeaways and share them with the stakeholder team for final review and alignment.

3. Conduct field observations

Field observations might be the highest impact tool in the LEA. There’s a richness of information and context that come with entering the learner’s environment and simply observing them in their day-to-day responsibilities. It simultaneously builds empathy and erases assumptions. By conducting field observations, we get a firsthand picture of what our learners’ lives look like and when they find time for learning.

Before field observations, prepare by conducting research on your interviewees and preparing key questions to ask throughout the day. During the observation, take thorough notes and, if possible, take photos of what you see to bring back to your team.

4. Conduct learner interviews

The final phase of discovery is designed to gather as much information as possible about the behaviors and attitudes of the learner audience. By interviewing 7–10 learners, you’re gathering a cross section of insights from learners across the performance spectrum so you can begin to identify the similarities and differences, if any, of those who perform at different levels.

Remember, the focus of this phase is to understand the challenge—not to begin discussing and brainstorming potential solutions with your interviewees. Before each interview, we highly recommend asking for permission to record the conversation. It frees you from having to take notes and listen at the same time, which allows you to listen more carefully and ask follow-up questions that lead to rich insights.

5. Analyze findings

The final step of the ‘problem finding’ phase is to analyze our findings, which will ultimately inform the problem-solving phase of developing and designing a solution. At this point, our mindset shifts from divergent thinking to convergent thinking, where we are analyzing the data gathered to identify patterns, exceptions, and insights. Ultimately, we want to be able to generate a new problem statement and related requirements, both of which will be used once we begin to execute later on.

By the end of this phase, we need to be able to tell a story, and not just any story—an accurate story that represents the world as it actually is and not as we want it to be. It entails reviewing your objectives and notes and reconciling your findings in order to develop and challenge the problem statement. We cover the steps of this process in detail in our LEA guide (plus, get a findings report template).

Problem finding before problem solving

By committing to conducting a learning environment analysis, you’re ensuring you’ll discover as much information as possible about learners, the problem they face, and the many factors at play.

The LEA also works to define that information in the form of a new problem statement that helps to fuel better design and problem solving later in the process, ultimately leading to more effective learning that creates change. Are you ready to conduct a learning environment analysis in your own organization?