At WGU Labs, we not only design learning experiences, we research them too. As part of one recent research project, we examined people at colleges and universities who are most likely to use open-source digital authoring tools. We found that while faculty members and instructional designers who use these tools are not a monolith, they do share key characteristics and behavior patterns. Using interviews, user testing, and third-party research, we created four distinct groups  — or personas — of curriculum designers.   

Personas can help EdTech leaders understand the pain points, preferences, and personalities of their intended audience, resulting in greater product success. There are many valuable ways for EdTech companies to use personas, including to tailor products and marketing materials.

The following personas describe faculty members and instructional designers who use digital tools to create courses. The personas explore different teaching and learning philosophies, approaches to instructional design, and the amount of creativity and freedom certain individuals have within their institutions. Whether you are designing a new product for curriculum designers, looking for new features to add, or simply interested in learning more about these key stakeholders in higher education, these personas can help you and your company make more informed and strategic decisions. 

Carol: The Designer Who Begins with the End in Mind

Carol is a faculty member who has a high degree of academic freedom. She often has a degree in education or is heavily invested in the scholarship of teaching in her respective discipline. Her deep background in teaching and learning leads Carol to exhibit a stronger commitment to student-centered learning and improving outcomes. The combination of these characteristics along with Carol’s seniority enables her to start curriculum design with learning goals in mind, then align objectives, assessments, and content around those goals.  

Folks like Carol can be key decision-makers as her experience often translates to respect in her department and across the university. They may also be people who are invited to design new courses and programs, as well as mentor and train other faculty members. 

Carol is more likely to be willing to invest significant resources in her teaching responsibilities, especially if it’s in the pursuit of proven pedagogy and learning effectiveness. She is motivated by seeing students engage with content and build connections to their personal lives. She also believes instructors make the key difference in facilitating those correlations, helping students make a personal connection to the material, the text, and the world. At the same time, Carol feels constrained when designing within the limits of an LMS. Therefore, products that are centered on the students but also enable high degrees of freedom will appeal to her. 

Paola: The Designer Who Drives with the Objectives

Unlike faculty member Carol, Paola is an instructional designer. While she has similar knowledge and skills to Carol, Paola often has less autonomy when creating courses and instead must make adjustments to fit into a pre-existing design context. Despite a degree in instructional design, her skills are frequently overlooked. Because of this, Paola often views her role as solely focused on supporting faculty in putting courses together and helping to remove any friction points in the process. She spends most of her time assisting faculty in converting face-to-face courses to online courses or helping new faculty design their on-campus courses. 

Paola aims to make learning relevant and accessible for students, by facilitating connections between the content and the real world. She seeks to align content with objectives and is eager for other faculty members to similarly consider the bigger picture of learning activities. She’ll likely be most interested in products that let her first identify course modality and then follow a backward design approach, utilizing course templates and rubrics. 

Anthony: The Designer Who Doesn’t Want to Reinvent the Wheel

As an instructor who teaches at multiple community colleges, Anthony feels the pressure of limited time and resources. Scarcity prompts him to build curricula for his introductory classes from existing materials as much as he can. It has been his approach his entire teaching career. 

Rather than a deep background in education, Anthony draws upon his own experience as a student, using teachers he had in the past as models. He has a strong commitment to students, finding unique ways to make learning active and fun while maintaining a level of challenge and difficulty. Anthony will likely be drawn to products that help him work efficiently, particularly those that include an outline from which he can design a course. 

Lawrence: The Designer Who Tries to Make Things Work

Lawrence teaches freshman and sophomore courses at research-intensive universities. He is part of a large department in which designing courses happens by committee. At his institution, a premium is placed on consistency across courses. The emphasis on research at Lawrence’s university can manifest as a lack of available resources to support teaching and learning and limited freedom over the course design process.

However, Lawrence still has an interest in teaching and strong opinions regarding instructional practices. This passion for teaching and learning pushes Lawrence to actively find ways to implement effective teaching practices, despite institutional constraints. So while objectives and assessments are determined at the department level, he works to create learning experiences that engage students physically, emotionally, and socially. Lawrence continually seeks opportunities to be involved in brainstorming ways to integrate good pedagogy into an outdated course. He will be a good partner to EdTech companies for providing user feedback to build new features and may also be drawn more to companies that provide opportunities to voice his perspective.

Faculty members and instructors are key stakeholders in the acquisition and adoption of EdTech. The College Innovation Network’s annual Faculty EdTech Survey reveals that 82% of faculty members believe instructional designers should wield significant levels of influence over EdTech purchasing decisions. EdTech companies must be prepared to include these academics in pitch meetings and demonstrations, recognizing their distinct behaviors, preferences, and requirements. Embracing this approach not only facilitates sales but can also enhance the quality of a product.