User Design: A Case Study in Developing Workplace Curricula

User Design: A Case Study in Developing Workplace Curricula

Robert Anthony Jordan (Independent Researcher, USA) and Alison Carr-Chellman (Penn State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0978-3.ch038
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Abstract

This case describes how a federal government agency engaged in a user design process to design, develop, and implement a workplace learning curriculum to be implemented throughout several agency offices. While several offices had developed their own training program, there were inconsistencies and a lack of standardization. The authors describe how a user design process was utilized in the development of a standardized curriculum. User design shifts the responsibility of design from expert designers to frontline users and stakeholders. Several user-driven tools are available to organizations that adopt user design processes. Potential advantages of a curriculum developed through user design include better adoption and diffusion of the curriculum and improved engagement of the users in the workplace.
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Case Description

The agency senior managers assigned the project leadership to the agency’s training and development branch located in it human resources department. An instructor designer within the branch was assigned as the leader for the project design team. The team was comprised of eight agency economists from the major program offices that employ economists. Team members were assigned to the team by each office. Some team members were supervisory economists, while others were not. The team had one year to complete the curriculum. Team members were expected to complete the work in addition to their normal work duties. In addition, no specific budget was provided for this project making the actual costs to the agency difficult to accurately calculate. The primary costs were the individual team members’ work time. This varied by team member and we collected no data on the hours that individual team member’s spent on the project, although no more than five hours a month per team member was anticipated at the beginning of the project and this proved to be the case. Neither the project sponsors nor other agency leaders required that a return-on-investment (ROI) calculation be provided by the team regarding the project. Unfortunately, no such data are currently available.

Given that the benefits of the curriculum are not linked to an easy-to-identify performance increase, such as increased sales, it might have proven difficult to calculate the dollar value of such benefits. In addition, the notion of user design is built on a premise of long-term returns that will take many years to realize as well as ease of implementation of this and other innovations, which is a difficult thing to measure within a short time after a user design has been undertaken. One of the primary benefits may be improved employee productivity that results from having an easily accessible program for professional growth and development but such a productivity increase would be difficult to calculate in robust ways even if such data could be easily collected. Isolating the percentage the curriculum would have contributed to a productivity increase would be problematic. Finally, the agency would likely not have approved the additional costs of collecting of such data since the curriculum was developed internally with existing resources not specifically earmarked for the project.

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