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Designing for Motivations and Barriers: Preparing learners for “what they don’t know they don’t know”

Participants from Goodwill SA, Palo Alto College, and Alamo Colleges Online select design criteria

In our human-centered design work, we’re often faced with the conundrum of balancing (often at odds) learner input and the defined needs of supervisors, educators, or employers. Two weeks ago, we faced this very issue during our second design session to advance our UpSkill SA! work with Palo Alto College, Alamo Colleges Online, and Goodwill San Antonio. In this visit, we focused on understanding our target population, identifying expected outcomes, and selecting two prototypes that answer our design question:

How might we upskill incumbent retail workers over 18 months to prepare them for careers in Advanced Manufacturing and other growth sectors that can enable their social mobility?

We needed to select which professional development opportunities would be a part of the new Advanced Manufacturing pathway, which included selecting three 21st Century Skills Badges to embed into the pathway. To better understand the user perspective, our partners at Goodwill SA conducted a survey of their team members to learn more about which professional skills they felt were most essential to advance in their careers.

The findings provided a wealth of information about motivations and barriers to pursuing education. For example, over 75% of respondents noted that they were moderately to extremely interested in furthering their education, yet barriers such as money, time, and flexibility in work schedule also emerged as hindrances to continuing their formal learning. Regarding 21st Century Skills Badges, Oral Communication, Critical Thinking, and Creative Problem Solving were most popular.

Here’s where the conundrum comes in to play. For many Goodwill SA leaders and supervisors, the Lab’s Resilience badge emerged as the most essential 21st-century skill for incumbent workers to develop. One leader at Goodwill SA observed that, at times, team members who transition out of Goodwill and into other roles have had difficulty staying resilient in the face of unforeseen challenges. While team members may have exhibited resiliency in the face of adversity throughout their lives, tapping into resiliency within a professional setting often requires honing a new skill set. Alternatively, Goodwill team members ranked Resilience much lower among the Badges that they felt that they needed to advance, only amassing about 10% of total responses.  

In the end, the design team was able to leverage all of the stakeholder feedback—Goodwill SA team members, supervisors, and leaders as well as an employers via an analysis of T-Profiles of middle-skill manufacturing roles—to land on three 21st Century Skills Badges: Creative Problem Solving, Resilience, and Collaboration.

Designing solutions that work for the user requires understanding both the user perspective and the bigger picture. The three badges selected reflect the skills learners know they want to develop and leverage the knowledge and experience of manufacturing employers and Goodwill SA leaders—helping prepare learners for “what they don’t know they don’t know” about their new chosen career path.