Another part of the empathy puzzle for learning design is knowing the context in which learners have to get their jobs done. The learning designers’ habitat is mostly a practical, well-equipped office environment (or do you mostly work in a comfortable coffee shop, sipping great lattes?). The users of your learning materials might be working in a hectic emergency room, at the railroads at night, in a noisy call centre, at a cold and damp construction site or in a moving truck. Empathy is also about knowing the context in which the professionals you design for have to get their jobs done. You have to understand the circumstances, the possibilities and the constraints of that specific context. The ‘where’ can be a very important design parameter that can have major influences on the design choices that you want to make.
I recently came across some situations that surprised me. The first one involves healthcare workers who take care of elderly people who still live in their own homes and spend most of their working day in ‘low-tech’ situations—there is no computer or wifi available there. Another one is the example of a high-tech company that shut down YouTube and forbade employees from checking it on a private device. During one of my jobs, I worked at a photo film factory where many professionals did most of their work in the dark (sometimes with goggles on). At the same company, I learnt something very valuable that is called ‘Go to Gemba’. It’s the Japanese expression for ‘go to the place WHERE the work is done’. If there was any kind of issue that we had to work on as learning designers, the motto was always ‘go to Gemba’—do your analysis there, in the specific context, together with the people working there. It makes your analysis so much better and gives you valuable input for your learning design.