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WNFM? - A Question Learning Designers Should Be Asking

Most instructional designers / learning experience designers, know the acronym WIIFM-- what's in it for me? It's the question just about every learner asks when they come to a formal learning experience. As designers, we try to address the learner's response as we craft our solutions.

The one we don't always think about is WNFM. (Never heard of it? That's because I made it up.) WNFM-- what's not for me?-- is the question we should be adding to our training analysis.

WNFM means thinking about apathy triggers. Apathy triggers disconnect learners from the learning experience. They take many shapes, like:

  • The level of instruction isn't appropriate (too hard, too easy).

  • The tone of the instruction is condescending or otherwise inappropriate.

  • The learning interupts the flow of work.

  • The learning doesn't take into account the real workplace conditions.

  • The learning features someone employees dislike.

  • The learning takes place in a room that is too hot/too cold to function in.

These are things that interrupt the learning process by disengaging the student. When you're doing your learner profile and discussing with learners what matters to them, make sure you find out what sends them packing.

You don't want your learner to feel like this guy.

Here's an example from my own work that shows why it's important to ask your learners WNFM. On one project, I spent a ton of time talking to instructors, colleagues, leaders, and learners. I had a whole plan mapped out in my head that I would present as a solution, one piece of which was a video library with mini-tutorials for specific software troubleshooting. The idea was that they could easily search for the issue they were experiencing and find some guidance. But that solution would have gone unused.

When I asked learners about their "turn offs," they explained that they found it discouraging and disruptive when they sought out advice from management, only to be met with "it's in the manual" type responses. This was an internal cultural issue. Learners felt that their busy schedules and genuine efforts were not being acknowledged. I realized a self-search video library-- on its own-- would only yield more of that friction.

At the same time, I knew video would still be a valuable asset, but we had to shift how video learning assets were implemented into the larger training structure in order to make it useful to the learners. Instead, I focused efforts on a mentor program, allowing the mentors to gently introduce the videos over the course of their first few meetings. They would use a "watch this video, do this activity, then let's meet and discuss the work" strategy.

Without asking the learner WNFM, I might have simply continued along the wrong path.

This is just one example. When you ask WNFM, you might be surprised by the answers you get. It could be anything from "please don't make the buttons purple" to "cartoon characters make us feel like we're being talked down to" to "our mobile platform is cluttered, and I hate taking training on my phone." It's true, some of those might just be the result of previous poor design, but it doesn't mean your learner won't have an immediate emotional response to the design choice, and that's something you'll need to consider. Those little details will help you create a product that demonstrates to learners that you were listening and built with their needs in mind.

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Nicole Papaioannou Lugara
Nicole Papaioannou Lugara
Nov 16, 2020

@lucy.mendoza Thanks for your feedback, Lucy! I do most of this work with organizational development in mind, as workplace learning design is my area of expertise (despite coming from an academic background).

For me, the Texas Tech consultation guide is too narrow for workplace learning contexts. It's great for working with an SME and will help you get the content you need, but there are broader conversations you need to be having about business need and performance when working with an organization and designing learning at a high level. This is something I teach in my From Data to Design program ( ) and was also a big part of my Needs Analysis 101 workshops. I see a big gap…


Nov 15, 2020

This post was genuinely insightful; as a soon-to-be instructional designer, I find myself most preoccupied with what I will design instead of what not to design. It seems that providing clients and learners with the trendiest and most up to date innovations can fall flat if the usability is not there.

Having taken courses on organizational culture, I found your initial analysis of the organization's culture crucial in identifying what would work for members and what would be counterproductive. Moving forward, I think it is essential for instructional designers/learning experience designers to have a set of questions ready to get to know the organization's needs and members. Once that data is collected, an instructional designer can then implement a program…

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