User Story Mapping For Contextual Analysis

User Story Mapping For Contextual Analysis
George Rudy/
Summary: Here is what you need to know about using Agile tools for conducting a contextual analysis.

User Story Mapping: Using Agile Tools For Contextual Analysis

Context is critical for any learning event. It’s what makes a good learning design relevant to the learners. Instructional Design models don’t seem to give much guidance about how to use the contextual elements to improve learning and the transfer of the learning. Which leads me to story mapping, user stories, and journey mapping as a method of doing a contextual analysis to help aid the design and development of a course and or to improve performance.

Story mapping or user story mapping is an Agile term. Patton (2017) describes user stories as a shared understanding between the user, stakeholders, and the design team. In terms of Agile software design, user stories are the smallest unit of work, or tasks, described as a goal for the end user. Then there are the user personas. User personas provide software developers with a snapshot of typical user’s demographics, needs/goals, and trigger points and typically lead to the creation of story mapping.

Contextual Analysis For Learning Design

What if we take these Agile terms and use the tools as a means for doing the contextual analysis for a learning design and creating content of courses? What about instead of a user persona, create a performer persona? A performance persona makes a performance problem tangible by associating a profile of the target user with a performance problem. The performer persona would describe the individual in context with a job or task, not the learning context.

A learner persona would be a subset of the performer persona, with the latter reflecting the context in terms of course aims, prerequisite skills, etc. The relevance of the performance persona is that it reflects the characteristic of an individual in terms of the performance problems and both instructional and non-instructional interventions.

Typical contextual considerations when doing a contextual analysis include items like learner characteristics, gender, age, etc. as well as information on the environment the work is performed in, what is needed to perform on the job, and the gaps in performance that the training is trying to address.

Performance personas give more by adding to the learner characteristics the needs and goals of the individual doing the performance as well as their motivation to perform. Demographics can also be added to the persona such as their ability to use a computer or specific system skills, even their ability to use social media in the context of a job.

For example, consider Karen who is a technical service representative, TSR. Her personal goal as a TSR accurately process orders to maximize profits and customer satisfaction. What she needs is correct order information, a usable system, email organization, follow up strategies, and an understanding of the processes downstream, such as shipping and receiving. Karen’s motivation and pain points could include more incentives for order completion and sales leads, incentives for increasing margins, and a quiet workspace w/privacy and fewer interruptions. These are all relevant to her job.

User Stories As A Means To Enhance Learning Performance

Following behind the performance personas, user stories could be used to pinpoint the root cause of performance problems by promoting brainstorming and analysis from a performers perspective (Czeropski, Pembrook, 2017). The story mapping coupled with the performer persona becomes the contextual analysis for the design. Both these tools could be used to create evidence-based scenarios that can be used as content for eLearning or instructional led courses. It also gives support that the course design and delivery will have the desired impact because participants will be able to relate.

I do see a trend in some of the areas of Learning and Development to focus on Instructional Design models, particularly Agile Instructional Design, rapid eLearning development tools, and instructional solutions. What seems to be missing from most of the tools is the upfront analysis. Agile tools such as personas and story mapping can be used to bridge the upfront analysis gap and to give the contextual analysis needed for any learning design.


  • Patton, J. (2017). User story mapping: Discover the whole story and build the right product. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly
  • Czeropski, S., Pembrook, C. (2017) E-learning Ain’t Performance: Reviving HPT in an Era of Agile and Lean. Performance Improvement, vol. 56, no. 8, Wiley Online Library