Most of us (whether from the Instructional Design or L&D team) are aware of the significance of audience analysis. We know that only when this analysis is correctly applied to identify a learning strategy is when we would see the required gains in enhanced skill, thinking, or behavioral change in the learners.

Yet, quite often, this aspect is driven by assumptions and a limited analysis of what would truly resonate with the learners. Why does this happen?

Here is my take on this gap on audience analysis and how it impacts the eventual gain the learners seek. As Instructional Designers, we want to create courses with a “wow” factor, and this often leads us to opt for learning strategies that excite us, but they do not resonate well with the learners.

While it is important to create learning designs that excite learners, the learning journey must enable them to meet their specific mandate. Only then will they walk away with a sense of fulfilment and accomplishment.

Significance of audience analysis: To understand the learners (as in, by being in their shoes), we need to do an extensive audience analysis. To achieve the learner mandate, we need to understand the learners, think like them, and ascertain what would excite them and, more significantly, what would not.

Specifically, while conducting audience analysis, we need to identify what would help create a sticky learning experience, help them improve their performance, or solve a problem.

Additionally, we need to extend the audience analysis to include what learning strategies would help influence learners’ thinking process and, eventually, behavior.

In this article, I begin with the significance of audience analysis. Then, I take you through the technique of Learner Personas that can be used (in contrast to limited, real user sampling) to help you choose the right learning strategies and design formats that would create high-impact learning experiences.


Why Is Audience Analysis Necessary and How Does It Impact the Learning Design?

Today, Instructional Designers are spoilt for choice with the range of learning strategies and multiple design formats that can be used to craft a learning design. However, this does make the selection process a bit more difficult. How do you select the right option, when more than one approach or a combination thereof can work?

This is exactly where audience analysis helps. It helps us understand:

  • Who are the target learners.
  • What are their preferences (how they want to learn, when and where would they want to learn, what degree of control they require on how they want to consume learning, and so on).
  • What is their current knowledge or proficiency level.
  • What is driving or motivating them.
  • What exactly do they want to accomplish (through training or performance support).

Sounds simple, is there a catch?

Online training typically addresses a wide and heterogeneous set of learners (coming from multicultural backgrounds, different geographies, different age groups, different proficiency levels, and certainly different motivation levels, and so on).

It is practically impossible to interact with each learner to understand what would resonate best with each of them.

This is where the technique of using Learner Personas comes in.

  • By using the technique of Learner Personas, you can identify and select the learning design that will deliver the desired impact.
  • It also helps you eliminate certain options (that may work with certain Learner Personas but not with others).


What Are Learner Personas and How Do They Offer a Better Option as Compared to a Limited, Real User Sampling?

It goes without saying that using cues from real or actual users will lead to a more definitive audience analysis. However, it is very challenging to pool in this data from all users. Hence, we take cues through a partial sampling of the real users, but this may lead to picking up limited cues and not necessarily the overall patterns. On account of this, we can miss the bigger picture and may potentially get a limited impact from the selected learning design.

This is where the use of Learner Personas comes to the rescue and it can aid in helping us hit the bull’s-eye with the right learning strategy.

Learner Personas are fictional learner profiles that are generated through the aggregation of real user data. They are very useful in understanding the target audience in terms of their background, what would motivate them, and how they would like to learn. In fact, Learner Personas are created by using a partial sampling of the real-world users. They enable Instructional Designers to validate what approaches or combination thereof can meet the expectations of different learner profiles.

With Learner Personas, you look at the learning design from the learners’ viewpoint and assess if the selected approach would work or otherwise.

  • You work with more tangible cues rather than assumptions to craft the learning design.
  • Different stakeholders in the project development cycle can use this to validate or tweak their approach and re-draw the learning design suitably.

As a result, you are likely to meet the learners’ mandate without the pain of re-work on the developed training.


How Can You Build Learner Personas?

As I have highlighted, while the Learner Personas are a fictional profile, they draw upon real-world users’ data. This data can be collated through a step-by-step approach to create and refine the Learning Personas.

At EI Design, we use a combination of the following approaches:

Step 1: Have a discussion with:

  1. Project sponsors.
  2. L&D teams.
  3. The Business Unit.

Step 2: Survey/Interview a small group of target learners. If feasible, spend some time with the target user group and observe them.

Step 3: Analysis of past data for projects with a similar mandate to ascertain what worked and what may need to be updated/worked upon to meet the mandate.

At EI Design, we use a simple two-tiered model to create the Learner Personas.

We begin with basic cues on demographics that typically include:

  • Age.
  • Role.
  • Region or Geographic location.
  • Interests.
  • Cultural aspects.

Then, we look at the next tier of cues that typically include:

  1. Learning mandate/needs (What are they exactly aiming to accomplish through the training or Performance Support intervention).
  2. Current proficiency and expected gain.
  3. Motivation factors.
  4. Preferred device to learn (Smartphone/Tablet, Laptop/Desktop, or the flexibility to work across devices).
  5. Preferred approach to learn (Microlearning or Macrolearning as well as different formats).
  6. Preferences for learning strategies (particularly relevant when there are existing training programs).
  7. Preferred mode of training delivery (prescribed learning path, Personalized path, or customized path).

The value of using Learner Personas is in working with a bigger picture that increases the ability to achieve the learner mandate through the most appropriate learning design.

I hope this article will help you in crafting more effective learning experiences by leveraging the technique of Learner Personas. These learning strategies will resonate better with your learners and deliver the required value to them as well as to the business.

Meanwhile, if you have any specific queries, do contact me or leave a comment below.