Have you ever come across an advertisement that you personally connected with and felt like the marketers knew exactly what you needed? They probably did! The best marketers create hypothetical people called consumer personas that are representative of their target audience’s demographic.

Consumers want to feel heard and seen. So do learners, which is why adopting learner personas is an important step in learner-centered training.

Defining Learner Personas

Learner personas are well-developed fictional profiles that represent the target audience for whom you are designing a learning program. These personas share common characteristics, such as demographics, training goals, professional responsibilities, educational background, skill level and preferred platforms. They usually have a name, backstory, and likes and dislikes that are similar to your target learners. While they are not real people but, rather, archetypes, defining them will help bring them to life.

The Appeal of Learner Personas

Learner personas are powerful tools for connecting with your learners. Here are some of the benefits of using them in learning program design:

They Provide Insight Into Your Learners’ Habits

Creating personas involves extensive research into what makes your target audience tick. You and your organization gain a glimpse into the mind of your learners and can identify needs, habits, decision-making skills and questions you would not have otherwise considered. Empowered with this knowledge, you can then decide on the training you can offer them.

They Are Important for Personalized Learning

Personas are powerful in creating learner-focused content. Often, instructional designers find it difficult to separate themselves from their work and end up creating learning content, strategies and interfaces that appeal more to them than their learners.

Personalized learning is tailored, relatable and realistic. Learner personas acquaint you with your learners’ preferences. You become familiar with the decisions they might make at different phases of the program, what excites them and what bores them, and their preferred online platforms. Then, you can design and make tweaks accordingly.

They Establish Consistency

Your learning team and stakeholders need a clear understanding of your audience. Developing personas helps to formalize learner models and backstories that you can document, share and use throughout the creation of the program. This approach creates consistency and unity across the entire training design and development team and ensures that everyone carries out his or her task with the same “person” in mind.

They Help You Create Better Learning Programs

Building learning personas based on the unique characteristics of your audience enables you to identify and understand the learning objectives, challenges and preferences of your learners and tailor programs with them in mind. You’ll also have the opportunity to integrate new information into your personas as your learners grow. Customizing dynamic personas in this way will help enhance the learning experience and foster development.

3 Steps to Create a Learner Persona

Knowing learner characteristics can be invaluable as you develop your learning programs over time. Follow these steps to make them effective:

1. Gather Information About Your Learners

The most representative personas emerge from an audience analysis that includes quantitative data (e.g., from surveys, the learning management system or the human resources team) and qualitative data (e.g., from one-on-one interviews, focus groups, ethnographic research and observations). In particular, in-person conversations with sample audience members in the workplace can be illuminating, as you’ll be able to experience their environment and hear their stories.

If you’re not able to meet with learners, speaking with their supervisors or your stakeholders will help you understand them. The point is to ensure that your personas reflect reality rather than a projection of what you think your learners are like.

Ask questions that encompass basic demographics (e.g., age, gender and location), education and skill levels, work environments, schedules, relationships, preferred devices and online platforms, and attitude toward learning. It’s important to go beyond demographic information and explore qualitative data like their needs, motivations, frustrations and dreams.

2. Analyze and Summarize Information

With this information successfully collected, the next step is to analyze it, looking for repeating trends and rare traits. Write a descriptive profile of the hypothetical learner. Give this persona a name and the traits of real individuals from the learning group. Take it a step further by adding a photo to give the persona life and personality.

Developing personas is typically a collaborative process; work with your team members to weave together a backstory for this hypothetical person.

3. Put Your Learner Personas to Work

In the end, you will have several personas that are representative of your learners and that give you a tangible sense of them. Share these personas with your team, and ensure that they stay alive in their minds throughout design and development. Have conversations about them, and refer to them as if they were real people: “Would Karen like this new game we added to the course? How long would it take for Bill to finish this module?”

Learner Personas: The Secret Ingredient

To reap the benefits of this concept, your learner personas should have rich, relevant detail, based on the experiences of real people. In creating these personas, you are creating the foundation of relevant learning. Learner personas are a proven, time-efficient and cost-effective way to help show your learners you care about them as individuals and ensure that they connect with your message.

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