Consider this scenario: You are conversing with Max on the phone, and he asks you to describe your office space. You mention the size of the room, the objects it has in it, the place where you’re sitting, your desk and so on.

Max arrives at your office – wearing sunglasses and carrying a white cane. It never occurred to you that he could be blind! How would you describe the details of your office to Max now? You begin by saying, “10 steps into the room, on the left-hand side, is my cupboard.” Your instructions and depictions changed dramatically once you learned about your audience.

The reason most of our training programs do not have an impact on the learners is that we don’t know who our learners are. To determine which learning content suits our audience, we first need to determine who our audience is. Audience analysis not only helps to understand the age, culture and other demographics of our learners, but it is also a vital method to analyze their “skill and will.” You’ll need to take a set of parameters to analyze your audience that will determine the way you treat the content. Here’s how to start.

Where Do Your Learners Dwell?

First, you’d need to conduct a demographic analysis. It’s important to understand where your audience is coming from, literally. If the learners are dispersed, is your training capable of catering to a global audience? Learning a bit about the society and culture your learners live and work in can help.

Next, learn about their age and their educational background. Are you developing content for a group of high-school dropouts or doctors? Are you creating training for millennials or for an older group of learners? You should adjust your language, the examples you use and other aspects your approach according to the answers to these questions.

Demographic analysis helps you to imagine your learners in context. Once you can picture them, it is easier to develop your content.

What Are Your Learners’ Jobs?

Imagine fruit sellers. With the right demographic analysis, you’ll be able to construct the environment where they work. By analyzing their work context, you will be able to gain more clarity on the way they work. For example, are they working inside a store or in an outdoor market? Once you understand the context in which the learners are performing the tasks, the next step is to determine what they need to learn to perform them. Then, through skill gap analysis, you can identify the current performance of your learners and compare it to the desired performance level.

Are Your Learners Content with the Content?

After conducting the analysis, the next step in knowing your audience better is to empathize with them. Empathy is the first step in the design thinking process. It helps you create training that people will want to use and that will be meaningful to them.

If you were to create a training program for Max, would it be the same as creating training for someone who can see? Here, the first step would be to close your eyes and imagine what you would need if you were Max. (Actually, you don’t need to imagine at all. You could talk to Max, or use the well-established body of research on how to build training for learners with visual impairments.)

Empathizing enables you to understand your audience by shadowing and observing them and creating a learning experience that in turn, enables them.

Defining the Challenges Your Learners are Facing

To understand the challenges your learners face, ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the business need that your training is attempting to solve?
  • What are the objectives of the target audience? How will your training help them achieve those goals?
  • What challenges are they facing in their jobs?
  • What challenges are they likely to face during your training? For example, if the course is gamified, will all of your learners be more or less engaged?

To Train or Not to Train

Once you define the problem that you are aiming to solve, ask yourself this vital question: Do your learners really need training in order to overcome that problem?

Maybe the problem is not with the learners. The problem could be with the structures or strategies of the organization or environment they are working in. Alternatively, perhaps the problem requires a one-one-one intervention with a learner, or maybe their managers can provide some coaching to help them.

While it’s key to not underestimate your audience, it’s important to know the challenges they face every day to ensure that your training is engaging and user-friendly.

Chalking It up to Experience

Many training programs overload learners with all the information the training developers think learners should know. Instead, focus on how to provide learners with an experience in their context. Once you burn yourself, it’s easy to remember not to touch a hot object. Similarly, provide learners with choices, let them see the consequences, and then help them reflect on why their choice did or did not work. Let them fail and learn from it.

The key to developing effective training content is to be aware that it will have an impact on someone’s life, and that someone will have an impact on someone else’s life. It’s about creating not one but a series of experiences. After all, what is learning but a shared experience?