The ability to climb inside the minds of learners to truly understand how they learn can help learning leaders design courses that deliver substantial ROI. As there is no one-size-fits-all course, there is similarly no one-size-fits-all way to learn. Creating learner personas has been gaining traction in the last few years as a way to be more empathetic to learners and align course content and delivery with needs more closely.
As a fictional profile representing the target learner or group of learners, a learner persona can serve as a valuable guide for instructional designers hoping to create deeper and more relevant learning experiences.
“Creating personas involves extensive research into what makes your target audience tick,” explains TrainingIndustry.com. “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.”
Learner personas can be said to be a riff on buyer personas, which have been an important component in marketing departments for at least a decade. Marketers create and lean on buyer personas in order to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the needs, desires, habits, and preferences of their prospects and customers.
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8 Tips for Creating Learner Personas
More than just listing job titles, work experiences, and technical skills, learner personas can include so much more. Here are a few suggestions to supercharge your efforts.
1. Create a fictional name and use a stock photo.
To bring more clarity to the persona, some L&D teams actually create a fictional name and attach a stock photo to the learner persona in order to have the most complete idea of the person for whom they are targeting.
This can be helpful because the team can move beyond building learning experiences from a list of requirements but instead with a person in mind—even if the person doesn’t really exist.
2. Use real data from real sources.
Take out the guesswork: lean on both qualitative and quantitative data when developing your learner personas.
Quantitative data can be obtained from training intake forms, the LMS, or the employees’ HR files. Qualitative data can be captured via interviews, observations, and even casual conversations with sample learners. You’ll be able to hear their story and better understand how they acquire or absorb knowledge or new skills.
3. Trust the process.
Because of the research into the needs, habits, preferences, and skills of your target audience of learners, you will capture a level of insight that you could not possibly get by simply reviewing a training request form—no matter how detailed you make it.
Indeed the very process of trying to understand your learners can translate to certain design and development decisions—whether or not a full-on learner persona has been created.
4. Create as many personas as you need.
As the creation of learner personas is a rather new concept, there is no single set of rules governing how many personas are ideal.
You might start with a handful, and then increase the number as you recognize differing traits of subgroups of learners.
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5. Don’t go overboard—stick to learner characteristics.
While detailed personas might give a level of depth into the character of the learner, be careful about weighing the persona down with demographics that do not matter. For example, a description such as, “Jessica is a 35-year-old mother of three from the Northern suburbs,” might not add much, unless it’s relevant to their role and/or the learning.
Marketers are known to add these personal dimensions to their buyer personas. This is because purchasing decisions are personal and emotional, and companies usually make attempts to increase the number of touch points where they can connect with buyers. Learning and development preferences are not the same as shopping habits, so exercise caution when writing learner personas.
6. Create learner personas using templates.
Creating learner personas shouldn’t be too difficult or time consuming.
Templates simplify content development, so why not use them for the creation of learner personas?
Besides creating a uniform look and feel for the personas, the other benefit of using learner persona templates is that it standardizes the information so that L&D team members will know what to ask and look for. They will not have to worry that they are not seeking enough information, or whether they are going overboard (which can help address #5 above).
7. Lean on other stakeholders.
Learners in particular roles might have developed their learning preferences based on the particular management or supervisory experience in which they have grown accustomed.
As such, consider meeting with learners’ supervisors or peers for further background information that might be relevant to develop the persona.
Additionally, digging even deeper—industry groups, online platforms, preferred technologies—can all be extremely helpful in developing personas.
8. Test your personas.
As with any course, support tools, or learning experience, you always want to test and make adjustments for the future.
After creating a learner persona for a course, and then building and delivering that course, you might find that certain aspects truly resonated with learners but others did not. If that was due to an oversight in the learner persona, make an adjustment for the future.
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