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Why creating e-learning personas can improve online training efficiency

Robert Cialdini, one of the leading experts on persuasion has come up with six basic principles that one can apply in order to get the desired response from another person. One of these six principles is that of liking – we like those who are like us and there is a much greater chance of being convinced by them.

We are a lot more likely to say ‘yes’ to a request coming from one who resembles us than from somebody we have nothing in common with. The advertising industry has long been aware of this and is making efforts to convince consumers that certain products and services are very well received by their peers.

Sometimes it’s a big stretch when they get testimonials from a grandmother, a middle aged lady and a teenager using the same face cream with amazing effects for all of them but that is just a rather hilarious attempt to reach as many different target groups as possible.

Still, the truth of the matter is that generally people are prone to respond well to those who appear to like and, most importantly, understand them.

Learner personas – from statistics to functional individuals

For e-learning designers this means that if they want users to pick their course and stick with it until the end, they need to know who they are designing it for and what makes that particular target audience (or audiences) tick. Using personas (or learner profiles) is a good way to make sure that the end user is always minded, right from the blueprinting stage of a course.

Personas are basically fictional characters that represent a certain demographic. They help the designers get a better idea of what they would like to learn, how they would like to do it and what would motivate them to stay with the program and ultimately recommend it to others.

It’s a good way for instructional designers to get to know and understand their audience at a more personal level, beyond the statistics. With an individualized persona in mind, the designer is able to construct more engaging modules and discover new ways that learners can acquire skills and information.

Knowing the mass behind the persona

Even though the purpose of a learner persona is to move away from the pile of numbers and pie charts describing a certain demographic, these are all necessary at the starting point. In order to create the most representative persona – a sort of epitome of a certain demographic – all essential information regarding that particular group needs to be taken into account.

Furthermore, it’s a good idea to go beyond the literature and conduct surveys, individual interviews and focus groups among the target audience. A thorough analysis ought to also inquire team leaders and managers about their personal experience with those who the e-learning modules are aimed at.

Before outlining the main characteristics of the target audience, a complete big picture is necessary – how they see themselves, how they are perceived by others and most important how they aspire to be.

Constructing the character

The actual creation of the persona is probably the most fun part of the process. Once here, instructional designers should write a descriptive profile of a representative audience member (who by now should also have a name).

The biography should be a complete one, with details such as age, likes and dislikes, educational level, attitude towards learning, job responsibilities, work experience, strengths, weaknesses, skills and competency levels.

As much information as possible should be added to the profile – relevant information, that is. The zodiac sign and whether or not the character had the measles as a child hold no stakes in its performance or engagement in online learning.

Adding a photograph or avatar to the fictional curriculum vitae is also a good idea as designers might proceed to creating content with the image of a person (rather than a piece of paper with adjectives) in mind.

Personas in use

Once the profile is complete, it is safe to begin the actual course design. If the course has several target audiences, there naturally ought to be one persona for each of them. It’s important to keep them in mind every step of the way but they come in particularly handy when there are alternatives to included activities or ways of presenting the information.

It’s at these design crossroads that questions like: “what would Jane/ Joe (or whatever the name of the persona is) prefer?” “What would be the natural reaction to … be?” help ensure the right option is chosen. If there are several people working on the same learning project it is even more important for the personas to be well-constructed, life-like individuals in order to provide some sense of unity of content.

Since learning is a very personal thing, probably the most important aspects that instructional designers need to know about their personas have to do with personal goals.


The job of instructional designers is to come up with content that is relevant and appealing to the target audience. The goal is for people who enroll in a certain e-learning program to come out at the end of it with a feeling of personal accomplishment while at the same time having some sort of positive impact on company efficiency and results. All this is achieved a lot easier if the designers get to know, like and empathize with their audience.

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