These 27 Questions Will Help You (Really) Know Your Learners

From SHIFT’s eLearning Blog by Karla Gutierrez

What’s the point of creating a course that no one wants?

No point at all, right?

YET, we find hundreds of eLearning designers creating courses that nobody wants. Courses which the designers themselves can’t figure: who would want!

It should ALWAYS be the other way around.

Designers must first understand their target audience and then build content around their needs, circumstances, limitations, preferences, and wants. This means that one must move beyond the common descriptions handed out by SMEs, the manager, or even the client.

Hence, this post where I will talk about empathy mapping — an intuitive, yet highly powerful framework that uses a set of questions that puts you in your audience’s shoes. It is a great way forengaging with SMEs as well as performing your own research.


Questions for Demographics

Understanding demographics allows you to understand values and outcomes that inspire and hence better engage and motivate your learners. To understand their values, you must be able to

  1. What is the size of your target audience? — allows you to see if your target audience is large enough to generate expected revenue
  2. What is their educational and cultural background? — allows you to choose a language for your course that is neither too simple nor too technical for the audience. It will also aid you in avoiding any misuse of culturally confusing or unacceptable metaphors and analogies.
  3. What is their current role? — This defines how the content is relayed. If the audience has a highly agile and fast paced work-life (C-suite executives), or if the audience is juggling multiple jobs (e.g. working moms) then your course modules must be short, the content is affected likewise.
  4. Do they work in offices or do they engage in physical labor outdoors?  — This defines the level of mobility your course content offers (different from mobility of accessing the course). For example, outdoor workers will benefit from course that has less reading content and audio, video, and visual content (info graphs, etc.)

Questions to Understand Their Grasp of Technology 

What is the comfort level of your target audience when it comes to using technology? Unless you know their knowledge and practical experience in using technology, all those interactive lessons (and lesson activities, e.g. social based) may go to waste. Question them about:

  1. Are they tech-savvy? — What is there level of dependence on technology (mobile, social, web, etc.)
  2. How will they be accessing the course? Will they rely on office equipment (computer lab, training room, etc.) or will they rely on their own device? This sets the budget on level of mobility and device responsiveness of your course.
  3. What is their level of activity on social media? —How much do they understand its use? This lets you increase/limit the reliance of the course of social activities.
  4. What software and programs do they use in their daily work? — Let’s you supplement the course with already available courses.

Questions to Find their Level of Skill/Knowledge

What new knowledge and skill should your course impart and develop respectively? This can only be addressed when you know their existing level of knowledge and skill.

  1. What types of skills is the team missing that you’re looking to fill with this course?
  2. What do they already know? — Do they want to learn from scratch or update themselves?
  3. What DON’T they know?
  4. What’s their experience with this topic? Perhaps practical experience lacking structured theory?
  5. Do they think they need this training? — What is their level of urgency? Organization wide change or personal growth?
  6. What are your audience’s preconceptions about your topic? — Do they find it hard and too technical? Do they think it’s just a formality?
  7. How much time available for training do they have?  — Can learner attend a 1-week course or only be away 2 hours at a time?
  8. Under what circumstances will they need to use what they learn?
  9. Why will they want to learn? — What’s in it for them?

Questions for Better Marketing

  1. What will prevent your audience from hooking to your content?
  2. What will keep them from adopting your message and carrying out your call to action?
  3. How might they resist? — Think of different objections learners might have.
  4. What is using this content going to be like in their real work?  — Where will they be after taking the course?
  5. What if they don’t take the course? What will happen?
  6. What do they actually need to DO after? — What are your learners expecting to be able to do at the workplace after they have taken your course?
  7. If learners weren’t required to take your course, would they? — What is your course’s USP?

Questions to Address the Problems They Face

  1. What’s their world or typical day like? — Their routine/schedule sets the tone for your course. If they will have time only at the end of the day or on weekends after a hard day/week at work, then the tone and length of the modules must be short, and the type of content must be light, simple, and even humorous.
  2. What are the common constraints or challenges? — Lack of time, information overload, house chores, extensive road trips/flights, etc. Lets you make your course leverage those constraints (Audio for the road, light reading for the flight, Infographics in between lunch breaks, etc.)
  3. What are their professional and life goals? — Your content must reinforce how those goals are met, or are being met at the end of every module.

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