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How to use learning personas to make your eLearning more customized

More Success with Adaptive Learning

How to make your eLearning courses even more individual with learner personas

The more individually a learning offer is tailored to the respective person, the more successful their learning process will be. Logically, someone who learns at the individually right time, intrinsically motivated, with the individually right methods and formats, can absorb new knowledge much faster than a person who may not even know exactly what they need the new knowledge for in the first place. Accordingly, efforts are being made to individualize e-learning offerings more and more in order to ultimately not only promote competencies, satisfaction and corporate loyalty, but also to save valuable resources in the long term. But individualization requires information about each individual person. Or!? In this article, you will read how to use so-called learner personas to lay the foundation for individualized e-learning and how to use them to adapt old and new e-learning offerings for individual learners in the future.


Learner Personas and Why They Matter

Target group analyses...

You are probably already familiar with the buzzwords target group analysis and buyer personas from marketing. Both principles can also be applied in e-learning: 

In a target group analysis, (potential) customers are grouped together through empirical collection based on their demographic, socio-economic and psychographic characteristics, buying behavior and media usage. The challenge here is to abstract the groups as far as possible in such a way that a certain heterogeneity results - a multitude of individuals is thus reduced to their common attributes. The most popular criteria: Age, relationship status, place of residence, income - depending on the particular product/service being sold. 

The advantage of a target group analysis is that interested parties with similar characteristics can easily be addressed together - but this is also precisely its disadvantage: messages may no longer do justice to individual persons, individuality is lost. Depending on the abstraction, this effect is so strong that messages even reach people outside the target group. In this case, one speaks of so-called scattering loss.


... and why audience analysis in eLearning is not enough

But when we think about eLearning, we know that we can't afford wastage - after all, wastage of just one person means that they won't be successful in learning and may not complete the training at all. So a simple target group analysis among learners is not enough. What is needed is a deeper understanding of learners and their needs, so that the learning process can be tailored not just to the average learner, but to each individually.


Solution: the learner personas

The solution to this is the so-called learner personas in marketing aka. buyer personas. Instead of creating a group as heterogeneous as possible, one, better several fictitious archetypes are created. These have not only the characteristics that are captured in the target group analysis, but also a name, a face, a biography, a character. Nevertheless, these characteristics are still based on real facts. The goal is to enable such a high degree of identification and empathy in this way that a change of perspective succeeds and one can view e-learning offerings from the perspective of the respective person. So how would Manuela like the course? When can Manuela concentrate best? Surely not during working hours, when her phone rings every 5 minutes, right? And shouldn't Manuela - as an auditory learning type - rather be provided with audio files instead of texts?

Because, of course, it is still not possible to consider all employees individually, ideally several archetypes should be created, each representing as small a group as possible with as many commonalities as possible. Important: However, one or two Lerner Personas are better than none at the beginning - so don't be afraid to start simple! You can also expand the list of learner personas later.

Nadine Pedro
[Translate to English:] Nadine Pedro, chemmedia AG

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Benefits of a learner persona


A learner persona allows you to take the perspective of a specific learner and assess e-learning offerings, devices, learning times, and processes from their point of view. These assessments are instrumental in creating a custom-fit e-learning experience.

Detail accuracy

The intensive study of the persona's personality can reveal characteristics that would not come to light in a superficial target group analysis. For example, that a person already has a certain prior knowledge because he or she is also intensively involved with a certain topic outside of work, or with which tonality of content one can best reach him or her.


Learner personas are much closer to the real identity of learners and than target group analyses. Accordingly, learners will also respond much more positively to e-learning offerings - measurable through higher completion rates and rapid learning progress.


The more individual and thus relevant the content and learning experience, the higher the motivation has also been proven to be. Logically, the easier learning is, the less it is perceived as an unpleasant task and the greater the learning success.


Higher completion rates and faster learning progress not only mean a higher level of competence, but also a more careful use of resources: Logically - time that employees don't have to spend learning because they absorb and retain new knowledge more quickly is available again for productive work in the company. At the same time, of course, higher competencies pay off - for example, depending on the company - through higher sales rates, better customer service, etc.

Employee satisfaction and retention

The more individualized and thus positive the learning experience, the more satisfied employees are. The SkillSoft study shows: Eight out of ten employees would be more satisfied on the job if they could participate in more on-the-job training. According to the TNS Infratest study, 93% of HR managers surveyed also said that a company's training offerings are important to extremely important for employee retention.


How does the learner persona come into play?

But where exactly can learner personas be applied anyway? A look at the different areas of application helps to better understand what data matters and how broadly a learner persona can provide insight into learners.



Simply worded texts or frequently used technical terms? Frequent repetition of definitions or single mention? Support by many illustrative examples or is a certain degree of abstraction possible and perhaps even desired?

Choice of learning method

Does the person prefer to learn alone or in a group, does she like to have a personal contact, or does she prefer to learn independently on her own? Does she need to try things out for herself in order to understand? And does the person perhaps have a lack of concentration?

Choice of terminals available

Do employees learn on the go or at their desktop prefer their smartphone or tablet? Who prefers to lounge on the couch while learning and who only learns at work?


A no-frills, minimalist design or an eccentric and colorful one after all?

Learning offer

Just the bare essentials or is there perhaps even a (private) interest beyond that? May it additionally be a new language - if so, which one?


What is the learner's personal motivation? Is it about promotion prospects, serious intrinsic interest, can the new knowledge perhaps even be applied privately, is there actually no self-interest at all so perhaps bonuses would help?

Didactic concepts

Unrestricted freedom, a rough guideline, or would you rather have a set curriculum with set deadlines?

Media choice

Does the person count as an auditory, visual, reading-writing, or audiovisual learner type?


Create your own learner persona

The 8 essential contents of the learner persona

Create your own learner persona

Name, age, gender, city of residence, marital status

Residential relationship, relationship status and living situation, family, occupation, education level, income

Media consumption, leisure activities, pets, vacation preferences, interests, values, motivations, concerns, any physical or mental illnesses that might pose a challenge to learning; Is the person more modern or conservative in nature, young at heart, age appropriate, or more older/mature?

What does the persona look like? Since the persona is not an average of people, but a (fictional) person, a picture is added to the persona. Once you have a picture in front of your eyes, this significantly increases the empathy ability.

Why is the person learning? What is driving the person? Did she decide to pursue continuing education on her own, or is it mandatory?

What benefits does the person personally expect from continuing education for work and personal life?

What might be holding the person back from participating in continuing education? Are there inhibitions? Does the person perhaps dislike working with others? Is there a lack of personal attention? And does the person perhaps have a lack of concentration?

What end devices does the person use for learning? What external sources of knowledge does she consult? Does she compare with other learning opportunities - if so, with which ones? According to which quality characteristics does the person choose a learning offer (price, duration, ratings, quality seal)? Does the person learn quickly one after the other or rather in small bites? How long are the breaks between the learning units and, in case of longer interruptions, are short repetitions perhaps necessary? 


Using the different sources of information

Generally, the more information you have, the more refined the picture of your persona will be, the easier it will be to take their perspective, and the better the learning experience can be tailored. Because the fictional persona, as mentioned at the outset, is an archetype of real people groups in your organization (unlike in marketing, where a persona depicts a*future ideal customer), you have all internal sources of information at your disposal to map the learner persona as realistically as possible.


Learning Analytics

If you already have e-learning offerings in place, much of the data you need, especially that related to the learner journey, can already be gleaned from learning analytics. When, where, and with which device does a person learn? How long do they learn on average? When are their most intensive learning times? Is she taking courses faster than average (underachieving) or having trouble completing them (overachieving)? ...


The easiest and most effective way to learn more about learners is, of course, face-to-face contact. Surveys and in-person interviews help to learn more about psychographic characteristics, motivations, barriers, and learning preferences.


Last but not least, you can of course also draw on your daily observations and the knowledge you already have about your employees. Depending on the size of your company, you certainly know some of them quite well, know quite a bit about their private lives, their professional desires and motivations. Important: This is not about "spying", of course, but about using your already existing knowledge to create an archetype that is as close to reality as possible.


Using the learner persona successfully via adaptation

Evaluating e-learning content from the persona's perspective


Once the learner personas are created, the real work begins: individualizing the e-learning offering – to match the different archetypes you've identified in your organization. Take the perspective of your persona and look at the learning offering from their point of view:


  • How would Manuela find the course? 
  • Which elements and formats would Manuela enjoy?
  • When and where would Manuela learn?
  • Would Manuela rather learn in small bites or in a coherent way?
  • Does Manuela understand the chosen language?

Adapt the e-learning content

The next step is to adapt the learning content to fit your answers. But don't worry: What at first sounds like an almost insurmountable challenge is supported by professional authoring tools and learning management systems with so-called "adaptation features" 

In simple terms, Adaptions Features allow learning content, once created, to be easily adapted to different archetypes. So instead of creating courses from scratch for each persona, they are simply adapted – that is, different versions are created to fit each "persona". In the case of Knowledgeworker Create, adaptation features available include:


Adaptation by audience function

Learners select which group they feel they belong to at the beginning of the course. Distinctions can be made to match their archetypes by learning preferences, by department, by expertise level, etc. You determine how you define the target groups and which subsequent content is played out to the respective person. If you differentiate by learning preferences, people who prefer to learn often and briefly can take the course as Micro Learning, people who prefer to learn for longer periods at a time will instead get the same content as a Compact Course.

Adaptation through Pretests

Certainly, different expertise will have played a role in the creation of the archetypes. In this case, pretests - tests that learners take BEFORE the course begins - help to individually categorize their knowledge levels and jump to the relevant point in the curriculum. Employees with little prior knowledge start with the basics, while others with more prior knowledge can skip course content. This avoids under- and overload, is proven to increase motivation, and saves the company and employees with more expertise valuable time that would otherwise have gone into unnecessary repetition.

Adaptation by conditional display

Conditional display allows e-learning content to be adapted to different variables such as the device used. For example, infographics can be stored for both mobile and desktop versions. This ensures that people who like to learn on their smartphone on the train or on the couch also benefit from an optimal display.


Try it out

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Banner authoring tool "Knowledgeworker create"
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Use drag & drop to build state-of-the-art interactive online courses in minutes—it’s easy and no programming knowledge is required. Integrated task, review and translation management allows you to work collaboratively and accelerate your course creation.


The bottom line.

The more individualized the learning experience, the higher the motivation and learning success. The positive effects are enormous: employees are not only more competent and satisfied, but also more inclined to commit themselves to the company. Companies thus not only save resources in the long term, but can also rely on well-trained teams. All it takes is sophisticated learner personas and a professional LCMS with adaptive learning tools. Once the archetypes are created, adaptation will quickly become routine.

Magda Lehnert | Blogger
Magda Lehnert

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