How to use personas for Digital Learning Design

26 October

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How to use personas for Digital Learning Design

When designing learning materials and courses, it’s important to ensure it is optimally adapted to the needs and preferences of the learner. The learner’s habits, behaviours and preferences can be incorporated into the experience to maximise the efficiency of learning and reduce the number of learners who drop out. ​

By understanding the target learners, we can design and develop digital courses that will be engaging, motivating and most of all meet the needs and expectations of learners. This is where learner personas can be a useful tool for instructional designers.

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What is a Learner Persona?

A learner persona is a fictional profile of your digital course’s target audience. The personas are “hypothetical archetypes of actual users” as defined by Alan Cooper, the creator of personas. 

Originally used in the marketing industry to design advertising campaigns, they are also a useful tool for designing learning materials. By putting the learner at the centre of the process, one can produce learner experiences (LX) that are focused on learner needs. ​

A persona is constructed at the analysis or early design stage from real-life data. That means the attributes and behaviours listed represent the attitudes, skill level, and background knowledge that you expect in your general user base. ​

What are the benefits of using a learner persona?

Building learners personas when building online learning courses can have have many benefits such as:

  • On a macro scale, provides a learner-centred design of programmes, courses and modules ​

  • On a micro-scale, drives learning centred content and higher engagement​

  • Personalised learning experiences​

  • Consistency to the design, especially in a large organisation with multiple stakeholders​

  • Insights into habits or decisions that you would not even have considered. ​ The more you know, the more you can design for specific preferences​

Building Personas ​

Developing strong personas requires time and effort, which is why it might be a good idea to involve the whole team in the design for a collaborative process.

A persona should have: ​

  • Background Information and context ​

  • Behaviour patterns ​

  • Goals (long and short term ones) ​

  • Needs ​

  • Attitudes, beliefs and opinions ​

  • Skillset​

  • Fictional Photo

Final Tips ​and Considerations

  • Make sure the personas are linked to your learning outcomes, help in the design process, and do not impede it. If you find it difficult to match a persona’s need to the goal of your programme of course, think if you are really designing learner-centred experiences.​

  • ​Try to build empathy for your learners, the more you know them the better learning experience you can provide them with. ​

  • ​If you have the opportunity to do so, test personas in a user group. ​

It ultimately helps you empathise with the learner.​ It will help you to keep considering certain questions, for example:​

  • How will we motivate this persona to engage with the learning content?​

  • What support will the learner need as they flow through the design process?​

  • What does this persona know about the topic?​

  • Will the design help this persona complete the training? ​

  • How long will the persona take to finish this activity? ​

  • Will the persona understand the language used? ​

  • How will this persona access this learning?​

Learner Persona is an important resource to design digital learning experiences. This content is explored more in-depth on our Professional Diploma in Digital Learning Design.

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