Conducting an L&D Audit: Learning Audiences & Learner Personas

learner persona audit

In this installment of our L&D Audit series, you’ll learn how, why, and when
to audit and refresh your learner personas.

Design thinking is a concept that has piqued the interest of learning professionals for some time. With concerns such as learner engagement and driving performance top of mind for L&D, design thinking and taking a learner-centric approach is pivotal.

Learner personas enable your training team to keep the learner at the centre of all decisions around training, from analysis to design and delivery. But learner personas can change over time. So a regular audit and reassessment of your learner personas ensures you are staying current and relevant in terms of  your learners’ needs and expectations.

What is a Learner Persona?

The concept of a persona to represent a target audience was first developed by product and marketing teams. They are used as a way to guide decisions when materials are designed and produced. Personas allow your team to ensure whatever they produce is created with an empathetic approach towards the end user.

The result of using personas are experiences and products that provide maximum value to the end user by taking their demographics, preferences, and expectations into account during the analysis and design phase.

Learner personas are profiles of make believe people who represent the traits and preferences of different segments of your learning audiences. A learner persona might include:

  • Name, age, seniority, and previous experience
  • Learning preferences
  • Common challenges
  • Hard skills acquired
  • Soft skills aptitude
  • Career aspirations

When designing a learning experience for a specific group of learners within your organization, you and your team can use these personas to design training that maximizes engagement and provides true value to the learner.

learner persona example

Download this free learner persona template to help your organize and optimize your learning audience profiles:
Learner Persona Template

Why Audit Your Learner Personas?

Even if you already have learner personas, it’s important to assess their relevance and accuracy regularly. The preferences and demographics of the workforce change over time. A learner persona created ten years ago may no longer apply.

For example, Millennials and Gen Z are rapidly moving into the workforce as older generations move out. The expectations, career aspirations, and learning preferences of these employees has been shown to be vastly different to previous generations. They’re also generally more digitally fluent.

Other factors that may impact your learner personas are mergers and acquisitions, shifts in corporate culture, and external market forces. 

Regularly auditing your learner personas ensures the learning experiences designed by your team resonate with learners, address their needs, and cater to their preferences for maximum value added.  

Auditing Existing Learner Personas

Before you begin auditing existing learner personas, is there anyone you have missed?

1. Assess company wide changes

Major shifts in the organization can have a significant impact on the demographics and preferences of your learners. For example, if your company has merged, you may have an entirely new group of employees and learners to take into account. Perhaps your business is expanding into an entirely new market, or leadership has changed and major cultural changes are underway.

The pandemic is a prime example of the type of change that could impact the validity of your existing learner personas. There have been budget freezes, cuts to headcount and an entirely new way of working for many people throughout the shift to remote work.

These types of changes should be taken into consideration at the beginning of your learner persona audit so you can align them with business needs as well as learner preferences.

Managing change requires an agile L&D strategy. Try this strategy template to keep you and your team on track no matter what comes your way:
Learning and Development Strategy Template

2. Structure your learner persona

Before you go any further, structure a blank learner persona. This will let you know what type of information you need to collect to create robust and genuinely useful learner personas.

What gaps exist in your current learner personas? Are there any demographics or elements that you could collect that would enable your training team to develop more valuable learning experiences?

Once you have the learner persona fully structured, you can begin gathering what you need.

woman developing learner persona template

3. Conduct a survey

Many organizations already conduct learner surveys regularly to assess demand and preferences. When conducting an employee survey related to training, ensure you include questions that can help you segment your learning audience and accurately fill in the blanks in your existing personas.

Your survey should capture:

  • General demographics
  • Position and tenure with the company
  • Role and responsibilities
  • Attitude towards training
  • Current time spent on training
  • Existing skills profile
  • Career goals
  • Learning goals
  • Learning delivery preferences
  • Digital fluency
  • Defining traits
  • Current challenges in their role
  • Training courses completed to date

Some information may be difficult to gather through surveys. In that instance, it can be beneficial to leverage HR and team performance data to round out your learner personas.

4. Assess past performance

Surveys can be useful, but they also have their limitations. People are prone to saying one thing in a survey but failing to follow through. This has been shown many times over when market research fails to accurately predict what customers actually want once a product or service is in front of them. 

So, while survey data can be a primary source of information for your learner personas, it’s also important to look at the hard and fast results of training.

If you’ve been gathering feedback from training sessions regularly, it’s just a case of analyzing the performance of different types and topics of training. Similarly, eLearning platforms or your LMS can make it easy to analyze adoption and engagement rates with previous training.

By assessing the past performance of training against your survey results, you can build a more accurate picture of respondents true preferences and need for different types of training.

5. Identify trends

Once your data is gathered, you can begin to identify trends and segments within your overall learning audience.

Significant groups within your learning audience can then be segmented and a learner persona created (or an existing one amended) to reflect the demographics, preferences, and behaviours of that group.

6. Incorporate the changes

Now that the trends are identified, you can begin to incorporate them into your learner personas.

Learner personas should read as if the person is real, even though they are a fictional representation of a large group of people. Writing them this way provides your instructional designers and training team members with a person, rather than a bland list of demographics. Designing for a person rather than a statistic is what ensures an empathetic and learner-focused approach to learning design.

Refreshing your learner personas can enable you to accurately assess what’s needed for an effective upskilling and reskilling program. Learn more in this free eBook:
How Upskilling and Reskilling Programs Can Futureproof Your Workforce

Getting Started with Learner Personas

If this is your first time getting to grips with developing learner personas for your organization, the good news is that the steps are essentially the same as above. However, it might take longer since you are gathering data and information from scratch to develop your personas. 

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