Learners prefer facilitated training even though they learn equally well through self-directed eLearning. Whether it is the ability to ask a question or an embrace of the long-held association that learning involves direct human communication, learners prefer the personal touch. The challenge for instructional designers, therefore, is making self-directed eLearning more personable.

Pick a persona

Your writing voice—how you address the learner—is a useful tool to employ. The voice an instructional designer assumes when writing content creates a relationship with the learner. Two-thirds of communication happens through tone of voice. I find it very helpful, while creating content, to assume a persona and adjust my writing voice appropriately. Two of the personas I adopt are the colleague and the guide.

The colleague shares information and assumes a high level of knowledge.

The guide instructs learners and explains which knowledge and skills are important to know.

Assuming a persona addresses two challenges instructional designers face—mirroring the audience and chunking information.

Creating and using your persona

For each persona, I suggest writing content as if you are having a conversation. Visualize the learner. Use stem sentences and segues to structure the conversation while adjusting reading level, word choice, tone, and context to your audience.  

Assuming a persona also helps craft content. To create meaningful and concise content, let your persona guide the editing. For instance, if your intended audience members are managers or supervisors of people, as you review the content, focus exclusively on information needed to manage employees. Thresh out extraneous information. Your writing voice needs to be consistent with your audience and content requirements—need-to-know versus good-to-know information.

Consider how you can use the colleague and the guide personas in these environments.

The colleague

Courses for public health professionals may employ the colleague. This voice is formal and communicates at a higher reading level consistent with the educational attainment of the audience. This persona understands the differences between basic and complex knowledge. Based on the audience’s experience, the colleague knows that case studies are a preferred learning style and shapes content accordingly. The colleague’s voice may sound like:

“When conducting a patient-fall risk assessment in a clinical setting, you may have your staff conduct tests to determine gait, strength, and balance factors in addition to checking for postural hypotension. Medication dosages, particularly psychoactive drugs or those with anticholinergic side effects may need to be reduced or eliminated.”

Word choice and terms need to be technically accurate but possibly adjusted for a wider audience. If the course audience includes patients or parents, in addition to clinicians, you need to explain medical terms like syncope (fainting); the reading level and word choice need to change as well. Subject matter experts (SME) are invaluable resources to assure technical accuracy for the colleague.

The guide

Alternatively, an Internet-based company’s training may feature a more conversational voice with technical terms and references skewed to a younger audience, referring to cloud versus mainframe computing, for example. The guide persona conveys information in a collegial manner and uses pop-culture references. You can assume the audience is computer-literate, and content will reflect that familiarity.

Certain training environments, such as Quick Serve, require behavior changes. In this regard, the guide’s voice needs to accommodate a different reading level using simpler word choice. Context must mirror the work environment by presenting realistic scenarios. The guide needs to sound supportive as role-playing and practice is part of the training.

As a final example, for human resources training, the guide may need to help employees navigate through required legal wording. Simple and concise explanations of legal terms should follow specific scenarios placed in appropriate company and industry context. For example, the guide’s voice may sound like:

“There are two types of harassment—quid pro quo and hostile work environment. Quid pro quo is a Latin term that means ‘something for something.’ It involves a demand for sexual favors to gain a benefit or avoid a bad action. Examples are performing a sexual act to receive a good job review or avoid a bad review. A hostile work environment ...”

Use a persona to speak to learners in appropriate ways

To summarize, use your writing voice and assume a persona to speak to learners in ways that match their personal level, to present only relevant information, and to do so in a compelling and entertaining manner. This requires you thoroughly understand your audience, e.g., educationally and socially, to the extent possible. The reward is better training.