After going through the effort of creating eLearning courses, designers want learners to actually engage with the content and use the information provided. Yet too often, they don't. Why is that?

Years of testing and tracking have led marketers to an insight that improves content consumption, engagement, and retention, and can drive behavior change: Use personas.

In creating personas, the biggest mistake people make is to confuse personas with demographics. Personas do account for key demographic points, such as gender, age range, income bracket, and location, which may be the source of the confusion. But, among employees, details such as division, title, years with the company, etc. should be considered demographic information, not persona information.

The distinction matters because, while the demographic details provide some helpful context, these are not the points of connection that will resonate with a learner. What drives engagement and behavior change is an interaction that resonates on an emotional level—and emotion is what personas help eLearning designers tap into at scale.

A single persona is rarely sufficient for marketing or eLearning purposes; most organizations will have between three and five personas. These will cross employees' proximity to the corner office, years with the company, business unit, etc. A few key characteristics will help define internal personas for eLearning:

  • Learners’ pain points
  • Learners’ and managers’ goals
  • Where learners go for information

While one can go deeper, to maximize using personas for eLearning content development, keeping to these key points will make the process more manageable.

Tips for creating and using personas

Start by interviewing a cross section of employees—ideally in person, but using phone or video chat if necessary, and an email survey as a last resort. Use questions designed to tease out the key information identified above. Ask why for each response.

Personas dig into the reasons people do things—and this is the key to motivating learners and changing behavior. Once designers understand the reasons for learners’ behavior around learning, they can consider how to segment courses or curricula and address the pain points, goals, and motivations for each persona.

For example, if there is a persona who mainly goes to YouTube for information, then make sure to provide video versions of content offerings. If a large number of learners prefer texting with peers, then text, microlearning, just-in-time, easy-to-search, and perhaps chatbot-driven delivery would work better.

Pay attention to the mood and intensity of responses as well as learners’ body language when conducting interviews. Are the learner’s shoulders slumped in defeat? Or is the learner waving her arms in excitement? These convey very different motivations and expectations. If someone's expectations are not met, both your and their time have been wasted, no matter the actual quality of the content.

However, if you provide variations that would meet both attitudes described, then everyone wins. To accomplish this, have language that acknowledges and helps the person who is feeling defeated—and a version that taps into the excitement of the other person and reinforces what's possible. The core content remains the same, but the presentation, phrasing, title, imagery, etc. shifts.

Track which version people consume. Deliver the eLearning into (tracked) branches or offer content geared to different personas as entirely different courses, which learners choose between. Depending on how your LMS is configured, one approach might work better, especially for managers assigning learning to employees.

Personas can help eLearning designers connect learners with eLearning content and drive improved results.

Learn how personas improve user experience

Lynne McNamee will present Passionate About Personas: Increasing Engagement and Streamlining Development in The eLearning Guild’s August 1 Spotlight, Exploring User Experience Design. The other event presenters are Scott McCormick, Melissa Milloway, and Becca Wilson.

This live online event will discuss practical ways to use approaches from the UX field in your own work, review techniques and strategies that will help you better understand your audience, and look at ways to design and test solutions based on that information. Register now!