“We’re learner centered.” As learning and development (L&D) professionals, we have heard this mantra and we inherently know that understanding our audience is essential. However, do we really know our learners? Can we discern details and make accurate decisions to meet their needs?

Borrowing from marketing, we can adapt the concept of consumer personas to form learner personas. Learner personas are fictional representations of an organization’s typical learners, capturing vital information such as demographics, goals, challenges, preferences, and behaviors. These composite characters allow L&D teams to understand their audience, crafting effective learning solutions.

The power of learner personas

Learner personas provide a framework for developing empathy and an in-depth understanding of different learner groups. Personas are one way to bring to life the qualitative data in empathy maps and then also capture quantitative data. These collective numerical and story-based insights enable organizations to make well-informed decisions, determining the most effective solutions tailored to unique needs and prioritizing what segments to focus on.

By understanding what motivates and challenges different learner segments, companies can identify specific skills to develop and choose the best methods for building the necessary competencies. The strength of learner personas lies in their ability to drive relevance, foster empathy among instructional designers, streamline development processes, and prioritize efforts across different audience segments. With insight into how and where employees learn most effectively, organizations can create impactful training programs that align modalities, content, and approaches to resonate with learners.

Accelerating persona creation with AI

Traditionally, creating learner personas was a labor-intensive process, often taking six months or more. Modern technology has transformed this endeavor, reducing the time required to less than two months while enhancing the richness and efficiency of the personas created.

Stage 1: Technology-driven data gathering

Organizations can leverage technology to take advantage of learner data that wasn’t easily available before. Advanced tools can gather data, including data from xAPI, learning management systems (LMS), surveys, and online interactions, providing a comprehensive view of learner behavior and preferences. For example, our organization is capturing data from eLearning LLM (Large Language Model) interactions in our LMS. We wouldn’t have captured learners’ form field data without the help of recent technological advances.

Stage 2: Technology-enhanced data analysis

The true power of AI and ML (Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning) lies in the ability to derive insights from gathered data. Natural Language Processing (NLP) algorithms analyze qualitative data such as open-ended survey responses, extracting sentiments and themes. Predictive analytics and machine learning models forecast learner behavior and preferences, uncovering hidden insights that aid in persona development.

On a more everyday basis, instructional design teams can use tools like Microsoft Copilot to help analyze their learner data spreadsheets to draw insights.

Remember, Copilot is your assistant, not an autopilot. It enhances your productivity by providing intelligent suggestions and insights while you work. 

Stage 3: Persona creation

This is becoming easier with AI. Bringing data together to create usable learner personas is no longer a manual task. AI tools expedite and enrich this stage through generative AI models like ChatGPT and Perplexity, which generate comprehensive learner persona profiles based on insights from collected data.

Additionally, image and video creation tools like Midjourney or DALL·E produce visually compelling representations of personas, enhancing instructional designers' connection with the target audience.

Embracing the AI-powered learner persona revolution

In an era where personalization and learner-centricity are crucial, the AI-powered learner persona revolution is set to transform how organizations approach training. By leveraging machine learning and artificial intelligence, L&D teams can gain insights into their learners, creating learning experiences that truly resonate, drive better outcomes, and enhance the overall impact of learning initiatives.