You just finished your training needs analysis and found that training is the solution to your problem. Great! Time to start working on your e-learning course, right? Actually, not quite. Before you begin, you need to understand who your audience is and how to effectively teach them. How do you do that? With a well-planned and thoughtfully researched audience analysis. But what is an audience analysis and what exactly does it tell you about the learners? 

An e-learning audience analysis is a deep dive into job- and context-related details. It teaches you who you’re training and covers important facts, like what your audience knows and how best to communicate with them. In this article I’ll talk about the why and how of an audience analysis and give you the tools to start doing them yourself!

Why It’s Important to Know Your Audience

Getting to know your audience before building a course might seem like a no-brainer. But when your timeline is tight, it can be tempting to skip this step. Let’s look at a real-life situation that shows how important the audience analysis is and why you shouldn’t skip it. 

You’ve been tasked with creating a course on how to use your organization’s design and production software. Half your team is comfortable working with computers—they use them every day in the office. The other half spends their days putting together the finished products—they might be less comfortable using computers.

Even though both groups need to learn the software, each has distinct differences. Take a look at the table below.


Computer Skills

Software Usage

Office Workers


Design Products

Production Workers


Produce Products


With just a bit of digging you’ve uncovered a significant gap in your learners’ skills. Knowing this, it might actually be best to create two courses instead of one. If you hadn’t taken the time to understand your learners, you would’ve built a course that only helped half of them! 

Understanding the “why” of an audience analysis is important, but let’s talk about the steps you should take when you conduct one.

Step 1: Questions, Questions, Questions

You have time to sit down with your project team and ask anything and everything you can think of, but what questions are the most useful? 

Start by getting an idea of who your audience is. Because some courses are developed for a primary audience and used for another, it’s smart to check up front if that’s the case. Ask these questions to get more information:

  • Who is your primary audience?
  • Is there a secondary audience?
  • If there is a secondary audience, do they have the same access to technology and information as the primary? 


Depending on the type of content you’re developing, you might need to ensure your e-learning courses are accessible (learn more about Section 508 here). Even if that’s not the case, you should still take learners’ needs into consideration. Ask these questions to make sure you’re keeping all types of learners in mind:

  • Do your learners have any impairments that impact their ability to access information? 
  • If so, what do they need help with? 

Imagery and Audience Demographics

Learners retain information better when it’s presented in a context they identify with. Use imagery that’s relatable so it’s easier for them to understand what’s being taught. Ask these questions if you’re including characters or photos of people:

  • What is the average age of your learners?
  • What’s the gender makeup of your learners? 
  • What is the cultural background, race, and ethnicity of your learners?
  • Is there a dress code learners adhere to while at work?

Existing Knowledge and Experience

Try to tailor course content to your learners’ language ability and existing knowledge on the subject. Ask these questions to help you figure out what they already know:

  • What is their level of work experience?
  • How much do they already know about the training subject?
  • What language(s) do they speak?
  • Is the course language the native language of all learners?
  • Do they have a high school, college, or post-graduate education? 

Vocabulary and Writing Style

The way you write content has a big impact on how your learners understand and process it. Ask these questions to guide your choice of writing style:

  • What terms and technical language are learners familiar with?
  • Should the writing style be formal or informal?

Tech Skills

The more you know about your learners’ access to technology the better! Ask these questions to figure out if they’re technology natives or not:

  • What kind of device(s) will your learners use to take the course (computer, tablet, smartphone)?
  • How tech-savvy are your learners?
  • Do your learners have access to support or documentation when they experience technical difficulties? 

Why Training?

Having insight into why learners need training helps inform your course design. If your course is compliance-based, you might decide learners need extra incentive to pay attention. On the other hand, if the course is in high demand, a more straightforward approach will work well. Ask these questions to find out how your learners feel about training: 

  • Why are learners taking this training?
  • What does your audience expect to learn?
  • How much time can your learners devote to training?
  • What is the motivation level of the learners?
  • What level of participation do you expect?

Keep in mind, these are just some of the questions you might ask and they can differ on a project-by-project basis!

Step 2: Additional Research

Talking to the project team and asking the questions above will give you a lot of information, but it won’t give you everything you need for your audience analysis. 

If possible, observe your learners at work and speak with their managers. Check company documentation on previous training efforts and talk to HR for more details on what has worked in the past. Also, the IT department can help with hardware and software questions. 

If you can’t meet with learners in person, consider sending a survey with questions about their day-to-day tasks. This might not be as effective as observing them, but will still give you valuable insight.

Step 3: Analyze and Define Learner Personas 

Once you’ve gathered this information, review it and identify learner trends. You might discover that your learners have different levels of knowledge, experience, needs, expectations, and goals. 

If that’s the case, define different learner personas—or types of learners. This can be as simple as writing a sentence that describes each persona. Or if you need more context, this can be as in-depth as discussing different learners’ motivations and goals. Learner personas will inform how you develop your course—or set of courses—to best fit varying needs. For details on designing a course for multiple learner personas, check out this article: How to Design a Better Learner Experience.

The Bottom Line

Taking time up front to better understand your learners and what they require helps ensure your training is effective and well received. But an audience analysis is just one of the many steps in the e-learning process. For more tips on developing your e-learning project, check out these resources:

Follow us on Twitter and come back to E-Learning Heroes regularly for more helpful advice on everything related to e-learning. If you have any questions, please share them in the comments.

Lila Elliott
mike mcdonald
Elia Lora
Gail Behrend
Jennifer Nelson
Tina Stone
Concetta Phillipps