How to do an e-learning audience analysis

Your e-learning needs analysis reveals a clear problem or gap at your organization, and management agrees that training is the solution. Ready to start designing your e-learning course? Not quite. First you need to do an e-learning audience analysis, so you know who you’re training, what they already know, and how to communicate with them.

An e-learning audience analysis does what its name implies: studies your learners. It’s your opportunity to dive deep into the job-related and contextual details that will help you communicate with learners in a way that’s appropriate for them, and most effective for your project.

Here’s an example of why it’s important to do an e-learning audience analysis:

According to your e-learning needs analysis, the engineering team needs additional training on a software program that shows them how to make a smooth square widget. Half the engineering team works with computers regularly in the office; the other half spends their days on the production line creating round, unfinished widgets.

Even though both groups need to learn how to make the same type of widget, you’ll need to design your material so it approaches them from the right perspective (computer-savvy vs. computer novice) and at the right prerequisite knowledge level (non-widget-maker vs. widget-maker).

Creating Your Audience Analysis

The questions you include in your analysis will depend on your target audience and the kind of training you’re going to design for them; but, in general, the categories you want to cover are general questions, audience demographics, existing knowledge and experience, technical considerations, and expectations management. To get you started, here’s an example of questions by category you can use to build your e-learning audience analysis:

General Questions

  • Who is your primary audience?

  • Is there a secondary audience?

Audience Demographics

  • What is the average age of the learners?

  • Are the learners mostly men, women, or an equal mix?

  • What is their educational background—high school, college, masters, doctorates?

  • What is their cultural background, race, and ethnicity?

Existing Knowledge & Experience

  • What is their level of work experience?

  • At what grade level do these learners read?

  • How much do they already know about the training subject?

  • What tone, voice, and attitude are best for this audience?

  • What is the motivation level of the learners?

Technical Considerations

  • What hardware and software will your learners use?

  • How technically savvy are your learners?

  • Do your learners have resources available to help? If so, what are they?

Expectations Management

  • What level of participation do you expect?

  • What terms, technical language, and writing style are best for your learners?

  • Why are learners taking this training?

  • What does your audience expect to learn?

  • How much time can your learners devote to training?

  • Do any of your learners have special needs, such as visual, audio, or physical impairments?

Depending on the needs and composition of your specific audience, you may want to edit this list of questions to get the information you need.

Getting the Information You Need

Your learners will give you a lot of the information you need for your audience analysis. You’ll get a sense of how they do their jobs, their roles in the organization, and their attitudes and comfort levels in their current positions. But your learners are not your only source of information. If possible, observe learners at work, and speak with managers. Check company documentation like standard operating procedures (SOPs). The HR department may be able to tell you about previous training efforts, and the IT department can help with hardware and software questions. Another technique, which is particularly helpful if you cannot get there in person, is to field an online survey to learners and key people in other departments who can help you get the answers you need.

Once you’ve amassed your answers, you’ll need to review them top to bottom, to be sure you’ve covered your audience from all angles. By asking the right questions up front, you’ll uncover critical insights about your learners so you can build a training course that communicates effectively with them.

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