Let’s say you’ve just finished doing your training needs analysis, which revealed a specific problem or performance gap for which training is the solution. Great! Time to start designing your e-learning course, right? Not so fast . . . you still need to do an audience analysis to learn more about 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. This deep dive into job-related and contextual details will help you communicate with learners in a way that’s appropriate and effective.

In this article we’ll take a closer look at why this analysis is important and how to conduct it. Here we go!

Why It’s Important to Get to Know Your Audience

For some of you, taking time to get to know your learners is a no-brainer. But for others, it might feel like just another piece of red tape keeping you from building your course. If that’s where you’re at, let’s look at a real-life situation.

Say you’re creating a training course to teach your team how to use the software you lean on to design and produce your products. Half your team is totally comfortable working with computers, since they use them every day in the office. The other half spends their days on the production line putting together the finished products and might not use computers in their personal time.

Even though both groups need to learn how to use the software, the groups have a few distinct differences. Take a look at the table below:


Computer Skills

Software Usage

Office Workers


Design products

Production Workers

Beginner to intermediate

Produce products


Now that you have a clearer picture of your learners’ skills and how they’ll use the software, it seems like you might actually need to create two courses:

  • A course for office workers on designing products using the software
  • A course for production workers on using the software in the production line

Do you see why it’s important to do an audience analysis? If you hadn’t taken the time to get to know your learners, you might have built a course that resonated with only half of them. What a shame!

Step 1: Ask Questions

Now that you understand how important it is to do an audience analysis, you may be wondering how to proceed. The first step is to sit down with your project team and find out more about the people who will take your course. Let’s look at different questions you can ask to do just that.

General Questions

Some courses may be developed primarily for a certain audience, but also be used for another group. It’s smart to confirm right off the bat if that’s the case so you can ensure the content is relevant to all audiences. Here are a couple questions to help you get that information:

  • Who is your primary audience?
  • Is there a secondary audience?


Depending on the type of organization you work for, you may be required by law to ensure your e-learning courses are accessible (learn more about Section 508 here). But even if that’s not the case, it’s a good idea to take into consideration any learners with special needs. To find out more, ask questions like:

  • Do any of your learners have special needs, such as visual, audio, or physical impairments? If so, which special need(s)?

Audience Demographics

Using imagery that accurately represents your learner base makes the content feel more relevant. If you’re including characters or photos that represent people, ask questions like:

  • 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 (uniform, business casual, personal protective equipment, etc.) that learners adhere to while at work?

Existing Knowledge & Experience

It’s important to tailor the course content to your learners’ language ability and level of preexisting knowledge on the subject matter. Here are some questions you can ask regarding these things:

  • 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?
  • What’s their reading level?

Vocabulary & Writing Style

The way you write your content can have a big impact on your learners’ ability to understand it. Here are some questions that will help guide you in your choice of writing style:

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

Technical Environment

The more you know about your learners’ environment from a technical perspective, the better. It’ll allow you to test your course thoroughly and ensure an optimal learning experience. Here are some questions you should consider asking:

  • 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 resources available to help them with technical difficulties? If so, are they people or documentation?

Expectations Management

Having more insight into why the learners need training can be super useful as you’re creating the course. For example, if you’re creating a mandatory compliance course, you might infer that learners need a little more incentive to pay attention, leading you to opt for a gamified approach. On the other hand, if learners have been requesting the training, you could decide that a more straightforward course is sufficient. Here are some questions you can ask to find out more: 

  • 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 sample questions. Depending on the project, you might only need to ask some of them. You might also need to add a few of your own to the list.

Step 2: Observe & Research 

Talking to other members of the project team 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 that shouldn’t be your only source of information. 

If possible, observe your learners at work and speak with their managers. Check company documentation like standard operating procedures (SOPs). The HR department can brief you on previous training efforts, and the IT department can help with hardware and software questions. 

If you can’t meet with learners in person, try sending learners an online survey with pointed questions about their day-to-day tasks. While this may not be quite as effective as actually observing them yourself, it’ll still give you some valuable insight.

Step 3: Analyze & Define Learner Personas 

Once you’ve pulled together all this information, take time to analyze it. In many cases, you’ll discover that your learners have different levels of knowledge, experience, needs, expectations, and goals. 

If that’s the case, be sure to take time to define different learner personas—or types of learners. This will help you decide how to craft a course—or set of courses—to best fit their varying needs. For more details about designing a course for multiple learner personas, check out this article: How to Design a Better Learner Experience.

If it turns out that your learners all have a similar background and needs, then great! Summarize that information and set it aside. It’ll be handy to reference as you create your course.

The Bottom Line

By taking the time to better understand your learners up front, you’ll uncover information that’ll help ensure you build an effective training course. After all, what’s the point of building training if it doesn’t work?

For more tips on the planning phase of your e-learning project, check out these resources:

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Lila Elliott
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TIna Deux
Concetta Phillipps