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Define Learner Personas to Enhance Employee Learning & Development

The concept of an archetype was introduced by the famous psychiatrist Carl Jung in the early twentieth century. Jung believed archetypes to be shared concepts – universal patterns in human behavior which form a part of the collective unconscious. Today, the concept of archetypes has evolved to dominate the field of user-centric design in product development and marketing.

Leverage Learner Personas as a Learning Tool

Quite recently, many instructional designers have borrowed from marketers’ playbook and started creating learning interventions on the basis of archetypes. As an L&D professional, you would have heard of this term, along with another one called learner personas. These two terms are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same.

Learner Personas vs Archetypes

Many people think learner personas and archetypes are the same thing. However, they are not interchangeable. Archetypes represent user behavior and general characteristics. Personas, on the other hand, are fictitious people with specific attributes created on the basis of data about the end user. 

In other words, archetypes are general guidelines on how a user behaves. Personas are a set of archetypes that one person could exhibit. 

To better understand the difference between learner personas and archetypes, let’s look at a few examples of archetypes. These examples are just indicative and in no way representative of all learner archetypes.

  • Explorer: Those who want to learn new things to explore alternative career options.
    • Age: Majority between 22-35. 
    • Career: Working professionals. 
    • Gender: 65% men, 35% women. 
    • Location: City-dwellers across Asia, Europe, and North America.
    • Learning Needs: Quick, self-paced, online courses, available on the go. Career-advancement is the main goal.

  • Hobbyists: Those who want to learn new skills for pastime or leisure.
    • Age: Majority above 55 and largely retired.
    • Gender: 50% male-female ratio
    • Location: Suburbs, primarily in Europe but present in North America and Asia as well.
    • Learning needs: Regular courses that they can join easily, face-to-face where they can meet new people and gain more hands-on experiences. Leisure and enjoyment are the main goals.
 
The purpose of creating learning personas is usually to be able to empathize with your end user. To effectively achieve this, it is not enough to just give your personas a name and a designation, rather truly understand their behavior, needs, and motivations. You should be able to tell a story from your persona’s viewpoint. 

Based on these archetypes above, you can develop different learner personas. One could be Advancing Anita

  • 27-year-old woman of Indian origin 
  • Has an undergraduate degree in Engineering and a Master’s in Business Administration
  • Single, dates whenever possible but usually restricted by her tight schedule
  • Settled in New York 
  • Works for a Fintech startup 
  • Uses the subway to commute – prefers studying during her commute
  • Conversant with technology
  • Leads an extremely busy life, doesn’t have time to go to class regularly

Another learner persona could be Wise William.

  • 62-year-old British male
  • Worked at a factory for 30 years and retired recently
  • Has a wife, two children, and one grandchild
  • Lives in Windsor with his wife
  • Not very comfortable with technology, but great with people and handyman skills
  • Has a lot of free time

The learning intervention that you’d design for these two would be quite different because they belong to different archetypes. Every learning designer will be able to come up with a different persona for their end-user. But why go through this activity in the first place?

Develop Learner Personas for Your Unique Workforce

Before you start developing a persona, you should know why you are creating it in the first place. That is, have a clearly defined goal about what you want to achieve from this exercise. The goal could either be providing a new and improved user experience for the training or to inculcate serious cultural changes in your company. Make sure you can answer why you’re doing this before defining what your persona wants. 

Learner personas are a great tool to help a diverse set of learning professionals empathize with the end user. By giving your end user a persona,  you can personalize the learning experience, ensuring the training and development is relevant. 

Gather Data About Your Learners

To develop accurate learner personas, you must collect data about your end user. The more date you have, the better. There are numerous approaches you can undertake but the most popular ones remain interviewing and observation. 

When conducting your research interviews, elicit answers to various why, what, when, where, and how questions. Keep an open-ended questionnaire so that you’re able to obtain more descriptive answers. Some of these questions can be:

  • Why are they interested in learning a certain thing?
  • What tasks do they have to perform?
  • What challenges do they face in their current role?
  • What are their future aspirations? 
  • What is a typical day in their life like?  
  • Where do they prefer learning?
  • When do they typically prefer learning during their day/week?
  • How much time can they devote to learning?
  • How do they like to learn – alone or in a group?  

The purpose of these questions is to understand your learner better and to identify certain attributes that define them.  Through these questions, aim to get a deeper understanding of the tasks the learner is required to perform, the areas they face difficulty in carrying out these tasks, their learning style, and what motivates them to learn something. 

Give Your Personas a Personal Touch

It’s usually a good idea to give the persona a name that helps you identify their behavior easily – like Laid-back Suzy, Curious George, Reserved Rahim, Know-it-all Martha, etc. You can even consider having a portrait of the persona to give it a more realistic feel. 

Remember, the purpose of creating learner personas is to be able to empathize with your learner. When designing learning, it is easy to fall prey to generalization and stereotype on the basis of various superficial attributes like generation and seniority. Doing this defeats the whole purpose of creating personas in the first place! In fact, don’t just stick to one persona but rather create multiple personas. This will help you avoid falling prey to stereotyping and make your learning solution stronger.

Consider Different Types of Personas

FutureLearn conducted a research and came up with seven distinct learner personas that frequent their platform – Advancers, Explorers, Preparers, Fixers, Flourishers, Hobbyists, and Vitalizers. These are self-explanatory, and it is easy to identify their characteristics. But here’s the thing – these personas are very specific to their platform. 

While there might be some similarities between theirs and the ones that you come up with, they would still be different. This is because learner personas are unique. They tell you the story of the person for whom you are building the training. No two learning platforms will have the same learner personas since the purpose that they serve would be different. 

Create a personalized learning experience for your employees

The purpose of user-centric design is to be able to create products that focus on the end user. Developing learning personas are a great way to ensure your learning intervention is relevant and appropriate for the person it is intended to benefit. It is an end-user centric process and must be undertaken with that objective. 

Be very clear about the objective of creating persona-centric design so that the exercise remains focused. Using learner personas can elevate your training and make it an absolute joy for your learners. In our increasingly impersonal world, the need for empathy has never been more urgent

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