Multiracial adult students working in computer class. Women in casual sitting at table, using desktops, typing, looking at monitor. Online course concept
ATD Blog

Create High-Quality E-Learning That Reflects the Learning Demographic

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Knowing your audience is a key strategy for many things: giving speeches, marketing a product, and, of course, e-learning development.

Understanding who your learners are, what their backgrounds are, where they come from, and what they need to learn enables you to create training content that resonates with your learners and helps them achieve their goals.

The Pew Research Center estimates that by 2055, the United States will not have one racial or ethnic majority group. That diversity should be reflected in your training.

The first step is to conduct an audience analysis. Armed with the right information about your audience, you can move on to the exciting part of e-learning development: creating high-quality, professional content. With the right templates and graphics, you could create a course that at first glance looks awesome, but it may not properly reflect your audience and their goals. Worse still, you could create something that makes your learner feel uncomfortable or even alienates them.

Learners want to see themselves and their work environment reflected in the learning content. When you create that connection with them, they retain the information much better. So, perform your audience analysis first then look for graphics that will speak to them.

How to Understand Your Learners

You can gather audience data by conducting surveys, interviewing stakeholders, asking questions about past performance, and observing learners as they go about their day-to-day tasks. Here are six pieces of information to collect:

  • Demographics. The bare minimum for understanding your audience is knowing age, gender, ethnicity, primary language, educational background, and current role.
  • Group characteristics. It is rare that just one person will be taking your e-learning course. You’ll want to find out if all your learners have the same level of expertise or if it varies. Find out if they’re all based in the same area or distributed across the globe. Understand if your learners are desk workers or non-desked workers.
  • Context. Consider this a deeper dive beyond what you learned from the group characteristics. Knowing if your learners have an hour to sit down and take formal training or if they’re trying to fit in bits and pieces on the go will help you decide what type of content to build. Try to understand your learners’ challenges and what they’re hoping to achieve in their roles. When possible, tailor your training to address those specific criteria.
  • Prior knowledge. To avoid making your course too easy (wasting learners’ time) or too hard (frustrating learners), you need to know how much prior knowledge they already have about the subject. Find out what specific skills they already have and what skills they need to do their job now to fill in those gaps.
  • Learning preferences. Knowing your learners’ ages and backgrounds can give some clue into learning preferences and expectations, but the best way to find out is to ask. This will tell you whether a video tutorial or a summarized infographic is the best way to demonstrate a procedure or task. Find out what motives them to learn and incorporate that into your training. This could be gamification or new technology, like virtual reality.
  • Accessibility needs. This includes factors like familiarity with technology, availability of fast internet speeds, and device type. It also includes Section 508 compliance and WCAG.

How to Represent Your Learners

Now that you know who your learners are, you can build a training course that includes them. Use stock images that represent your learners, provide inclusive language in your course content, and create realistic scenarios that look and sound like something your learner would encounter on the job.

For example, research shows that inclusion of successful female examples in STEM education and sharing evidence of women gaining ground in these fields improves female performance in those subjects. The same concept can be applied to whatever your training topic is.

Diverse Stock Images
There’s a growing number of websites and stock photo libraries focused on showcasing diversity and inclusion.


Inclusive Writing
By ensuring the language in your learning is socially conscious, you can demonstrate that diversity is integral to your organization’s mission, values, culture, and business model. Using gender- and sexuality-inclusive language can help your learners feel more comfortable and accepted.

Be careful not to write in a way that assumes White is the default race for your learners. Remember, if you’re going to call out the race of one individual, you must do so for all others mentioned. You may find it helpful to create an inclusivity writing guide for everyone on your team to ensure content that’s consistent with your goals is created.

Realistic Scenarios
Scenario-based training is one of the most engaging and effective ways to promote knowledge retention—as long as the scenario is believable.

An e-learning scenario is made up of four elements:

  • People. Who are the people performing the task at hand? This can be characters you’ve created or the actual learners. If you’re using on-screen characters, refer to the list of diverse stock photo sites.
  • Setting. Where is this taking place, and what’s the context for the scenario? If you’re creating a conversational scenario for dental hygienist training, don’t use a background photo featuring rows of cubicles, for example. You want to set the scene properly and make it look like they’re at a dentist’s office.
  • Challenge. Present the learner with either a choice that needs to be made or an action that needs to be taken. These options should be believable and relevant to the job role.
  • Feedback. Show the consequence or outcome of the choice or action the learner took. If it was a negative outcome, allow them to try again and see what they could have done differently.

Creating high-quality content that reflects your learner demographics can be challenging but fun. By following these tips to better understand your audience, you can create inclusive training content that you’re proud of and that helps your organization succeed.

About the Author

Stephanie Ivec is the content marketing manager at ELB Learning, and the primary contributor to the ELB Learning blog where she provides training tips and covers e-learning trends. She's also a featured author in Learning Solutions Magazine,, and Having written about e-learning for over eight years, she has impacted the industry by motivating her readers to create engaging learning and making online training effective and enjoyable.

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This content is so relevant in the dynamic and diverse workplace. I think coming up with relevant (and realistically challenging) scenarios for practice is one of the most difficult aspects of creating E-learning. As a trainer, we rarely have functional expertise in all topics, so I rely heavily on leaders in those depts to help me sculpt real world situations.
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I am so impressed and challenged by the information shared here and in the comments of your readers. I am working on a post for Education, as well, so it’s a timely visit. It is an important post, and I’ve not taken enough time to write it yet just thinking and researching so far.
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