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Harnessing Technology for Efficient Learner Persona Creation

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

To ensure effective learning solutions, understanding your audience is key. Borrowing the concept of consumer personas from the marketing world, those in talent management have embraced learner personas to foster a deeper understanding of their audiences. Learner personas provide a powerful framework for tailoring training programs to meet the unique needs of employee populations. Traditionally, creating learner personas was a time-consuming process involving extensive data gathering and analysis. In fact, what would take me at least four to six months to create can now be truncated into less than two months with the help of modern technology. The digital age has ushered in a new era in the creation of learner personas, making the process faster, richer, and more efficient.

Understanding Learner Personas: Definition and Significance

What Is a Learner Persona?
A learner persona is a fictional representation of your typical learner. It encapsulates critical information about your target audience, including their demographics, goals, challenges, preferences, and behavior. Think of a learner persona as a composite character that embodies the characteristics of your typical learner. We usually create a few personas, focusing on significant learner groups (for example, larger groups or segments that are important to cater training to). Learner personas are a way to bring learner data to life so it’s more usable, thus driving better decision making. Creating these personas gives us a clear and empathetic understanding of the audience, enabling more effective and engaging training programs.

The Significance of Learner Personas
Learner personas serve as compasses, guiding the development of the learning strategy through the creation of training materials and delivery. Here are some key reasons why learner personas are indispensable:

  • Relevant: Personas help tailor learning experiences to learner needs. By understanding what motivates and challenges your audience, you can create learning solutions that resonate and engage. Furthermore, you can consider learning strategies that align with how and where the employee segment learns, including the best modalities, content, and approaches.
  • Empathy: Learner personas foster empathy among instructional designers, developers, and L&D decision makers. Understanding the learner’s perspective enables the creation of more relatable and effective learning solutions.
  • Efficiency: When you know who your learners are, you can streamline the development process, ensuring resources are invested wisely and avoiding unnecessary efforts. For example, because we understood one of our larger audience groups through the lens of our learner persona, it became apparent that we needed to rethink our original plan of self-guided systems training and create a peer-supported learning solution instead. Without this understanding, we would have created a learning solution that would be an inefficient use of L&D resources.

Technology’s Role in Accelerating Learner Persona Creation

Now, let’s delve into how technology can be harnessed at each learner persona creation stage to make the process faster and more robust.


Stage 1: Technology-Driven Data Gathering
Traditionally, data gathering involved surveys, interviews, and the painstaking collection of quantitative and qualitative data. However, technology has transformed this stage to help gather deeper quantitative data.

  • Data Analytics: Algorithms for profile critieria can efficiently identify suitable profiles within the organization, ensuring that surveys and data collection efforts are directed toward the right individuals.
  • Big Data Analytics: Advanced analytics tools can sift through vast amounts of data in real-time. This includes data from learning management systems (LMS), surveys, and online interactions.

Stage 2: Technology-Enhanced Data Analysis
The biggest time savings occur from deriving insights from the gathered data. This was a tedious activity when I created personas in the past. Due to technological advances, however, analyzing data to extract meaningful insights has become more efficient. Furthermore, there’s now the ability to analyze more data, a task that just wasn’t possible with a fully human-based team.

  • Natural Language Processing (NLP): NLP algorithms can sift through qualitative data such as open-ended survey responses, extracting sentiments and themes. While this doesn’t replace the benefit observing and collecting qualitative data from focus groups in person, it does allow for the analysis of other written data that can’t be processed by humans effectively, such as course feedback, employee engagement feedback, workforce surveys, and more.
  • Predictive Analytics: Meta-learning algorithms can learn how to best combine the predictions from other machine-learning algorithms. Predictive models can forecast learner behavior and preferences, aiding in persona development.
  • Machine Learning Algorithms: These algorithms can identify patterns and correlations in data, helping uncover hidden insights about learner behavior and preferences. Tools powered by artificial intelligence (AI), like ChatGPT Enterprise, streamline the process of deciphering and extracting meaningful insights from data. This approach contrasts starkly with the traditional, time-intensive methods of data analysis.

Stage 3: Persona Creation
The next stage of learner persona creation brings the data together in a method for the team to use, often through visuals and a story. This creation stage is no longer a manual task; AI tools can expedite and enrich this stage. These technology-fueled methods encompass various aspects of persona development:

  • Generative AI: AI models like ChatGPT can generate comprehensive learner persona profiles based on collected data. These descriptions can encompass demographics, behavioral traits, preferences, and the challenges learners face.
  • Image and Video Creation: Tools like DALL·E and others revolutionize the visual aspect of persona creation. They can generate images that vividly represent personas, aligning with their characteristics, including age, gender, attire, and facial expressions. This provides realism and visual reference points for instructional designers, enhancing their connection with the target audience.
  • Storytelling Algorithms: AI-driven storytelling algorithms craft compelling and relatable backstories for personas. These algorithms leverage data-driven insights to weave narratives that reflect real-life learner experiences and challenges. By infusing personas with these relatable stories, they become more humanlike and relatable, fostering empathy among instructional designers.

The Future of Learner Persona Creation

As technology continues to evolve, so will the process of learner persona creation. We can anticipate several developments on the horizon:

  • Real-time Persona Updates: Technology will enable continuous monitoring of learner data, allowing personas to evolve in real time as learner characteristics change.
  • AI-Enhanced Empathy: AI-driven emotional analysis will enable instructional designers to better empathize with learners, leading to even more targeted and effective training materials.

In conclusion, technology is revolutionizing the creation of learner personas in L&D. By expediting data gathering, analysis, and persona creation, technology enables L&D professionals to develop more agile and effective training programs. Embracing these technological advancements will empower L&D teams to create training experiences that truly resonate with their learners, driving better outcomes and enhancing the overall impact of L&D initiatives.

About the Author

Danielle Wallace is the chief learning strategist at Beyond the Sky, a provider of custom learning solutions. She combines proven marketing techniques with adult learning principles to create learning that sticks. Previously, as a marketing executive with Procter & Gamble and PepsiCo, she learned strategic marketing and advertising principles, which she applies to learning and development to create compelling breakthrough solutions. Danielle is also a certified training and development professional (CTDP).

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