What if I told you that one thing could make any course you’ve ever dreamed of 100% more effective? What if I told you, that this one step could be the make or break for your learners and, by extension, your course?
Curious? Because you should be.
What I’m talking about is the process of learner analysis. Learner analysis, at its basic level, is about discovering who your learners are, where they’re struggling, and how they learn best. If you’re thinking ‘Hey, this sounds a lot like figuring out my ideal customer,’ you’re right. The big difference is that, when defining your ideal customer, you can imagine anyone you want and then use that ideal to target that person. When you’re analyzing your learner, you have to work with who your learner actually will be.
On the basic level, you’ll need your demographic information. How old is your learner? How much education has she completed? Is she used to taking online classes? The answers to these questions give you an idea of what level your content can be written at and how much technical support you need to provide.
When I work with clients looking to build courses who don’t come from an education background, I have a very different vocabulary than when I talk with my fellow instructional designers (the more formal, academic term for course designer). Throwing out jargon won’t help my clients; simple explanations will. Likewise, working with media savvy thirty-somethings who eat, sleep, and breathe with a cell phone, tablet, or laptop is very different from working with twenty-somethings who have only just recently gotten acquainted with technology (yes, they exist).
Going into a little more detail, you’ll want to know why your learners are actually interested in your course. It’s not enough to define this yourself; it’s not about you --- a pitfall every course designer falls into at some point, whether it’s your first course or your hundredth. Talking with people who might be interested in your course will be essential here.
You want them to tell you the story of how they decided that they needed or wanted to take a course. Ask them about their business, about their blog, about whatever thing is driving them. Ask the about what they’re hoping to get out of it, and what they want to do after. For example, you might be looking to teach a ‘how-to’ Pinterest course. On the surface, this is going to attract two different learner groups: people who want to learn how to use the platform and people who want to learn the best strategies for the platform.
Are you willing to handle both or will you only focus on the strategies group? Maybe you just want to do a quick, hour-long class on setting up and running your Pinterest account. Knowing who’s taking your class and why they’re taking it will make sure that they have the experience they’re looking for and can give your class, webinar, or workbook the fabulous reviews it deserves.
Doing the above will also make your marketing much easier and much more targeted. Don’t you love it when you can check two things off of your ‘to-do’ list for the price of one?
Now that you’ve got a sense for who your learners are there, and what’s motivating them to be there, you can start figuring out how to deliver your material.
What I’m about to say might shock you, but I need you to know this: video is not always the best option.
Yep. One more time: video is not always the answer.
There’s two separate pieces you need to consider when figuring your delivery medium: how do your learners learn and what will best support your content.
Let’s go back to our Pinterest example for a moment. Say you’re building that how to use the platform course. Video, here, certainly makes sense. You can provide narrated screencasts of doing things like creating an account, editing your profile, creating public boards, etc. You could pair your videos with handy, helpful ‘how to’ cheat sheets to help learners remember the skills until they have a good handle on them.
However, you could also provide a workbook with screenshots and written directions, along with access to a private Facebook group of other new Pinterest users to help with troubleshooting. If your learners are interested in being able to follow along directly with you, at your pace, then the videos and visual support option might be a better fit. If your learners want to do things at their own pace, or if they learn better when reading as opposed to when listening or watching, the workbook and Facebook group option has more appeal.
Every delivery method is going to have strengths and weaknesses. Video lets you show almost anything, but presents challenges to people who don’t learn well at whatever pace you’ve set, as well as learners who aren’t interacting with your course from a desktop computer, or learners who find video distracting.
Research also tells us that video isn’t as engaging, especially when it runs over the 7-10 minute mark; if your learner isn’t 100% in the headspace to learn (and we’ve all been there), then the risk that they will space out is much higher with video. Likewise, I hear entrepreneurs looking to build a course worry that’s audio’s too out of date; it’s not visual. But if you’re teaching strategies, mindset, or some other non-technical skill, visuals might not be necessary.
Instead, you get to cash in on audio’s portability and ubiquity; your learner can listen in the car, on the subway, on the treadmill, wherever. Interactive modules can balance reading or listening with activities; they can even be built to be mobile friendly! However, you run the risk of falling into the read’n’click trap or, worse, building in activities for the sake of activities, rather than to drive home a point.
How do you narrow it down, then? Ask your learners.
Ask them to tell you about the best classes they took, the best learning experiences they had. Ask them to tell you if they remember via words, or pictures, or some other method. Ask them to tell you about their routine and how they see a course, any kind of course fitting into it. These answers will help guide your delivery choice.
Learner analysis isn’t an exact science. It takes time and practice. The good news, however, is that you never waste your time when you’re in this stage of development. Every answer you get tells you more about who your learner is and how you can best serve them. If this isn’t a quick process, don’t worry: it’s not supposed to be.
In the end, though, it just might be the best thing you do for yourself and your course.
Sami Yuhas is an graphic and instructional designer and the woman behind Orange Juice Diaries, a boutique design firm based in State College, PA. She builds courses and brands for small businesses and solopreneurs, specializing in women-owned businesses. She holds an M.Ed in Learning, Design, and Technology from the Pennsylvania State University. She can be found at www.orangejuicediaries.com/blog or on Instagram at orangejuicediaries.