Personas in elearning

Personas are fictional characters that reliably represent a target demographic. Personas are commonly used when designing products and software to bring a tangible, detailed description of the typical user to the makers of those products.

Designers use personas to understand product needs, the most likely uses ofImage representing a persona document a product, how it should be tested to ensure user satisfaction. Thanks to personas, the user is present in all phases of the product’s design, and that presence helps shape design decisions. It is an undisputable source of information in case of opinion differences among designers; it’s the voice of the customer. It ensures the final product will provide the experience users are looking for.

In learning, the increasing abundance of quality content will shift the attention from content to experience. Because good learning content will be available from many sources, learners will be more selective based not so much on content but on learning experience. This is where personas can help.

But how to create personas for elearning? What are common features of a persona description? Are there examples available? Here are 5 tips and 5 persona examples.

  1. Personas are based on research. This research cannot be limited to market and demographic segments, because that type of information does not provide enough detail to build a persona. Although market information is useful and can help you find patterns and prioritize your research, you will most likely need to interview at least a few users, and then validate hypotheses from those interviews through quantitative methods such as surveys. Most likely this research work can be reused for more than one solution, so it’s time well invested.
  1. Personas contain just enough detail to avoid ambiguity. This means that in addition to obvious personal features such as gender and age, you will have to describe personal preferences – for example, in a marketing setting it could be that a persona is “more interested in quality than affordable prices”. If you find yourself compromising on the description of a persona, it is probably a sign that you need to write two and choose which one is more important. If in doubt, refer back to research data.
  1. Personas don’t contain unnecessary detail. Personal details, preferences and motivations are there for just two purposes: convey meaningful research work that should influence design, and help designers develop user empathy. Anything else will simply distract the team.
  1. Persona documents are concise. We want to present credible characters to the team. But personas are just a design tool, and as such they have to be usable. A compact persona document of one, or at most two pages contains enough information for most purposes, it’s easy to print out and incorporate into charts, sketches and other design work.
  2. Personas have personal goals. Why do people learn? What is a successful outcome for them? As much as we’d like success to be measured as “completion of elearning course” (which is a task), this may not be exactly what people are looking for (which is the goal). Detailing personal goals will help design and measure the success of learning solutions.

Sample personas

  1. Students and staff, University College London
  1. Undergraduate students, NCSU Libraries
  1. Website users
  1. US Department of Agriculture
  1. Accessibility personas


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