If someone offered you a tool that could increase learner engagement and make your eLearning more relevant, would you use it?

Consider using learner personas. According to Lacey Jennings, a service delivery leader atXerox Learning Services, using personas “gives anyone who’s working on [the eLearning] deeper insight into what is motivating the learners.”

Using personas enables developers to present a compelling message to learners, said Sarah Thompson, marketing and communications efficacy improvement manager at Pearson. That message is: “We’re not telling you what you need to learn; you’re finding what you need to learn—and it’s relevant to you.”

A persona is an archetype: a composite learner who encapsulates the traits, preferences, level of experience, and interests that are representative of a slice of the actual learner population. The persona puts a face, albeit fictitious, on what would otherwise be an abstraction, giving eLearning designers and developers a more human target. Considering the persona’s needs helps a development team hone the eLearning—anything from the overarching learning goals to the finer points of how learners will navigate through a module.

A persona is “such a unique way to look at the learner,” Thompson said. “Instead of saying, ‘You need this information,’ we’re saying, ‘What do you do? What’s involved in your role? What are your challenges in your role?’ And then we say, ‘OK, here’s the learning that helps you decrease the challenges or that risk.’”

Using personas can align designers, developers, and other stakeholders around clearer goals by creating a shared understanding of who will use the eLearning, Jennings said. While it does not change the steps in the development process, “what it does give you is a lot more insight into the behaviors of your learners so that, hopefully, what you’re designing can be more impactful,” she said.

It can also streamline an iterative development process and simplify maintenance. “Doing it better the first time will reduce the number of iterations and likely ensure that developers have fewer changes in the maintenance cycle,” Thompson said.