You’ve done this before- profiled your ideal client. Now it’s time to narrow in on your ideal ecourse learner.
This is when you’ll need to crawl inside (so to speak) your ideal student’s head. Sounds uncomfortable but this is what’s going to help you design an ecourse that effectively reaches them. An important piece of this is understanding how your ideal student thinks about your ecourse topic.
Let me explain. The first time I ever worked on an elearning project was in the late 1990’s when I was working as a librarian at the University of Minnesota. I was rewriting (and redesigning) what we called in those days a “tutorial.” In this case the point was to help students do library research. (Remember this was ancient days before Google even!)
One of the first things I did was go out and actually talk to our target learners (this is the “crawl inside their head” part). Back then I did this through enticing students to come to focus groups, usually bribing them through free pizza and soda. [It didn’t take much, believe me.]
Eventually, it became clear to me that the way that undergraduate students thought about research was very different from how I and my fellow librarians thought of it:
- For students, research is a means to an end; for librarians, it is the end.
- For students, a good grade is valued; for librarians, good research is valued.
- For students, research is – or is expected to be – fast and easy; for librarians, research is complicated.
- For students, research is simply something you do; for librarians it is something to learn to do.
- For students, learning is best done through games and interactivity; for librarians, through books and guides.
We couldn’t be more different.
One of my favorite quotes back then is attributed to Dick Miller from Hewlett-Packard who said, “Know thy user, for they are not you.” Clearly there was a huge gulf between my (and my colleagues’) concept of the research process and the undergraduates who would have to take my tutorial.
Hone in on your target learner
So my first lesson was that your target audience can be quite different from yourself (even if you’re very much like your target audience). But the next one was that more often than not, they are not very much like each other, either.
The differences among your audience – between Millennials and Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers, between those new to your topic and those with some experience, between social workers and business executives and solopreneurs and CEOs – call for careful consideration, especially the way in which each learn best.
All that diversity can drive you batty. And although you may be offering your ecourse to a mix of your clients, I highly recommend you start by focusing on a target learner group – one that work with your clients have helped you identify – because face it, designing one ecourse to meet the needs of a number of learner groups is difficult – at best. You’d have to be a course designer ninja to pull it off.
So, listen up! Focus on one target learner and then promise yourself that someday in the future you’ll rework your ecourse for a second – or a third – kind of target learner. But later. Start with one. Do this one well. Meet your learner’s needs. Then, and only then, move on.
Talk to your target learners
First, let me say don’t make this a huge deal. If you can entice a few of them to come together on a Skype call, fantastic. Better yet, host a local networking meeting with good wine and munchies in exchange for a discussion you’ll lead on your ecourse’s topic. Or (in addition??) send out a survey to your list. Or pick up the phone to talk to a few people one at a time. This shouldn’t take more than an hour or two, so make it count.
Here’s what you should find out:
General characteristics of your target learners that may affect their learning:
Do they lack confidence and feel intimated by tackling your ecourse topic? Are they pretty savvy already and looking to really up their game? Do they understand the importance of mastering your topic? Are they in an early stage with your topic that draws them to absolutes and structure (and makes them uncomfortable with ambiguity and complexity)? What other learner characteristics might influence your content or your methods of teaching?
The knowledge, skills, and attitudes your target learners already have about your ecourse topic:
What do you they already know about your topic? What else do they know that is transferable? What attitudes, assumptions, and expectations will they have upon buying and starting your ecourse?
What are these target learners’ learning preferences?
Do they learn best being presented with a lot of content through lectures, by in-depth worksheets, by an open laboratory approach, by interactivity, by games? What do they characterize as peak learning experiences? What approaches to teaching online work best for them, and what might turn them off to learning?
Yep, that’s a lot to listen for and capture, no doubt. You might be saying to yourself, “Wait, how the heck do I find this all out?” I mean you can’t just say to a target learner, “Hey, what’s your learning preference?!”
So to make it easier on you, borrow from some of these questions. And go ahead and add your own.
Questions to ask your target learners
1. What are the biggest challenges you face as a <add a role related to your topic>?
Examples: Woman struggling to lose weight, New entrepreneur trying to explain what you do at networking events, Life coach trying to get more clients
2. What do you think about <your topic>?
3. Have you ever <done x related to your topic> before? If so, what did you do? How did you do it? What did you think about your experiences?
Examples : lost weight, explained what you do at a networking event, tried to get more clients
4. What do you know already about <your ecourse topic>?
5. If you had to take an ecourse or a day-long workshop on this topic, what would you like to learn?
6. Describe the best ecourse you’ve ever taken and why you liked it so much.
7. Who is your favorite teacher and why
8. Think of a time when you learned a lot. Why do you think you were able to learn so much?
Now you should have a lot of information about your target learners.
Organize all that you’ve learned
You wouldn’t start building a house based on what you were able to keep in your head, would you? Not that your ecourse is a house… I’m just saying that what you’re doing now is creating a strong foundation for your ecourse.
So take 20 or 30 minutes to comb through you notes and break down what you now know into 3 buckets:
- Learner characteristics
- Previous knowledge, skills, and abilities
- Learning style preferences
Good. Now you’ve got an important part of the foundation down for your ecourse.
Your hard work has netted you the information you need to build a highly effective, on-target ecourse.
So now, you have your learner “analysis” done (yes, that’s the fancy word for what you did here). You also have your course topic nailed down.
Get out there and test out your content and your teaching methods! This is the last part of the 3 part “Get Started” series.
You can get the entire “Getting Started” series in a 46-minute webinar.