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You may be familiar with your eLearning audiences – maybe they work in an industry with which you’re familiar. Or you know people who work in the industry. But chances are, you’ve had (or will have) eLearning design projects that require you to not only create content about a topic that’s new to you, but also requires that you create content for an audience of learners that’s new to you.

Some people may argue that a learner is a learner is a learner. I disagree. Not only do learners comprehend new concepts in different ways (visual, auditory, kinesthetic), there are job and industry-specific details that impact how a specific audience learns.

Here are three ways to help you understand the unique needs of an audience before you begin your next project for a new group of learners:

Wear their shoes.

Before I began designing training for retail employees in the coffee industry, I spent a week working in a store. (It was one of the toughest work weeks in my life!) In those 40 hours I gained exposure to the learning environment, they types of tasks these learners had to complete, as well as what would and wouldn’t appeal to them when it came to delivering content. By spending some valuable time in a fast-paced retail environment, I knew that these learners did not have hours to complete lengthy content. They needed quick, easy-to-implement job aides and online tutorials that would help them meet customer demands.

“Job shadow” your learner.

Maybe it’s not realistic for you to work alongside your learners. If not, see if you can job shadow them for a day or two—this means following them around while they complete their daily duties. You may not gain firsthand knowledge of what it’s like to carry out their work, but while job shadowing learners, your observations will help inform you about their day-to-day experiences and the on-the-job challenges they face. By being present in their environment you’ll also have an opportunity to ask questions and follow-up regarding your observations and assumptions.

Have a conversation.

Maybe the learners for whom you’ll be designing content are in another city, state, or country. In that case, you might not be able to meet with them in person. Don’t let geography get in the way! Use technology and connect with learners via phone, email, or web chat, to ask them some questions about what it’s like to do what they do. You might be surprised by how honest learners can be about their jobs. They have a vested interest in helping you create training that works for them, so maximize on that interest to ensure you both benefit from the content you create.

Most importantly, once you’ve collected data about your learners, be sure to document the information somewhere. A year or two from now, you may not remember what you’ve learned. Or, a new designer might need some insights about this particular audience…thanks to your documentation, you’ll save your colleague (as well as the eLearning audience) valuable time!

LizSheffieldBioLiz Sheffield is a freelance writer with a background in training and development. She specializes in writing about everything related to the human side of business. You can contact her via LinkedIn or Twitter.

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