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Purchasing eLearning: Know Your Learner

Before purchasing a major eLearning system, learning leaders must have a strong understanding of their student-base, from their demographics to their needs. Photo by Kat.

This is the second article in the series, ‘Purchasing eLearning’. The series is for organizations and individuals who are engaging third party organizations to develop eLearning courses.

It seems quite strange to me however many organizations when asked who an eLearning piece is for will say “everyone”. It seems strange because learning is a deeply personal activity. It requires a person to somehow attach the concepts being shared with them to a complex set of experiences, emotions and motivations. A tricky business for the learner and an even trickier business for a teacher.

When you are engaging a third party eLearning vendor the best thing you can do is find out about your audience and share the information with them. This may seem antithetical to the tender process, but given the personal nature of learning you will get a better match of ‘teacher’ for ‘learner’ if you are able to share this information up front.

So what information do you need? It is hard to put a definitive set of criteria together, but it is a good idea to find out:

  • The demographics of your audience (age, gender, in some cases cultural background).
  • The roles in your organization that those groups undertake.
  • The working pattern, so you have some idea of when and where the course may be undertaken.
  • Their experience with computers.
  • Their experience with eLearning including how much they have undertaken, whether that experience has been good or bad, and whether they have certain expectations about the format of courses.
  • Their level of skill and experience in the subject area

If you are within the Learning and Development area of an organization, you may have this information available via previous Training Needs Analyses. Otherwise, it is possible to rely on credible anecdotal evidence.

Don’t be afraid of the reality. If your workforce is predominantly young and male, it is important to recognize it and try to reach this group with its special characteristics. If, however, you want to encourage more women into the workforce, or more older workers, do include this in your analysis. You will need to have one eye to the present and one eye to the future in the development of your course.

There is other information that is helpful, but often harder to obtain. This information relates to what motivates your audience group. Asking yourself, and hopefully your learner group, some pointy questions will help in this regard. Ask what motivates your learners to work in this industry and these roles. Ask what being successful looks like for them. Ask how they feel about their job, their colleagues, their company. Ask what they think of what you want to teach them. You can even ask what would change these attitudes. Ask how they would like to learn.

As you are asking all these questions, you will probably find that there are some distinct groups within your audience. I would highly recommend considering presenting different training programs to each audience. As mentioned previously, learning is a highly personal experience. Whereas in face-to-face training a facilitator can tailor information on the spot, you do not have that luxury in online learning. You have more chance of making an impact if the courses themselves are somewhat personalized. And remember, the most significant dividing line is not based on role but on motivation. Providing different training based on motivational groupings is more likely to produce an ‘ah ha’ moment.

If you share this information with eLearning vendors, you have a chance of truly allowing them to shine in proposing solutions to you. And if you think about this beforehand, you will have a better chance of evaluating the solutions put forward to really find out if they are the right fit for your learner group.

In the next article in this series we will look at your content, how it affects the budget for the project and how much you should prepare before talking to an eLearning vendor. You can find the first article of the series, “Purchasing eLearning: Do You Really Need It?”, here.

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