Learner Personas: Understanding Similarities And Differences Between Students And Consumers

‘Learner Persona’? Understanding Similarities And Differences Between Students And Consumers
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The “Buyer Persona” quickly became one of the most popular and effective market research and planning tools of the decade, and it’s not hard to see why. As part of a comprehensive strategy in the creation of marketing programs, campaigns and initiatives, the Buyer Persona helps refine and visualize and understanding of a target audience, all while promoting collaboration and evidence-based storytelling. Being easy to understand and act upon are key parts of its popularity.

The process of developing a Persona can start with a simple description of the target’s key attributes, which then can be detailed or increased further. For instance, check out this quick checklist:

  • General descriptions: Relevant physical and psychological attributes, location
  • Personality: Beliefs, Attributes, Values
  • Socioeconomic status: Capacities, material and technological accessibility, educational level
  • Credentials and social capital: Memberships, accolades, sources of influence and reference, media consumption patterns

As a professional in the areas of marketing as well as education, you might have wondered about its possibilities and value in educational context. Check out the checklist above once again: Wouldn’t it be helpful to know these things about your students? They may not be enough —nor all of them relevant— but they do speak of the usefulness of the methodology to better understand learners.

The creation of a “Learner Persona” alongside the Buyer Persona can offer advantages when it comes to clarifying a pedagogically strategic relationship with someone. They will help you refine initiatives and sales prospects, as well as your approach and they ways you currently ensure the effectiveness of your virtual or hybrid educational offering. In addition, they can also help you understand the differences between the commercial and the educational —with its likely mentoring or counseling elements— sides of the relationship.

One and the same?

On a practical level, one of the advantages of creating these Personas is their narrative potential. Collaborating in a Persona is a creative exercise where each team member can add details, not unlike an exercise in character development or dramatic elaboration. Strengths and weaknesses, external advantages and challenges, even identifying threats or “enemies”: Everything it’s game when building a Persona.

Now, is it enough to create a single Persona, valid for Buyer and Apprentice? The short answer is: Probably not.

The only case where the a Persona would match both the buyer and the learner would be that narrow case when it’s the same person, and their most important attributes as a learner and as a customer are the same. (I can’t say that I have many examples of such cases.) In reality, the broad market for educational technologies limits the cases where the person who will use the technology will be the one who will pay for it. While certain groups of people, usually adults, enroll in courses or learning programs which they personally choose and pay for by themselves —meaning those who access the program thanks to some financial support are ruled out—, what matters about them as a customer or as a student will, in all likelihood, be different.

In sum, most cases will the consumer and buyer of a certain educational product are the same are part of the minority. More common situations would look like:

  • Institutions making purchases of educational technologies, where the student (Learner) as the end user may or may not be consulted, but in any case the final call is made by the organizational leaders (Buyer).
  • Students (Learner) who acquire a solution, tool or application for their learning, but whose associated costs are borne by a third party (Buyer): Parents or responsible adults, or an organization that provides the benefit.
  • Teachers or instructors (Buyer) have the autonomy to acquire their own tools, which will be used at least partially by their students (Learner).

In general, the Buyer Persona is a primary and necessary step for any company interested in strengthening the effectiveness of its market strategy, and from which educational companies are not exempt. As for the Apprentice Persona, it is highly recommended, but – perhaps unfortunately – it is not always of equal importance.

From the a market strategy point of view, the Buyer Persona acquires a central role in your definition of a target customer and the recipient of your advertising messages. On the educational side, a well-rounded Learner Persona demonstrates the efforts you have put into understanding the end user. Even if promotional messages are not aimed at them, the Learner Personas can be used to highlight the value of your product and the benefits your client’s students will receive, in communications targeting the Buyer. Increased effectiveness, retention, performance or grades are examples of benefits associated with the student, which could be better communicated to the Buyer with the development of a Learner Persona.

Create a Persona: Baby steps

Developing a Persona, whether for a Buyer or a Learner, is the result of a careful reflection, about a human being and their —mainly social— environment: The person, actors involved (users, teachers, “influencers” in the broad and modern senses of the word), the competition, institutional or regulatory entities, and so on.

An important methodological lesson that the Persona teaches is the importance of a supporting research process that may or may not be comprehensive, but that is nevertheless ongoing. The strategic planning processes that are the norm across today’s leading technology companies favor agile methodologies, the improvement of which depends on a disciplined process of evidence gathering and hypothesis verification. (Susceptible to the speedy advantages of AI-based algorithms.)

Regarding the human aspect, agile methods allow for —some would say encourage— qualitative or narrative research approaches, where learning through continuous validation of new hypotheses allows a reframing of the Persona methodology into a “Journey,” where each subsequent episode is an advancement on what we knew about them a moment before.

In addition, from a Research and Development (R&D) perspective, the journey works as the evaluation of prior hypotheses and assumptions, while allows us to expand on categories of interest for the Persona. In other words, the Persona approach is ideal for Open Innovation processes in education.

Let’s see a basic example below. At first, your Persona can implement a basic list of categories, with values that can be evaluated using basic techniques such as hypothesis testing or Bayesian scenarios:

  • General descriptions: Relevant physical and psychological attributes, location
  • Personality: Beliefs, Attributes and Values
  • Socioeconomic status: Capacities, material and technological accessibility, educational level
  • Credentials and social capital: Recognitions, memberships, sources of influence, means of consultation
  • Personality
  • Occupation
  • Income level
  • Shopping habits
  • Goals, motivations, needs
  • How you consume content
  • Employment situation
  • Requirements needed to acquire specific services or products

A following instance in the research proceeds when hypotheses have been either refuted or verified —in statistical terms— and questions regarding causality lead to opportunities for new categories, and the correlation between them:

  • Are there fundamental differences between the Beliefs, Attributes and Values ​​of people in different types of occupation?
    Example: Should a promotional campaign for an online course vary fundamentally if its target audience is professionals in the STEM fields, compared to those in Arts or Humanities?
  • Is the rate of content consumption —entertaining, promotional or otherwise— of a given Persona associated with their consumption preferences and patterns for learning content?
    Example: Is the promotion of a course based on microlearning (large number of short activities consumed at a higher frequency) more effective in high-frequency mobile device users, versus users of lower frequency of mobile use, or mainly desktop users?
  • Does the change in employment status have permanent effects on personality attributes?
    Example: Is there a relationship between job stability and the need for a higher level of interactivity or engagement actions in the educational content?

The process facilitates always valuable storytelling, and perhaps most critically, the role your educational product plays within someone’s life story. Arguably, the ideal outcome of the Persona is a story about “becoming” or advancing towards a better place thanks to the value added to it by your offering.

To wrap things up, consider the following: Each successful hypothesis validation amounts to time and money saved, thanks to a more effective and highly accurate marketing program. At the same time, refining a Persona and your resulting messaging, is a decisive move forward in your marketing efforts, put in other words, your Brand Journey.

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