Learner analysis

These notes are part of a series for the book.

Dirksen, J. (2012) ‘Ch. 2, Who are your learners?’, Design for How People Learn, Berkeley, CA, New Riders.


  1. What do your learners want?
  2. What is their current skill?
  3. How are your learners different from you?
  4. Learning styles
  5. Methods for learning about your learners
  6. Summary


This book has great drawings, and here’s an example — seven types of learners and why they are there:

Stick figures showing different learner motivations, which is discussed in this section.

(Dirksen, 2012, p. 29)

You need to know: Learner motivations

Learner motivation can come from within or from without:

Either way, don’t quash the motivation. Remember that learning is risky, so encourage learners by lowering the stakes. Explicitly build on their current knowledge, make the first activities easier so they have early successes, and make any assessment private or at least not judgmental.

You need to know: Interests

If the learners have a common interest then you can build on that in the learning design.

You need to know: Skill level

You need to know the learners’ current skill level so you can gauge the effort they will need to expend to learn the new information. Current skill level affects the level of instruction you should provide and also the approach you would use. Usually, the learners will have varying skill levels which means trying to meet the needs of all the groups. In this case, some design strategies are:

You don’t need to know: Learning styles

The research doesn’t back up the usefulness of learning styles (for example, Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, the VARK model, or Kolb’s Learning Styles Inventory). But, when designing you should generally be aware that people learn differently and are better and different things. Vary your approaches in the design.

How to do it: Introduce yourself

Most instructional designers will talk with stakeholders, trainers, managers, and subject-matter experts, but don’t talk with learners. You need to talk with the learners because they are the best people to tell you:

In addition to talking with them, you can also do job shadowing (following them to observe them in their context), and try new tools or processes alongside them during pilot tests and user testing.

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