Gathering information about your learners can help you create and market a better course.
You have a great course idea. The subject is one you love, you’re excited about the content, and you’ve been blissfully outlining lessons for a week and are still going strong. There’s just one question you’ve forgotten to ask, and if you don’t think about it now, it may come back to haunt you: Who is your course for?
It may seem like an obvious question to ask, but many instructors get all the way to launch without clearly defining their audience. If you press them, they can probably tell you a few basic details, but their answers may not be very specific. In many cases, they may not know the answers, and—worse—they may not know how to find out.
The good news is that you can find out everything you need to know about their potential learners with enough research. The trick is to know what information you need so that you can ask the right questions. While your course will certainly have some questions that are specific to your subject matter, here’s some basic information you should learn about your learners before you start.
1. Who are they?
I’m talking demographics here. How old are they? What’s their education level? Are they taking your course for personal or professional reasons? After all, the course you design for college students is going to be very different from the one you design for retirees.
Having a clear mental picture for your desired audience will affect how you write and market your course—often in subtle ways you may not even be aware of, such as the pictures you choose, or the cultural references you make. It will also help you break away from a generic tone as you develop a stronger brand voice.
2. What is their learning budget?
Setting a price point for an online course is one of the trickiest decisions an instructor has to make. We all want to make a good profit, but it’s hard to balance that against a reasonable assessment of what a learner might pay.
Well, what if you changed the question from “how much can I convince someone to pay for my course” to “how can I attract someone who is willing to spend this much on online education?” In the first question, you’re fighting an uphill battle as you try to convince everyone who comes to your website that your course is worth what you’re charging. But the second question assumes the learner will already have a budget to spend, and that means your task is the much easier one of convincing them to spend it with you instead of someone else.
3. How much time do they have?
This is a big question and one that’s especially easy to overlook as you’re planning your content. You may have a lot to say, but if you pack it all in to lengthy lessons, your learners may struggle to complete their assignments in time.
So, instead of designing a course and expecting your learners to fit it into their schedule, try the reverse. Learn more about the time restraints and availability of your learners, then design a course that can adapt itself to their lives.
4. How much support will they need?
Is your course suited for autodidacts who need little to no prompting to move through the course materials? Or are you working with a group of individuals who are expecting personal attention from you? You will need to set expectations with your learners either way, and thinking through their possible support needs can help you plan how much time you will need to spend per student.
5. What is their knowledge level?
You probably know whether you’re creating a course for a novice or an expert, but it’s easy to lose track of this during your planning phase. Maybe you get carried away and include too much jargon text in your early lessons, before the learner has had time to digest the material. Or perhaps you’re over-explaining content that your learners are already very familiar with. Either situation can be frustrating for learners.
However, once you’ve established the skill level of your learners, it’s easier to consistently create to that level. You may even learn from your research that your learners have some surprising knowledge gaps that you can fill.
6. What is their biggest pain point?
This one is probably the most important question you can ask. Learners have all sorts of motivations, many of them positive. But the one that pushes them over the edge to make a purchase is usually a pain point, something that makes taking the course now a matter of urgency.
Pain points can range anywhere from a professional requirement to a matter of financial necessity. Or they can be about fulfilling a lifelong ambition, or about getting into shape. If you can give a concise answer to why your learners need your course, you’re well on your way to creating a compelling course.
7. How will your course help them?
The flip side to our pain point question: How will your course relieve that pain? What are your learners hoping to gain from this course?
If understanding pain points will push learners over the edge and convince them to sign up, understanding how your course will address those needs will help guarantee satisfied learners.
Your learners may fall into different groups, so be ready to speak to multiple audiences at once.
It’s not uncommon for a course to have several distinct audience types. Maybe you have a professional development course, and half your learners are freelancers funding their ongoing education out of pocket, and the other half are having their expenses paid by the company they work for. You’re delivering the same course to both, but the way you market will be very different.