In order to reach your ideal learner, you need to define your audience.

You’re getting ready to create your first online course. However, before you go too far, take some time to step back and think about who you’re creating your course for. Too often, online educators create a course with only a vague idea about who their end consumer will be. This lack of forethought affects how they design and sell their program, and could ultimately make or break their course.

So, before you get too far along, here are a few questions to ask that will help you understand your course audience a little better.

1. What are their demographics?

Children learn differently from adults. Millennials have a different relationship with technology than Boomers. Gen Xers have study habits that differ from both. People’s experiences and expectations will align broadly according to their gender, race, and religion.

While there will always be exceptions to these stereotypes, understanding them and respecting them can help you create a stronger connection with your audience. It will also influence the images you choose for your course and the examples you draw upon in lessons.

2. What’s their budget?

Do your learners view your course as a luxury? A deal that can’t be beat? Or an investment in the future? Understanding budget will help you price your course, but it will also help you position it for the buyer. If you know that your price point is relatively high for your audience, you don’t want to refer to it as a “bargain deal.”

3. What’s their skill level?

Is your learning program for beginners, or do you offer advanced training for professionals with several years’ worth of experience? Are there prerequisites you require of your learners? Or will the course not be challenging enough for someone with a high knowledge level.

Don’t be afraid to specifically mark your course level. A beginning course might appeal to a broad group of learners, but you can charge more for an advanced course.

4. Are they taking your course for work or leisure?

Is a certain level of certification a requirement in their industry? Or are your learners taking this course to advance a hobby? Will they complete the learning program during work hours, or will they be doing it at home?

Learners who take a course at work are usually less concerned about the cost of a course, because it is often covered by the company they work for. They also have fewer time constraints, and are more likely to complete an online course quickly.

Those studying for pleasure, on the other hand, usually operate within a more limited budget. They may also struggle to find time to complete an online course in the midst of other life demands.

Of course, there are also a substantial portion of learners who begin a certification program as a career move, but not one that is backed by their employers. These learners will probably be studying from home, but will hope to achieve better job prospects as a result.

5. What motivates them?

What learning style do your learners have, and what helps them keep going with a course? Are they drawn to creative, collaborative projects? Or are they more autodidactic?

Motivations are usually tied to perceived benefits. In online education, these range from “qualify for a promotion in your job” to “satisfy your curiosity.” The potential for career advancement is a very tangible benefit for most learners, and can help them justify the cost of the course. Even if it doesn’t lead directly to a promotion, online certification can help learners stay current with their industry.

6. What will be their biggest barrier to success?

Do your learners have plenty of time to complete your course? Are they facing a large number of stressors at home? Do they have the technological capacities to navigate your LMS? Do they have the skills and knowledge to complete the program?

Online learning comes with a number of challenges that many learners aren’t prepared to address. These challenges range from technological (poor internet connection) to psychological (loneliness, lack of interaction with peers).

It’s not always easy to recognize and address a barrier, but educators who are able to do so can better prepare learners before they sign up, and can provide better support to learners who struggle.

7. Do they have any experience with online courses?

Learners with a high level of experience in taking online courses tend to be more self-reliant and require less guidance than those who are dipping their toes in for the first time.

The veteran online learner usually has a lot of internal motivation and understands some of the challenges of online education. Their experience makes them an easier sell, and it also means they’re more likely to complete the course.

First-time e-learners, on the other hand, have more hesitations and need more assistance. They may not realize the demands of an online course, and will need some guidelines about the course requirements.

Your course isn’t for everyone.

It’s not hard to come across people who legitimately believe their product or service is for everyone. But usually, it only takes a few pointed questions to realize that “everyone” actually refers to a small subset of the population.

More importantly, it’s easier to market your course to a focused group of people. If you market to everyone, your message is more likely to seem bland and generic. By defining a course audience and speaking directly to them, you make a stronger appeal to their interests and values.

Speak to the few. Once you know your audience, you’re in a better position to cultivate loyalty and a positive experience with your course.

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