Analyzing the Training Audience
Every target audience is different, and of course, every member of an audience is different in some way, but it’s still essential to make some generalizations and predictions about your audience to create effective training. For instances, when we write for others like ourselves, we may know a lot about them without even thinking much about it. We know whether we’re arguing a minority viewpoint or whether we’re contributing to a well-established stream of thought. We know our readers pretty well because they are colleagues we meet at conferences, often with similar backgrounds and challenges.
When we write training or education materials for different audiences, we need empathy to help us choose the right words in the right sequence, best strategies, and examples that ring true. We need to be curious. We need to listen. Just as social marketers developing campaigns know everything they can about the “segment” of audience they want to persuade, we need to learn as much as we can about target audience members to help us cross the distance between our world, with its own working assumptions and constraints, and theirs.
How do we learn what we need to know? Options include:
- Focus groups
- Individual interviews
- Experience meeting and listening to audience members in a variety of settings
- Discussions with representatives of associations/groups that represent them
- Stakeholder advisory committee
- Indirectly, through research, reading, and experience (e.g., do they have a magazine or list serve?)
- Demographic information (e.g., census, professional groups, etc.)
Examples of Target Audience Characteristics that Can Affect Design include the following:
a. Current Relationship to Subject/Task
b. Characteristics That Affect Communication Choices
- What do they know—or think they know—about the subject?
- Do they see the problem? How would they describe it?
- What is their level of expertise in the subject area?
- What are they doing right now (e.g., behavior we want to change)? How do they think it’s working for them?
- What is their “stage of change”? Where are they in terms of motivation to make the change you are suggesting? What do they see as good and bad points about that change? What consequences would the new behavior have?
- How does the change fit with their values and those of their organizations?
- How much effort will this change take?
c. Other Characteristics
- How do they normally like to receive information? Are they big readers, or do they mostly watch TV?
- How well do they read, if we’re developing a document?
- What is the range in education level of the target audience?
- What about age, culture, life experience? How do these affect their receptiveness to the information you want to convey?
d. Contextual Variables
- How do they see themselves? How does the new behavior fit with that self-image?
- From typical activities, can you make any assumptions about learning style?
- What skills and abilities will they need? Which do they have and which will they have to acquire? Do they have transferable skills/abilities?
- What resources will change require? Will they have them?
- What about their current situation makes them more or less likely to do what you’re asking? What aspects of change do they control?
- What are the “cues” they would encounter that would trigger new behaviors? For example, if you want them to be aware of a need to assess a client for a particular disorder, what behavior might they witness that should make them think of it? These cues need to be built in and explicit and might also affect your choice of medium. Where possible, it’s easier to show something that would be seen than to describe it.
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