04 must-do steps to develop student persona for online courses

Jul 16, 2018Blog, eLearning tips, instructional design tips0 comments

Congratulations! If you are proactively seeking to build student persona for your online courses, you are on the right track in creating online courses that your audience can actually fall in love with. The work is a dark place and human souls are fragile but maybe your personalized online courses can brighten up someone’s day and therefore, make the world a better place!

You already know the importance of student persona, that why you come here. An in-depth student persona can be a game-changer, a lever to lift you above and apart from thousands of online courses and strengthen your competitive edge.

Before we dive into for 04 simple steps – which we put together from our own experience and hope you can find something to apply to your online courses, there are few quintessential rules you need to take into consideration:

  • Must be based on real evidence, qualitative research. Your student persona must sound like real people.
  • Avoid over-complexity and non-adoption
  • Focus on the relevant characteristics (goals, pain points and motivation)


04 Simple Steps to Develop Student Persona

STEP 1: Research, research and research

Face-to-Face Interviews

Face-to-face interviews have long been a staple of the market research landscape due to its effectiveness in generating valuable insights. However, before one can know the get-go perfectly to implement this method successfully, there are advantages and disadvantages to be considered:


  • Empathy and Personal Interaction: In face-to-face interviews, a great moderator can make a world of difference. It all comes down to empathy and personal interaction! Efforts in putting yourself in interviewee’s shoes will be well-recognized by interview participants and thus, they can easily let their guard down to proactively engage in the interview and enrich your research with much more valuable insights.
  • Experiencing products in real life: If you are fondling with the first draft of your student persona, chance are you have heard of Design Thinking and try to navigate your product following this method. One of the most important stages of Design Thinking process is Product Testing, to see if your product (your online courses) can really pique customers’ interest and result in conversions. In face – to -face interview, participants can see products and experience with them in order to answer your questions or complete necessary tasks. Furthermore, while they are testing your online courses, you can capture their body language and non-verbal cues (which are severely limited in online surveys) to arrive at more accurate and holistic results.

Design thinking process

  • High Cost: face-to-face interviews are going to cost relatively more than online or mobile surveys due to labor costs (whether in-house or partnering with a market research firm), and overhead costs (interview rooms, administration, possibly paying travel expenses for respondents, etc.).
  • Complicated data processing: In face-to-face interviews, there are typically multiple information sources, data processing for face-to-face interviews can be overwhelming and expensive. Careful data collection and data processing plan must be comprehensive as you just can’t simply go back and re-do your market research. 


Online Surveys


  • Low cost: Conducting an Internet survey facilitates low-cost and fast data collection from the target population. Sending email questionnaires and other online questionnaires are more affordable than the face-to-face method.
  • Automation in data input and handling: the respondents are able to answer the questionnaire by means of inputting their answers while connected to the Internet. The responses then are automatically stored in a survey database, providing hassle-free handling of data and a smaller possibility of data errors.


  • An online survey is not suitable for qualitative research which often requires open-ended questions and insightful input. This limitation is caused due to the lack of trained interviewers to explore the answers of the respondents.
  • Survey fraud is probably the biggest hitch for the data collection process. There are people who answer online surveys in the interest of getting the incentive (usually in the form of money) after they have completed the survey, not with a desire to contribute to the advancement of the study.

Face-to-face interviews and online surveys are effective in collecting primary data. You can also extract secondary data from various online sources. Read relevant blog and FAQs. Engage in online discussions where prospects talk about e-learning, digital learning, etc to get the idea of how your prospect think, what language they use, which can be highly helpful in your content development.


STEP 2: Be a hard-working analyzer

Now after the long cumbersome process of data collection and data processing is finally over, you need to create an in-depth report of important characteristics, statistics, direct quotes, and behavioral trends.

The outcome of your analysis should be patterns, trends and commonalities. Your persona is a fictional representation of real people. As you look for trends in their goals, concerns and their watering holes, pay special attention to the “why” behind each of these decisions. When you get a sense of their motivations behind their actions, you can build a highly impactful persona.

The common methods for  Persona Segmentation methods you may find in most articles covering this topic include:

1. Geographic Segmentation: Geographic segmentation is the practice of segmenting your target audience based on where they are located. Geographic segmentation can be highly helpful when used to target specific customers without wasting excess advertising dollars on impressions that will not turn into leads.

2. Demographic Segmentation: Demographic segmentation is segmenting the market based on certain characteristics of the audience, including, but not limited to: race, ethnicity, age, gender, religious, education, income, marital status, and occupation.

3. Psychographic Segmentation: Psychographic segmentation is a trifle more abstract than both geographic and demographic customer segmentation. The data needed for psychographic segmentation is primary data, which can only be collected by conducting intensive and focused research whereas Most of the data needed for Geographic and Demographic is secondary data – which can be derived from common digital sources (i.e published paper, articles). Psychographic segmentation divides the market on principles such as lifestyle, values, social class, and personality.

4. Behavior Segmentation: Similar to Psychographic Segmentation, Behavioral Segmentation is less concrete than demographic or geographic segmentation. Behavioral segmentation is the practice of dividing consumers into groups according to any of the following attributes: usage, loyalties, awareness, occasions, knowledge, liking, and purchase patterns. Behavioral segmentation can lay the foundation for the creation of content that will resonate well with your desired target market.

Remember that each type of customer segmentation carries its own unique set of benefits, but using them in conjunction with one another will create maximum impact.


We advise you not to start micro-segmenting your audience and end up with a miscellaneous heap of personas, you descend down a rabbit hole of data points,  tactical options, and conflicted key messaging.

When evaluating your target segments, consider your goals so that you can avoid straying off course. Remember that a good student persona should fulfill two goals: your business goal for online courses and the goal of your online courses student!


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STEP 3: Write Down Your Student Persona

Student Background

Write down the name, age, country and city of origin of your audience. Make sure you include your preferred markets and source countries.

Note: Writing down your student background in student persona is the first step to pinpoint accurately targeting criteria when you are setting up your social media advertising: Location, age range, and career status (student).

Goals and Motivations

Think about their study choices: What kind of study would the student like to pursue? Think about what motivates students. Some are passionate about leading a purposeful life, some learn new skills to apply them to a greater cause, some are putting efforts in climbing their career ladder and some are just passing by to grab bits and pieces of knowledge here and there.  

Laying in the substratum in the craft of right content is a very simple principle: Combine data about goals and study choice to specify student’s interests! A deep understanding of the student’s priorities, study choices, motivations and goals will give you all the key elements and value propositions to build your strategic message.

Pain points and challenges

Challenges for students of online classes could range from concern about time management, course scheduling, computer literacy to pricing and course content. Compiling a comprehensive list of pain points and challenges will give you valuable insight into must-have information around which your online courses and supporting material should be structured.

A complete list of challenges barricading students’ learning path also allows you to map the most common question students might have. Based on the subject, you can build the architecture of your site, an FAQ page or even chatbot flows to automates bulk response.

Information Channels

Think about how a student can find information about your online courses: Social media, events, peers, review, influencers? After the awareness stage, what will affect a student’s decision to engage in your online courses and make the buying decision? Defining information channels favored by you targeting students is pivotal for the distribution of your communication. Additionally, when your communication channels are built with relevant content and directed at the right audience segment, conversations can be transformed into means for student support and lead generation.


STEP 4: Leverage persona for customized content strategy

Now you have completed your student persona, it’s time to put it to test by actually starting to personalize and customize your online course content so that you can actually see grade the effectiveness of the persona.

A good student persona can set off the change from “lecturer lead” teaching to “student-centered” learning. While conventional online courses are prone to treating learner all the same, as a homogeneous entity, personalized and customized e-learning can offer unique customized learning experience by recognizing learners as heterogeneous mix of individuals.

With a deep understanding of your students’ pains, motivations, challenges in learning roadmap, there are several ways you can create a personalized and customized content strategy that hook your audience from the beginning.


Offer manageable milestone based on knowledge gaps

Create detailed qualitative pre-assessment tests for different types of learners to help both you and online course students pinpoint their strengths and weaknesses. Understanding the level of your learners’ knowledge will help you develop a personalized timeline that online students can use to stay on track and monitor their progress. A manageable course flow allows them to set secondary, short-term goals and manage their time more effectively.


Personalize the use of multimedia and learning material

One of the indispensable factors of personalized content strategy is offering student-centered or learner-centric eLearning materials and multimedia. Online learners should have the opportunity to choose the eLearning materials that help them bridge their knowledge gaps (which they already identify in your pre-assessment test) and reach their learning objectives. They are also free to look for eLearning activities and modules that cater to their learning behaviors and personal preferences.

For example, if one online learner needs to focus on their communication skills, they prefer more visual eLearning activities. If then, your online course design should have learning tools-of-choice option which would be online presentations, eLearning video-demos, and task timelines.


Provide Ongoing online support

Personalized eLearning experiences must have a solid online support strategy to act as a framework including the combined uses of online FAQs, forums, social media groups, and direct contact methods, such as email and instant messaging.

Online learners should have the power to interact with their peers and online instructors on a regular basis. The limited access to reliable online support should be included as a student’s challenge in your student persona so that a suitable approach should be devised to address their concerns and pressing questions in a timely manner. The paucity of online support can make a learner frustrated and disengage from the online learning community. As a result, they won’t get the full benefit from your personalized eLearning course.


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