Analyzing the Learners

Unfortunately, in many cases instruction is created without any consideration being given to who the learners are on the receiving end. If you remember, one of the main focuses of Instructional Technology is the idea of individualized learning. In order for there to be a chance of that happening, it’s important to know who your learners are. Remember that we are not teaching to groups, but to groups of individuals. In addition, by knowing a little bit about your learners you can better arrange the environment to increase the probability of individual student learning. There are many factors that affect how a person learns from a particular learning environment. Here are a few:

  • Cognitive abilities of the learner.
  • Previous experiences of the learner.
  • Motivation.
  • Personal learning style.
  • Clarity of the message.
  • Interaction with the learning environment.

There are ongoing studies in our field to determine which variables affect learning the most, and how we might use that information to improve individual learning experiences.

Chapter 5 in the Dick and Carey book describes the process of analyzing the learners and identifies a set of learner characteristics that have been shown to affect learning. Therefore, in addition to general characteristics such as age, grade level, and topic being studied, you should be able to describe your learners in terms of these characteristics:

  • Entry Behaviors – These are skills associated with learning the goal that must already be mastered. What should learners already know how to do in order to be successful with the new instruction? In the last lesson you determined specific entry behaviors related to your goal, but there may also be some general entry behaviors that were overlooked in the instructional analysis yet would be useful to mention at this point. For example, the ability to read, or the ability to perform basic math functions.

  • Prior Knowledge of the Topic Area – What must learners already know about the topic?

  • Attitudes Toward Content and Potential Delivery System – What are the learners’ impressions and attitudes about a topic and how it might be delivered? In other words, will they have any preconceived notions about the topic or the delivery system?

  • Academic Motivation – How motivated are learners to learn the topic, and how much is it likely to interest them? You might want to ask potential learners these questions:
    • How relevant is the instructional goal to you?
    • What aspects of the goal interest you most?
    • How confident are you that you could successfully perform the goal?
    • How satisfying would it be to you to be able to perform the goal?

  • Educational and Ability Levels – What are the achievement and general ability levels of the learners? This helps determine the kinds of instructional experiences they may have had and their ability to cope with new and different approaches to instruction.

  • General Learning Preferences – What types of learning approaches do the learners prefer? For example, lecture, seminar, case study, small-group, or web-based?

  • Attitudes Toward Training Organization – How do the learners feel about the organization providing the training? Do they have a positive view of management and peers, or are they cynical about leadership? With teachers, you may already know your students’ attitudes about school, but keep in mind that some students actually like school, while others may hate it. It’s important to know which kind of students you will be interacting with.

  • Group Characteristics – Is there heterogeneity within the target population? If so, you want to make sure to accommodate any diversity. Also, get a general overall impression of the target population based on interactions with them.