Understanding Your Target Audience to Create More Effective eLearning Training


By Justin Muscolino
Head of Compliance Training in North America, GRC Solutions

When I first started in compliance training, I remember having a conversation with a senior member of a financial institution about an upcoming eLearning module. During the conversation I asked him a few questions about the target audience, so that I could better understand how to align the training to the relevant staff. I remember like it was yesterday. He had this very confused look on his face and had no idea why I was asking these questions. Did he want this training to simply be a ‘tick the box’ exercise? Or did I need to explain the rationale for the questions? The result was that he didn’t care too much.

I have seen a shift over the years. More people are paying attention to the target audience, but not to a point where knowledge retention is higher and risk is mitigated, resulting in a better compliance culture.

For example, if an organization wants to launch code of conduct training, they may need to take into account geographic differences in policies, recent issues with regulators in a particular region or specific behaviors identified by management that warrant such a training. All this information should be considered. Also, different departments (operations, trading, investment banking) might require different case studies that are more pertinent to their workplaces and practices.

If any of these considerations resonate, let me ask: do you want one training that covers everyone? Probably not. That might be considered information overload. Or you find that people may get upset or frustrated by being exposed to so much information that isn’t relevant to their role.

What happens when you get it wrong?

A couple of issues could arise, such as a lack of memory retention or staff pushback due to the perception that you are wasting their time.

What happens when you get it right?

Asking questions about the target audience is important in order to align the proper solution to the business. Maybe the answer after defining the target audience is that different forms of e-learning training or even blended learning would be provide greater benefit. Or maybe the scenarios, case studies, images and graphics would differ. Without knowing these details, it can be hard to define the best solution.

Here are some questions I typically ask:

1. Is this training going to all staff? You should include consultants, contractors and part-time. 
This shouldn’t change the solution, but a breakdown may help.

2. Where is your staff located?
You need to understand if there are any technological issues with certain locations.

3. What is the reason for this training? Is there any urgency for this training?
An action from a regulator, audit or a shift in compliance culture.

Questions to ask yourself:

  1. If this training is not foundational in nature, has the staff been trained on the necessary pre-requisites?
  2. How am I going to make sure that staff retain the information?
  3. What type of effectiveness measurement do I want to employ?
    An assessment is typical with an e-learning module, but you might want to factor in behavioral changes.
  4. What is the right level of interactivity for this audience?
  5. Did I check previous training to determine look and feel?
  6. Did I check the assessment scores and completion rate?

I have seen many e-learning firms try to sell me something that they advocate because of the amazing technology, bells and whistles of their training modules. Only once do I recall someone asking me some specifics about who needs to receive this training, but not in detail.

So, you must ask yourself: how important is it for the target audience to understand their e-learning?