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  • Writer's pictureNicole Papaioannou Lugara

Leveraging Learner Personas in ID Writing

Learner personas are fictionalized characters or archetypes that reflect aggregated data about users to humanize that data. They're the learning world's version of user personas.

Learner personas offer insights that empower you to make appropriate, impactful choices when designing content and implementation strategies.

If you're not already creating learner personas, or maybe not even collecting learner data yet, try starting with these questions, focused on the key project goals:

  • What's your role here?

  • To what degree, do you feel you're able to do [required performance]?

  • How confident do you feel in your ability to do [required performance]?

  • What inspires you professionally? Personally?

  • What makes you disengage or roll your eyes?

  • How does the work environment support or prevent you from accomplishing [required performance]?

When you begin analyzing the data, see what patterns naturally emerge, rather than trying to force a framework onto the content. Then, build your personas.

Now, this post isn't really about building learner personas. I recommend you use the Adobe's guide to do that (or join the next cohort of From Data to Design to get some practice and feedback).

This is about how to leverage those personas to create engaging written content.

Translating Personas into Rhetorical Decisions

For the sake of demonstration, I've mocked up the learner persona below for "The Newbie ID." It's based on no actual data, just the taking of anecdotal glimpse of the current field-- again, this is not real data. Please don't cite it as such.

We have a lot of great information in the persona, but void of context, this document isn't very useful.

So... let's pretend we're working on training the Newbie ID to improve their project management skills.

In particular, communication is noted as an issue, both self-reported and by managers. The Newbie ID was asked how they felt they could be best supported, and they said they'd like the opportunity to learn and practice through formal scenario-based training.

Gosh, don't we all wish we had bosses who asked us how we'd like to learn?

But I digress.

Time to get down to business.

Let's make some decisions.

While there are lots of ways to think about instructional writing, I like good old Aristotle's rhetorical triangle: ethos, pathos, and logos.

Ethos is the appeal to credibility. For ID Writing, consider two things:

  • Who should be delivering the message?

  • What sources should they be referencing?

Pathos is the appeal to emotion. Think about:

  • What kind of emotional journey do I want to take the learner on? (How do they feel now? How do I want them to feel?)

  • What word tone will help to convey that?

  • What word choices will support the tone?

  • What storytelling elements and examples can I use to make an emotional impact?

Logos is the appeal to logic. Consider what evidence you need to demonstrate the ask is rational. You might think about:

  • How do I organize the information to show each piece builds on the next?

  • What data proves this happens/this works?

With these three in mind, I can start to make style choices based on what I see in the learner profile.


The first thing I notice about the Newbie ID is that they worry about what other people think. They want to:

  • be helpful to other people

  • be recognized for their work

  • get feedback

  • get asked about their ideas

To address ethos, I can picture the narrator for this scenario-based learning on communication for project management as a Senior Instructional Designer or Senior Project Manager, a friendly guide. Someone who has demonstrated success in these areas before and is also supportive.


To address pathos, there are many things you could do, but two simple ones would be:

  • to create a sense of frustration or overwhelm when the wrong decisions are made in the scenario

  • to create a feeling of pride based on a glowing review after the scenarios are successfully completed

Why are those the two I would pick? Aside from knowing that Newbie IDs are influenced by other people, I also see that they want to contribute directly to the company's success and get frustrated when that's thwarted by disappearing SMEs and poor management.

These choices would demonstrate that those making the training understand the learner's perspective and get more buy in (adding credibility - yes, double-dipping!).

In this case, the examples would be creating the emotional impact, but you could also use character dialogue and word choice describing the scene to do this.


To address logos, you could:

  • outline the steps it takes to get to resolution to show that they work in a sequence

  • explain the ways in which the brain is affected by stress and how de-escalation helps to get to a resolution more quickly

The Newbie ID is new. They're looking for structured, logical, evidence-based ways to be effective so that they can grow in their careers.

Framing Up the Triangle

To create effective training, you'll need a little bit of all three areas of the rhetorical triangle represented in your work, but keep in mind that the balance may shift based on the learning context.

Scientists might need more ethos and logos.

Sales might want need more pathos.

Doing the work needs analysis and developing learner personas can help you make better choices so that you can inspire and support your end users.


Want to learn more about needs analysis? Join From Data to Design. The 9-week cohort-based intensive dedicated to needs analysis, consulting, and project management skill development for intermediate learning professionals.

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