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Profiling learners

For training to be effective it is important to have a clear idea of who will be attending or taking your course. If possible you will want to profile them to ensure that your course is fit for purpose. How much do you know about them? Is there a typical participant or will they all be very different? This will not usually be at an individual level: what you are trying to do is get an overview of the potential group as a whole to ensure the training you are planning is appropriate for them. This will help you to organise the training content and also prepare you, and your co-trainers, to deliver the training at the right level for your audience. You may not have direct contact with potential participants prior to the training and may need to rely on information from the commissioning organisation. In either case this section provides the main questions to ask.

Basic questions

The following basic questions may need to be considered, however you will want to select the most relevant questions according to the type of course you are planning.

How many participants should you have?

Be realistic about how many, or few, participants will make an effective training audience. If you are planning to include interactive sessions, such as workshops or break out groups, you will want to limit the number of participants to between 20 and 25, otherwise the sessions will become unwieldy and too time-consuming. Conversely too few participants, usually less than eight, can result in an unsatisfactory training environment.

Who are the participants?

Factors such as age range and gender mix, as well as participants' cultural, social and ethnic background affect the training delivery. Similarly the level of expertise of the participants and their position in life and employment will be relevant. Also there may be financial considerations which may affect their ability to attend the training.

Where are the participants from?

This applies not only to their place of employment, what type of organisation it is and their position in the workplace, but also to geographical location. Long journeys to the training venue may mean that participants will tire earlier in the day, also the start and end times for the training may need to take travel requirements into account. Again there may be a financial implication with travel costs which will deter participants.

What is their experience of training?

Some people will be used to introducing themselves, participating in group work and class discussions. For others this will be completely unfamiliar and they will need explanation and reassurance.

What is their experience of the training topic?

As mentioned above training is not always a matter of introducing participants to new ideas and concepts. It can be updating experienced personnel or providing the professional theoretical basis for practical work that participants having been carrying out for many years. Again, the level of participants’ experience will influence training design and methods of delivery.

What is their motivation?

You will need to consider what the benefits of the training will be to the participants both personally and in the workplace. You may also want to specify who the course is intended for. A good way to be clear about whether the course will be appropriate for intended participants is to define the aims and objectives of the training as a series of bullet points.

Participant profiling tables

The following tables provide more detail for profiling participants taking into account demographic, professional, motivation, learning and resource factors. You can use all or parts of tables to make a profile of your potential participants by thinking about the questions in column 1, Factors, adding any others you think are relevant. Put your answers in column 2, Profile. Then draw up a list of the implications to keep in mind when developing your course and the course materials.

Alternatively, you can use the tables as a basis to develop a less formal or less scientific tool to gather useful information about the participants in advance. Distributing such forms to the class will provide you with useful background to guide your preparation at any stage prior to training delivery.

Participant profiling table: Demographic factors
Demographic factorsProfileImplications
Number of participants
Where do they live?
Personal circumstances


Participant profiling table: Professional factors
Professional factorsProfileImplications
Employing organisation
Roles and responsibilities of participants
Professional knowledge, skills & experience
Length of employment
Employers’ training needs
Participants’ training needs
Participants’ knowledge of training topic


Participant profiling table: Motivation factors
Motivation factorsProfileImplications
What personal benefits will participants get from taking the course?
What benefits will they get in their workplace?
What are their expectations?
What might prevent them from taking the course?


Participant profiling table: Learning factors
Learning factorsProfileImplications
General education
Professional education and training
Experience of learning and training
Confidence about learning


Participant profiling table: Resource factors
Resource factorsProfileImplications
Who will pay course fees and expenses?
Will participants be given time away from their work to attend training?


Participant profiling table: Other factors
Other factorsProfileImplications
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Last updated: 20 December 2005