Read Chapter 5, Analyzing Learners and Contexts, from Dick, Carey, and Carey


Before we can move forward and design the instruction that is needed, we need one more set of analyses. In this lesson, we will take a closer look at the learners, the learning context, and the performance context. With the information from these analyses, we are better equipped to design instruction that will effectively meet the needs of our learners and the environment in which they will learn the material as well as provide them the skills and knowledge necessary to be successful when they need to use the skills and knowledge.

Analyzing the Learners

At a most basic level, instructional design is learner-centered. What does it mean when something is learner-centered? It means that the entire process of "instructional design" focuses on the learner and his or her needs in order to achieve a goal. The more we know about the learners, the better we can tailor an instructional product to meet their needs. When something is learner-centered, it means we put the needs of the learner before our needs or desires to instruct.

There are many factors that can affect a person's ability to learn. Dick, Carey & Carey suggest several characteristics that need a closer look before we begin to design the instruction. A learner analysis involves examining the following characteristics in detail:

General Characteristics – What are the general characteristics of the intended audience of learners? In the needs analysis, the learners were briefly discussed. What more can you say about the intended learners than what was presented in the needs analysis? What must you remember about the learners when designing the instruction?

Entry Skills - What will the learners already know how to do before facing your instructional module? What general skills, not included in the subordinate skills analysis, would be helpful to note? For example, is it important to note that your learners will have the ability to read, or the ability to perform basic math functions?

Prior Knowledge of the Topic - What will your learners already know about the topic?

Attitudes Toward Content and Potential Delivery System - What are the learners' impressions and attitudes about the topic of the instruction you will design and how it could be delivered? What are the attitudes of the learners toward the system you plan to use to deliver the instruction?

Academic Motivation - How motivated are learners to learn the topic and how much is it likely to interest them? Many of you will know your learners attitudes toward academics and their levels of motivation. However, if you are unsure, you could pose the following questions to a group of students:

  • 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 educational achievements of the intended learners? What are their skills and abilities? What might they have problems doing? This helps determine the kinds of instructional experiences they 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? Some examples could be lecture, seminar, case study, small-group, web-based, or hands-on interactions.

Attitudes Toward the Organization - How do the learners feel about the organization providing the instruction or the training session? Do they have a positive view of management and peers, or are they cynical about leadership?

Group Characteristics - Is there heterogeneity within the target population? If so, you want to make sure to accommodate any diversity.

That may seem like a lot of information to collect about your learners, but it can aid you in providing more meaningful learning experiences for the learners. Some of it you may already know. The rest can be collected by talking with learners, instructors, and managers, and by visiting classrooms, training facilities, and the learner's actual workplace.

It is possible that you do not know your learners, but can only project what characteristics they might have. For instance, let's say you work for a pharmaceutical company designing instruction for the sales representatives. You've never met them, but have a general idea as to their characteristics. If you are in a situation such as this, do your best to describe the learners, but be honest and indicate what you truly do not know.

The list of learner characteristics you produce from your analysis will impact your decisions throughout the remainder of the instructional design process. It will help you determine the objectives you want your learners to achieve as well as play a major role in the instructional strategies you plan to use. Dick, Carey & Carey suggest that a deeper knowledge of the learner helps the designer produce instruction that is relevant for the learners.

Analyzing the Performance Context

The performance context is a future, real-world setting in which the new skills and knowledge will be used by learners after the instruction is completed. Why is it important to analyze the performance context? If we understand the setting in which new skills, knowledge, or attitudes will be used then we can do a better job of planning instructional activities that will approximate what learners will face when they are finished with the instruction and head back into the real world. Learning will be more meaningful and skills should transfer easily.

It may be necessary to arrange a site visit and brief interviews to perform a thorough performance context analysis. The purpose of a site visit is to gather information from potential learners and managers, as well as observe the work environment where learners will eventually use their new skills. For school teachers, since it may be years before students enter the "real world" to use the skills you are teaching, it would be a good idea for you to spend some time thinking about the context in which the skills learned in school will actually be used. Completing this analysis could help you answer the "Why do we need to learn this?" questions from your students.

A performance context analysis involves examining the following characteristics in detail:

Managerial Support - This is the organizational support that learners can expect when using new skills. What support will the learner receive when they need to perform the goal in the performance environment? What support can they expect from management?

Physical Aspects of the Site – What could the performance site look like? What equipment, facilities, tools, timing, or other resources are needed in order to use the knowledge and skills learned from the instruction you will design?

Social Aspects of the Site - Will workers work alone or in a team when they use the skills addressed in your instructional module? Will they work independently in the field or as a supervisor? Will they be the first to use these skills?

Relevance of Skills to Workplace - How relevant are the new skills to the actual workplace? Are there physical, social, or motivational constraints to the use of the new skills?

As with the learner analysis, you may not know where your potential learners could use the knowledge and skills gained from your instruction. If this is the case, describe an example of a performance context where the learners might use the skill. For example, if your learners need to know how to conduct online research using the AltaVista search engine, you know that this could be used anywhere there is a computer and internet connection. An example performance context could be in a library while conducting research for a school or work project or it could be at home while researching how to make a Lemon Meringue pie.

Analyzing the Learning Context

All learning takes place in a context. The goal of a learning context analysis is to familiarize yourself with the facilities where the learning will occur and to identify any limitations of the setting that might affect the design of instruction. The context in which learning will occur may affect the accomplishment of your goal. Keep in mind that this will differ from the context in which the skills will actually be used.

Analyzing the learning context may also require a site visit, interviewing instructors, managers, and potential learners as well as observing the site in use. Even if you feel you are very familiar with the site, your analysis may uncover opportunities to provide activities for your students that are a better fit with the site where learning will take place.

A learning context analysis involves examining the following characteristics in detail:

Number and Nature of Sites - How many sites are there and what facilities, equipment, and resources are available at the sites? Describe the physical characteristics of the sites.

Compatibility of the Site with the Instructional Requirements - Does the environment include the tools or other items that are necessary for the learning of the goal? For example, if your instruction requires computers, are they available at the site, and are they properly configured? Can the site support the desired delivery approach?

Compatibility of the Site With the Learner Needs - Are the sites convenient to the learners, are there necessary conveniences available, and is there adequate space and equipment for the expected number of learners?

Feasibility for Simulating the Workplace - Does the learning environment adequately simulate the eventual work environment? Is there anything that can be done to make it more like the work environment? The closer you can simulate the performance site, the easier it will be for the learners to transfer their newly acquired skills.

Activity: The Learners and Context Analyses

In this activity conduct an analysis of the learners as well as the contexts in which they will (a) use the skills (the performance context) and in which they will (b) acquire the skills (the learning context).

Conduct each analysis individually and compose a response for each characteristic discussed within the lesson. Consider the explanation of the characteristic and the sample questions when you compose your response. Your assignment must include (a) your discussion of each characteristic, (b) a discussion of how you obtained the information included in the analysis, and (c) an organized summary of the examination of the characteristics. It is helpful to use the rubric items as headers for your analysis.

Submitting your Assignment

Your assignment should be produced using Microsoft Word. The title of this assignment is "Learner and Context Analysis". Beneath that, enter your name, email address, and the date. Save your assignment using the filename "learners". After you have saved your file, go to the student interface and submit your assignment for grading. Click here if you need additional information regarding submission of your assignment.

Assignment: Subordinate Skills Analysis

Points: 20

Learner Analysis

- Describes general characteristics of target population. (.5)
- Describes general entry skills. (.5)
- Describes prior knowledge of learners. (.5)
- Describes learners attitude towards the content and the delivery system. (.5)
- Describes the academic motivation of the learners. (.5)
- Describes learners' educational and ability levels. (.5)
- Describes learners' general learning preferences. (.5)
- Describes learners attitude regarding the organization providing the instruction. (.5)
- Describes any important group characteristics. (.5)
- Describes how they obtained learner analysis information. (.5)
- Summary description of learner analysis (4)

Performance Context

- Describes the managerial support at the performance site. (.5)>
- Describes the physical aspects of the performance site. (.5)>
- Describes the social aspects of the performance site. (.5)>
- Describes the relevance of new skills to workplace. (.5)>
- Describes how they obtained performance context information. (.5)>
- Summary description of performance context. (3)>

Learning Context

- Describes the number and nature of the learning site. (.5)
- Describes the compatibility of the site with the instructional requirements. (.5)
- Describes the compatibility of the site with the learner needs. (.5)
- Describes the feasibility of the site to simulate the workplace. (.5)
- Describes how they obtained learning context information. (.5)
- Summary description of learning context. (3)