Persona cards

One of the most important design decisions you need to make is considering the nature of the learners who will take your course or module. Students on a first-year undergraduate Mathematics course will be very different from post-graduates undertaking a Continuous Professional Development course or those taking an evening class in Spanish. The Persona cards are a useful way of articulating the nature of typical learners on your module or course.

The persona view enables teachers to create personas for the types of learners that are going to complete the design activity; a class of first year 18-year old Maths undergraduates, will have very difficult needs to an online language course for adults. Hence articulating the persona for the learners will help guide what kind of teaching intervention is appropriate for those learners. Factors to take into account include: age, sex, cultural background, discipline, level of technological competence and motivations for doing the learning.

Personas are a tool for sharing our understanding of the expected nature and types of learners.[1]  Nielsen (Nielsen 2013) states that:

The persona method has developed from being a method for IT system development to being used in many other contexts, including development of products, marketing, planning of communication, and service design. [..] Common understanding is that the persona is a description of a fictitious person, but whether this description is based on assumptions or data is not clear, and opinions also different on what the persona description should cover.

It is important to try and be as detailed as possible when describing a persona. An understanding of the characteristics of potential learners will help inform and shape the design process, to ensure that it is targeted at the right level in terms of learners’ competencies and motivations. Cooper (1999) argues that:

Personas are the single most powerful design tool that we use. They are the foundation for all subsequent Goal-Directed design. Personas allow us to see the scope and nature of the design problem. They make it clear exactly what the user’s goals are, so that we can what the product must do – and can get away with not doing.

Tables 1 and 2 show two personas, for Joe and Marie. The personas illustrate the very different characteristics of the learners, in terms of their background and motivations and goals.



Name: Joe

Gender: Male

Age: 19

Lives in: Gloucester, UK with his parents

Likes football and music

Education and experience

Joe has had a conventional education completing 9 GSCEs and 3 A levels (in Chemistry, Physics and Maths). He works in a local restaurant as a waiter at the weekend. He has not travelled much outside of the UK. His hobbies include watching football and playing in a local band

Roles and responsibilities

He has worked as a waiter for two years and now supervises new employees. He runs a computer programming club, which has 15 members. They meet every Sunday more for two hours. He publishes a monthly newsletter on their activities.

Technical skills

He is a proficient internet user and has good programming skills, which he has learnt in his spare time. He has a laptop and an iPad. He uses the latter primarily for surfing the Internet and keeping in touch with friends.

Subject domain skills and knowledge

He has good science skills and a reasonable level of general knowledge, although he does not keep up much with current affairs.

Motivation and desires

He wants to get a job in the IT industry as a computer programmer, he is passionate about programming and is very gifted at it.

Goals and expectations

His goal is to complete a computer science course and then get a job in the IT industry.

Obstacles to their success

His one weakness is a lack of concentration. He does not have very good study skills and tends not to put too much effort into his learning.

Unique assets

He is a gifted computer programmer and is very sociable and confident with lots of friends.

Table 1: Joe’s Persona



Name: Maria

Gender: Female

Age: 45

Lives in: London, UK with her husband and two children

Likes classical music, theatre and reading

Education and experience

Marie left school having completed 5 O’ Levels. She later returned to college to complete a HND in cooking. She has run her own Italian restaurant for 15 years. Her parents were Italian and moved to the UK when Maria was ten years old.

Roles and responsibilities

Her restaurant business is very successful. She employs five people, including a full-time chief. She has overall responsibility for the business, including the finances and deciding on the menus, in conjunction with the chief.

Technical skills

She does not use the Internet very much and has relatively low levels of IT proficiency. She does own a desktop computer but using it mainly for sending and receiving emails.

Subject domain skills and knowledge

She is more practically orientated than academic. Her Italian is rusty, she hasn’t practiced it much since moving to the UK when she was 10.

Motivation and desires

Her husband and her would like to move back to Italy when their children (19 and 19) have left home. They would like to set up a restaurant business there. As a result she wants to improve her Italian skills. She is not interested in getting a qualification per se, she just wants to be proficient in Italian.

Goals and expectations

Her goal is to complete an online intermediate Italian course with the Open University, UK and then to move to Italy and set up a new restaurant business.

Obstacles to their success

The main problem she has is a lack of time, she is kept busy with the restaurant (working very long hours) and her family. The OU course requires 7 hours a week as a minimum, she will need to be very focused and motivated to ensure she meets this commitment. In addition, she will need support to begin with to develop her Internet skills, given that the course is wholly delivered online.

Unique assets

She is very practical and has a good business sense. Once she commits to something she is very driven. She has good general language skills and that fact that she lived in Italy for ten years should give her a good head start.

Table 2: Maria’s Persona


[1] The following is taken from