Understanding the size and demographic of your learner population enables you to design a course that best addresses their range of needs. For example, the types of interactions in the course and the level of feedback you can provide will vary, depending on whether it is a large class that is required for a major with hundreds of learners or a graduate level seminar with just a few. Additionally, individual learner profiles should inform your course design.

The considerations listed below are important when you are thinking about your learners and determining what kind of course design, content, and delivery method will help them grow.

Being able to answer these questions as well as understand the reasoning behind them is critical to genuinely connecting to your learners and creating an effective online environment for them.

Factors to Consider about the Learners


Who are my learners?

What is motivating learners to take this course?

Are learners taking my course to earn a degree or expand their professional skills in this subject area?

Do my learners have any professional experience?


Understanding the unique characteristics of your learners will help you design a course to leverage their intrinsic motivations. Additionally, identifying characteristics of a cohort or group can offer additional opportunities to engage your learners on that common ground. For example, an executive MBA program may expect learners with some degree of professional experience, while learners in an undergraduate course may not have any relevant work history.

Prior Knowledge:

What do my learners already know?

Are learners familiar with the subject matter?

Have the learners completed the appropriate prerequisite coursework?

Do the learners have the technology skills necessary to complete assignments?


Having an idea of your learners’ knowledge base will help you focus your instructional goals. This way you do not spend valuable time reviewing material that they already know or expect them to succeed with concepts for which they do not yet have sufficient foundation.

Multicultural Considerations:

Where are my learners coming from?

Do any examples require specific cultural knowledge?
(e.g., baseball or sailing)

Do the learners have language barriers?

Is the content culturally sensitive?


The intent of instruction is to communicate with the learners, so it is important to be aware of any cultural factors that may impede or adversely impact the flow of information. In an online environment, this is particularly important because you cannot read body language or make eye contact with the learners.

Access to Technology:

How does access to electronic and web tools impact the learners?

How does access to electronic and web tools impact the learners?

How will learners access your course?
(e.g., computer lab or personal devices)

Do the learners have access to all equipment necessary to complete assignments?
(e.g., video camera or software)

Are your materials universally accessible?
(e.g., mobile-friendly, closed captioned, meaningful link titles, etc.)


As an educator, you want to be certain that all of your learners have the tools they need to succeed. If the content is developed and shared digitally, it is best to design with these considerations in mind so that you do not have to retrofit the content. You should develop flexible content that can be presented and consumed across various devices so that you do not exclude learners with limited technology options.