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Chapter 4 

Instructional Analysis: 

Analyzing the Learners

Orienting Questions

By Regina M. Daigre

What are stable and changing similarities and differences among learners?

What are the categories of cognitive characteristics that should be considered in designing instruction?

What is the difference between general characteristics and specific prior knowledge of a learner population?

What are some instructional strategy variables that may be influenced by learner characteristics?

How can different learner characteristics influence how the variables are implemented?

How can you identify sources of information about learner characteristics of a particular audience?

What are some examples of learner characteristics?

What are some techniques and procedures that can be used to identify learner characteristics when designing instruction?

An Overview of Learner Analysis

By Kayla Hopkins

When designing instructional opportunities, the designer often assumes that everyone learns the way he or she does. Unfortunately that could never be farther from the truth. For the program to be effective, it must be stimulating to the targeted audience. How can that be accomplished? The construction of an audience profile with the use of questionnaires can be a valuable start. The key to instructional design is to work around the participants rather than the content. It is very important to not develop a program based on the characteristics you hope your audience will have. You must be realistic, the audience may come to you with a wider variety of interests and knowledge. This may seem overwhelming and confusing for a program designer, but with careful preparation and open mindedness, a successful project can result.


 Similarities and Differences Between Learners

 By Virginia Harman

 Four Categories Of Human Characteristics

Stable similarities:

Similarities among people that are relatively unchanging over time.

Stable differences:

Differences among people that are relatively unchanging over time.

Changing similarities:

Similarities among people that change over time.

Changing differences:

Differences among people that change over time.


Stable Similarities

By Sheryl Frederick

 Stable Similarities

 Relevance To Instructional Design

Sensory capacities

 Observing and modeling the behaviors

Information processing

 Sensory Register, Short term (working memory), Long term memory, Factor Enhancing

Types of learning

Attitudes:  factual  information, concepts reasoning  
Procedure learning: problem-solving, learning strategies

Conditions of learning

Verbal information, intellectual skills, emotional reactions of others.


 Stable Differences

By Kayla Hopkins

There are basically four stable differences among learners that are identified in the text: (1) Intelligence Quotient (I.Q.), (2) Cognitive Style, (3) Psychosocial Traits, and (4) Gender, Ethnicity, & Racial Group. The relevance to instructional design for these stable difference are listed below.

Stable Differences

 Relevance To Instructional Design

  (1) Intelligence Quotient (I.Q.)

  • Number of examples needed 
  • Ability to interpret analogies  
  • Learning time  
  • Amount of practice  
  • Attitude toward learning  
  • Attention span  
  • Amount of prior knowledge 

(2) Cognitive Style

  • Provide information about individual differences  
  • Performances in particular settings  
  • Impulsive/reflective nature 

(3) Psychosocial Traits

  • Academic self-concept: Positive self-concept can promote learning while a negative self-concept can hinder the learning process.  
  • Amount of structure  
  • Learner’s anxiety 

(4) Gender, Ethnicity, & Racial Group

  • Learner’s experiences  
  • Cultural factors  
  • Organizational memberships 


The following web sites contain more information on:

Intelligence Quotient:

Characteristics & Appropriate Assessment

Online I.Q. Test

How I.Q. can change over time

Cognitive Styles:

Definitions & Educational Applications

Cognitive Styles (continued):

Learning Styles

Attributes of Independent and Dependent Cognitive Styles

Psychosocial Traits:

Self Concept and Self Esteem

Music Education and Self Concept

Self concepts for Children Ages 5-8

Measuring Self Concepts Across the Life Span

Gender, Ethnicity, & Racial Group:

Educational Reform for Latino Students

Multicultural Education

Educating All

Guide for Conducting a Multi-level Needs Assessment


Changing Similarities

By Regina M. Daigre

Changing similarities can be defined as changing similarities among people that change over time, for example, the "startle response" of an infant. The author describes how babies wave their arms in a particular way when they are lowered. This pattern changes overtime. These notable distinctions gradually go away. It is believed that this movement leads to a more localized movement like facial gestures that show surprise. The startle response is used to illustrate the characteristic changing similarities. It is a characteristic that changes overtime but it is a shared similarity among us.

Developmental Theories Illustrative Of Changing Similarities

Development Process   

  • This changing characteristic is more or less the same for everyone. Similarities among populations are noticeable change processes. 

Intellectual Development   

  • According to Piaget, intellectual development involves two processes: assimilation and accommodation. He suggests generative and inquiry-oriented instructional strategies to achieve these strengths. 

Language Development   

  • Changes that occur over time in the facility and use of language are enabled and governed by common attributes that all persons possess (Smith and Ragan, 1999). 

Psychosocial & Personality Development   

  • Shows how the way people change is generally connected to their behavior. Psychosocial and personality developments change overtime but are similar among us. 


Changing similarities are those learner characteristics that are developmental. They appear to develop in a particular path over time. Knowledge of changing similarities can benefit the instructor in the instructional design process.


 Related Links For Changing Similarities

Erik Erikson's 8 Stages of Psychosocial Development.

LEARNING GUIDES: Piaget's Developmental Theory. 

Developmental stages: Erickson

Developmental stages: Piaget

Developmental stages: Levinson

ABCs of A Good Language Learner

Behaviorist theories of learning

Behaviorist theory of learning: Skinner


Changing Differences

By Virginia Harman


 Changing Differences

Relevance To Instructional Design

Development State

 Intellectualincreasing capacity to engage n certain kinds of abstract thought as depicted by Piaget. 

 Other—i.e. personality, includes Erikson’s eight model of psychological development and Kohlberg 

Prior Learning

 General World Knowledge—the storehouse of knowledge, which varies other factors. Example: ability to decode visual messages.  

 Specific—the most important factor, knowledge specific to each individual. Example: taking Spanish I 


Student Evaluation

Applications of AI (Computer Aided Instruction) in Education

Distance Education (Desk Guide Online)

Preparing Faculty for Instructional Technology: From Education to Development to Creative Independence

What is the Collaborative Classroom?—Individual Differences Among Students


  Significance of Types of Learner Characteristics

By Sheryl Frederick

By combining two opposite dimensions we get four quadrants of learning types.

Specific Prior Learning

By Kayla Hopkins

Specific prior learning is considered to be the most significant factor when designing an instructional program. This information can be obtained through testing a sample of the targeted audience. Questioning the trainers and teachers that will be involved in the program can be beneficial. Questioning for background information that is not directly related to the new concepts may be valuable to the designer also. With this information, the designer can provide effective educational opportunities for the learners.


An Explanation of Prior Learning Assessment

Classroom Assessment Techniques

Questionnaire Design

Complete Software Solution for Survey Research


Learner Characteristics

By Regina Daigre

The following web sites contain more information on:

Cognitive Characteristics

General aptitudes, Specific aptitudes, Developmental level, Language development level, Reading level, Level of visual literacy, Cognitive processing styles, Cognitive and learning strategies and general world knowledge

Specific Prior Knowledge

The instructor must ask the following questions:  Do you have some background knowledge or skills that will help you learn the current task?   Will the instructor have to fill in this background knowledge for the student? Is there a wide variation in background knowledge among the learners?   Do you have some of the skills and knowledge the instructor plans to teach?

Physiological Characteristics

Sensory perception, General health, Age

Affective Characteristics 

Interests, Motivation, Motivations to learn, Academic self-concept, Anxiety level, Beliefs, Attribution of success, Attitude toward subject matter, Attitude toward learning, Perceptions of and experience with specific forms of knowledge

Social Characteristics

Relationships to peers, Feelings toward authority, Tendencies toward cooperation or competition, Moral development, Socioeconomic background, Racial/ethnic background, affiliations, Role models


Top 10 Learner Characteristics…Middle

Top 10 Learner Characteristics…Intermediate

Top 10 Learner Characteristics---High

Learner Characteristics

Learner Characteristics

What is the purpose of using learner characteristics?

Learner Characteristics


Assessing Learner Characteristics

By Virginia Harman


Student Assessment

Guide for Conducting A Multi-Level Needs Assessment

How Does Learning Happen Best?

Helping You Learn "HOW TO LEARN"

Training Department 2.3 Conducting a Learner Analysis

Instructional Design Course

Using Adult Learning Styles to Better Reach Your Audiences

Advanced Instructional Systems Design

A Transitional Model of the Teaching/Learning Process

Assumptions About the Adult Learner

Instructional Design Overview


Implications of Learner Characteristics for Design

By Sheryl Frederick


 Implications Of Instructional Design





Number of examples  

Learner control  



Context of examples  



Amount of practice  

Reading level  


Relevance statements  

Context of practice items  


Response mode  



Learning guidance

Source: Smith, Patricia L. and Tillman J. Ragan. Instructional Design, second edition, Merrill, 1999.


The Target Audience

By Regina Daigre

The target audience is key to designing instruction. The purpose of the target audience is to analyze the characteristics of the learners that are anticipated to use instruction. A good analytical review of the target audience helps the designer design instruction that is interesting and effective to the learner.

Links for the Learner Analysis


The EnterTech Target Learner Characteristics Report

Learner Analysis Assignment

Planning Form

Learner Needs Analysis

Training Department Product: Sample Learner Analysis Report


Cases for Instructional Design

By Regina Daigre


 Designing A Computer Science Curriculum


The assistant principal of instruction has appointed you as Team Leader of an Instructional Design Team at a local high school. The school hopes to offer computer science courses to graduating seniors for the academic year 2000-01. Your team has been asked to analyze all 11th graders who are currently taking advanced math courses. Using the four categories of human characteristics, your team is to develop an instructional design unit for Computer Science. Identify and describe four particular characteristics for each category as described in this lesson.


Using the same learner population as described in Case 1, describe the difference between general characteristics and specific prior knowledge of the target group.


Using the same learner population as described in Case 1, list and describe at least seven instructional strategy variables that may be influenced by learner characteristics.


Based on the scenario in Case 1, your team is to analyze the learner environment. What information would you wish to know about the eleventh grade students who will receive this computer science program? List the questions that you would ask. Tell how you would go about finding the answers to your questions.



By Regina Daigre

Learner styles are key in developing effective instructional design materials. The instructional designer must be able to identify the target audience. Prior to identifying the target audience, the instructional designer needs to have an understanding of learner styles or characteristics. Smith and Ragan identify four categories of learner characteristics: cognitive, physiological, affective, and social. Each of these categories is important and may or may not be used all at one time in a learner analysis.

First, the cognitive domain comprises itself of four pillars: stable similarities, stable differences, changing similarities, and changing differences. Stable similarities and stable differences do not change over time. Changing similarities and changing differences do change over time. Secondly, physiological characteristics like health and age are usually obvious to the designer. Physiological characteristics are identified in leaner analyses that are affected by this domain. Thirdly, the affective characteristics are on a more personable level. The instructional designer seeks to discover the target audience interests, motivational level, attitude, perceptions, self-concept, anxiety, beliefs, and attribution. It would be unwise to assume a target audience would be interested in instructional materials just because the designer has an interest in the materials. Finally, social characteristics are concerned about how the learner relates to his or her peers. What are their feelings toward authority? What tendencies do the learners have toward cooperation or competition? What is the perception of the learners' moral development? What is the socioeconomic background of the learner? Other variables that may influence social characteristics are racial/ethnic background, affiliations, and role models.

The designer may or may not use all the learning styles or characteristics when conducting a learner analysis. The amount of information collected is based on what is needed for the learner analysis. This chapter is a good model for the instructional designer who needs to develop instructional materials for a target group or target population that he or she is unfamiliar with. Another implication for instructional design to consider is specific prior knowledge. The specific prior knowledge of a learner population is generally the most important single learner characteristic to consider in the instructional design analysis because learners can sometime become inattentive in a course if it is below their learning level.

Types Of Learner Characteristics


  • Stable  
  • Changing 


  • Stable  
  • Changing 





 Specific Prior Knowledge

Source: Smith, Patricia L. and Tillman J. Ragan. Instructional Design, second edition, Merrill, 1999.


 Related Links

Learning, Teaching and Technology: provides an overview of principles of effective teaching and learning.

Developing Learning Outcomes: template for instructional design planning form, learning activities planning form, and interaction and exercises samples, and Bloom's taxonomy

Scott's Research Library: Instructional Theory and Design Resources: information about instructional design, curriculum development, and instructional development.

Instructional Design and Teaching Styles: learn how to plan classes so that the students will them as well as learn.

Learner Characteristics and Instructional Design

Learner Analysis

General Needs Analysis

Instructional Design Models