Snap, Crackle, T-POP! Take a Closer Look at YOUR Learners

No, we’re not talking about eating cereal. We’re talking about knowing your learners!

Target Population Analysis - or T-POP - is an analysis we often overlook because we assume (and we know how dangerous that is!) we already know an awful lot about our learners. Not doing a thorough T-Pop can stir up a host of problems, including:
•    A trainer that doesn’t “fit” the group
•    Too much remedial information presented
•    Too much advanced information presented
•    Examples that don’t depict where your learners “live”
•    Dis-engaged learners
•    Disruptive learners
•    Increasing number of “now shows” at your sessions

You’ve got the picture, right? So let’s take a closer look at what a T-POP is and when to use it.

What is a T-POP?
A target population analysis is a “snap shot” of your learners so that you can thoughtfully prepare to meet your learners’ needs. It helps you decide who needs training and how a specific course must be customized to meet the learner’s needs, and it identifies what class groups are appropriate. A target population analysis has two parts: gathering the data and writing a target population statement. Let’s look at the first – gathering the data.

When gathering data about your learners, conduct interviews, make observations or collect existing information. Consider collecting information in the following categories. Information is best collected from interviews, observations or from existing information. All of these categories do not have equal importance for each intervention or training event.

What personal or business interests or current events are important to the learners? What do they care about? What do they prioritize? What do they think they need? This information can be used to select content and customize examples and exercises which relate to what is already known.

Personal Benefit to Learning
What’s the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) for the learner? What personal obstacles might stand in the way of learning? Keys to motivation may influence pre-session communications, opening activities and the need to develop support for learning following the program.

Previous Training Experience
Don’t bore someone with repeated information. Identify what types of classes similar to your training that learners have attended. What has worked for these learners and what hasn’t – and why? Where and who do they turn to for support and information? Knowing prior training experiences will assist in making grouping decisions, identifying prerequisites and other administrative decisions. 

This information is helpful when determining best delivery methods, planning groupings, customizing examples and exercises, etc.
•    Age
What is the age range of your learners and what is the “weight” of the various ages? For example, learners could range from 25 -60 with the majority being between 45 -55 years of age.
•    Gender
What is the gender breakdown of the group? Is it 50/50 women to men? Predominantly women? Mostly men? 
•    Educational Background
Here you also want to determine the range from least to most regarding the amount of education. Have most learners finished high school? All have an undergraduate degree? Any hold  advanced degrees? Approximate percentages are helpful here.
•    Technology Savvy
What access and familiarity do the learners have with technology in training? What is their preferred learning environment? What positive/negative experiences have they had with elearning? What learning platforms have they used for virtual training? Do they have the time to actively participate? What social media do they use?

Physical Characteristics
This category is relevant only if it relates to the job. For example, physical strength or dexterity of the learners could influence content, delivery and amount of practice required to learn a skill. Also, special needs may require special accommodation or equipment, such as hearing or sight assistance tools. 

Attitudes & Biases
This one is FUN! How do learners feel about training in general and the topic specifically? What previous training like yours have they’ve attended? Do they view the workshop or elearning course as a learning opportunity or a pain in their sides? How do they feel about their job? Their boss? The facilitator? The company? Learning in general? Digging deep here provides key information to guide your selection of content, grouping, design, facilitation and supervisory follow-up. And it helps you minimize surprises on the day of the training!

Culture is vital to include in your T-Pop. In our age of political correctness, we are sensitive to various world cultures and different ethnic groups. Identify the reading level of all learners, including non-native-English-speaking learners. The vocabulary, content and amount of material covered may have to be altered to match the reading level required on the job. And don’t forget organizational culture! In fact, many departments within an organization have their own culture. This information might inform groupings, activities, supervisory support, etc.

Sample T-Pop Statement
Once you’ve developed information in the relevant categories, write a narrative statement that describes the target population. This is a critical step. It helps everyone involved in the project avoid BLM (Be Like Me) Syndrome and keep focused on the learner! 

Example of T-POP for Scientific Presentation Seminar
The target population is a group of research scientists who must make electronic presentations to upper management using Microsoft NetMeeting to: 
•    Show the status of their research
•    Request more resources
•    Request more time

For approximately 75% of the scientists, English is their second language. Many of them are difficult to understand. They have complex content that must be presented accurately, clearly, and simply to be successful.

In general these scientists are extremely dedicated to their work, often viewing what they do as a service to mankind. They are highly educated and embrace learning as long as they can respect the instructor and the materials – view them as experts.

Example of T-POP for Sales Audit Training for Retail Sales Associates
Only a few of the experienced, part time night sales associates are assigned the job of closing out registers and preparing register paperwork for sales audit. Most of these associates have been with the company for many years and have been responsible for training other night associates for expansion store locations. They have been responsible for closing out registers at the end of the day for months, if not years. 

In general, these associates work to supplement their income. They may be raising a family, buying a house, attending school, or they may see the sales job as a second career.  Most are in their late twenties or thirties, even older. They are in large part a generation brought up on television and the Internet. Approximately half of the sales associates are immigrants from another country and English is a second language.

Almost 50% of the population has been in sales before at a different retailer. Many others come from a food service position. Our position pays more, has better hours and better benefits. Most associates are proud of the responsible job they do helping to run the store in the evenings.

When to use a T-POP
Verify your T-Pop statement with your client, stakeholders, trainers and learner representatives to make sure you are on target and haven’t missed any important characteristics. What else do you need to know about the learners? How will you find this information out?

Use the results of a T-Pop analysis to make key decisions mentioned above, including:
•    Which examples are appropriate for this group?
•    How much practice time is needed for the group?
•    How many learners need to be trained overall?
•    Who should be excluded from the training?
•    How many groups are needed to complete training?
•    Can everyone – and multiple levels - be trained at the same time?
•    Is an overview needed for management?
•    Who is a secondary target population for this training?
•    What are the benefits of this training?
•    What modes of delivery are most appropriate?
•    Identify prerequisites.

Post the statement where course designers can refer to it often during development and in the instructor guide so facilitators have this important contextual background to aid their preparation and delivery.

Have fun TPOP-ing!


Team M&M:
Melisa Smith and Maria Chilcote
Managing Partners, Owners, The Training Clinic

We are the trusted partner of choice for learning and performance professionals worldwide.

With over 35 years of experience, we specialize in the design, implementation, evaluation, coordination and management of training. We provide the full range of train the trainer workshops and certifications along with facilitation, instructional design and performance consulting services.