Learners and Their Needs

This post originally appeared on the Software Carpentry website.

I originally wrote these descriptions as part of a post on formats for learning material. I'm finding them useful in other contexts as well, so I'm re-posting them separately. Our description of our audience describes four scientific users in more detail.

  • Zuzel likes textbooks. More specifically, she likes prose that she can read and re-read at leisure. She'll use a tablet, but would rather listen to music while she learns than to someone lecturing.
  • Yeleina prefers interactive learning. She wants to see things evolve on the whiteboard or on the screen; recordings of live coding sessions with voiceover are OK, but slide after slide of bullet points puts her to sleep. She also wants to be able to share ideas about learning content with her peers.
  • Xanthe is a surfer, not a diver—she wants to skim the pages that Giggle searches turn up and piece things together herself. Bullet points and brief sentences work well for her, particularly in areas she's already familiar with.
  • Wafiya teaches programming at a city library. She needs to remix content created by other educators to meet her learners' needs, but doesn't have a lot of time to do so. She also needs to be able to find content that fits into her (individualized and group) learning plans.
  • Veronique is a programmer who is passionate about teaching. She spends several hours a week writing short tutorials, answering questions in Stuck Underflow and other online forums, and occasionally recording screencasts. She'd like to do more with less effort (she finds today's tools frustrating), to make the content she's creating more useful, and to get more feedback from its users.
  • Ursula's preferences are more constrained than Zuzel's, Yeleina's, or Xanthe's because she is visually impaired. Her main assistive aid, a screen reader, can only "see" text (captions in PNG or JPEG images don't count), and becomes confused when pages are modified in place by Javascript.
  • Tahura is an assistant professor at a medium-sized university. She has to teach three undergraduate courses each year, one of which is always "Introduction to Scientific Programming". While she'd like to experiment with new teaching methods, her priority right now is to get tenure, so she (reluctantly) sticks to the university's traditional format: three hour-long lectures a week, one homework exercise every three weeks, a midterm, and a final exam.

Dialogue & Discussion

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