Marketing for Libraries Logo

Audience Analysis

At the completion of this section, you should be able to:

Begin by viewing the class presentation in Vimeo. Then, read each of the sections of this page.

Explore each of the following topics on this page:


Librarians know what needs to be taught, but it's equally important to know what approaches will be effective, efficient, and appealing to a specific audience. Start with a few basic questions:

An understanding of the audience will help to determine the type and amount of information you will provide, as well as the format of your session.

studentBlanchett, Powis, and Webb (2012, 14) stress that a needs analysis "may strongly influence the 'what' of your teaching, but the learner analysis will influence the 'how'." They suggest asking the following questions about learners (Blanchett, Powis, & Webb, 2012, 13-14):

In Tailoring information literacy instruction and library services for continuing education, Lange, Canuel, and Fitzgibbons (2011) discuss the need to adapt information literacy initiatives to meet the needs of new audiences. They developed an information literacy program to reach continuing education learners. They began by identifying the needs and characteristics of their audience. Then, developed teaching techniques to meet the challenge of their diverse audience. The researchers addressed challenges with specific strategies and identified benefits. Lange, Canuel, and Fitzgibbons (2011, 77) used

"information literacy instruction, promotional activities, and targeted collection development with specific educational objectives... Particular successes have included adapting instruction strategies for students with varying levels of language, library, and technology skills, teaching outside usual "business hours," teaching online, integrating services in the curricula, communication with students and instructors in their own continuing education context, and developing entirely new sessions based upon the content specific to continuing education programmes. "


There are many ways to collect information about learners. Blanchett, Powis, and Webb (2012, 16-17) suggest a pre-session audit when conducting a one-session event.

When possible, collect data ahead of time. If information is gathered after the session has been planned, data can be used to made adjustments "just in time".

Audience Analysis

Knowing your students is the key to teaching. Callison and Lamb (2006) state that "audience analysis involves the processes of gathering and interpreting information about the recipients of oral, written, or visual communication."


Callison and Lamb (2006) recommend asking the following questions:


Callison and Lamb (2006) suggest that in the case of complex content or persuasive messages, additional questions might be asked:

The closer the instructor can come to understanding the learner's abilities, experiences, and expectations, the more likely the communication is to be effective. Are your students young children beginning to read, lawyers seeking technology skills, or retired seniors looking for opportunities to volunteer?

Audience Information

What do you need to know about your target population? Dick, Carey, and Carey (2011, 93-94) suggest collecting information in eight areas:

Characteristics and Implications

Your audience can be described in terms of general characteristics and implications of these characteristics.

Learner Characteristics. Who are your students?

Example: All students have a high school diploma or GRE, however many have a low reading level and lack interest in reading.


Implications of Learner Characteristics. What are these people like as learners?

Example: When offering the parenting class at the public library, the characteristics of students must be consider. Rather than large blocks of reading, materials will be presented in chunks at the lowest reading level necessary to address the learning outcome. Visual examples will be used to supplement text-based examples.


Read Instructional preferences of first-year college students with below-proficent information literacy skills: a focus group study by Don Latham and Melissa Gross (2013).


Entry Skills

What knowledge, skills, and attitudes do your learners possess when they enter your session?

Entry skills are the building blocks upon which your instructional depends. Without these entry skills, a learners would have a difficult, if not impossible, time trying to learn from your instruction. For instance, students must know the composition and structure of a cell prior to learning about mitosis.

Entry skills should be indicated with a dotted line on you instructional analysis chart. These are very specific skills that relate directly to your instruction. If a student doesn't know how to find the school's website, they're going to have a tough time filling out an online form found at the website.

Revisit Instructional Analysis

After completion of the audience analysis, it's important to go back and revisit the instructional analysis. Dick, Carey, and Carey (2011, 99) recommend discussing the instructional analysis with a small group from the target audience to be sure they "get" the approach and content. It may also be necessary to adjust the entry skills line. In other words, you may find that a majority of your students lack an entry skill or already possess one of the proposed skills.

Audience Examples

Middle School Example

Upper-division Nursing Example

try itTry It!
Spend some time thinking about your library users.
What are the typical entry skills, demographics and predispositions of your students? 
How does that impact learning?

Learning Styles and Preferences

studentMany approaches to learning styles have emerged from psychological theories and educational research over the past several decades. The value of understanding learning styles comes from developing insights into the individual differences, needs, and preferences of learners.

By understanding different styles of learning, it's possible to design instruction that reaches a wide range of learners.

Example: A lecture followed by a text-based, multiple-choice exam would appeal to learners who need or enjoy passively listening to information and conveying their understandings through text. A person with verbal preferences would do well, however a learner with a visual or tactile need might be unsuccessful. A better approach might combine a number of ways to convey information and involve students in the learning process through the use of visuals, discussion, and hands-on activities.


try itTry It!
Go to the What Is Your Learning Style page and try the questionnaire.
Or, try that Find Out What Your Learning Style Is (Word) for a quick look at multiple intelligences from the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.

It's important to distinguish learning styles from learning preferences. While some students may learn best through a particular approach, they may have a preference for another. For instance, while a student may learn well through a text presentation, they may prefer to watch a video.

Since the 1970s, educators have used learning styles as a way to address the individual needs of students. Most students have preferences for how they learn, however recent research questions whether tailoring instruction to individual learners is effective.

Recently, the use of learning styles has come under attack. Some psychologists challenge the validity of the research and its application to teaching.

The bottom line
Cast a wide net of options to engage learners with different preferences and learning styles.

reading to child

Read Realizing the Democratic Potential of Online Sources in the Classroom by Valerie Burton and Robert C. H. Sweeny. How does the proposed approach to teaching about online sources connect with the audience?

try itTry It: Preferences
Explore three different ways to learn about plagiarism.
Cite is Right Animated Video
Plagiarism (flash version) or (no flash version)
Plagiarism Rap
Plagiarism Tutorial

Which approaches did you like and dislike? Why? How do you learn best? How do you know? What is your preference? Are your preferences similar or different from the people you know? Why is it important to provide opportunities and options for learning?

Let's explore FOUR areas where learning styles can be applied to developing effective, efficient, and appealing instructional materials that reach all of your learners (Adapted from Felder and Silverman).

1 - Preferences
What type of information does the student preferentially perceive? Which do students like best? Match how students perceive with corresponding content.

Example. Provide a balance of concrete information and abstract concepts. Provide practical examples of theories. Balance practical problem-solving methods with fundamental understanding. Provide explicit illustrations of theoretical patterns (inference, patterns, generalizations). Provide opportunities for observation, experimentation, and attention to detail.

Activity. Provide examples, describe the theory, show the consequences, present applications.

2 - Perceiving 
Through what sensory modality is information most effectively perceived? What’s the best way to present content? Match how students receive information with types of presentations.

Example. Use pictures, graphics, sketching (before, during, and after). Show video segments. Use live demonstrations. Incorporate and movement into lessons.

Visual-Verbal-Kinesthetic Activity. Ask students to compare two photographs (visual) and discuss (verbal) their findings. Then ask them to re-create (kinesthetic) one of the scenes.

3 - Processing
How does the student prefer to process information? How do students like to work with content? Match how students process with student participation activities.

Example: Alternate lecture with pauses for thought and opportunities for problem-solving activities. Materials should present both practical problems and fundamental understandings that bridge theory and practice.

Questioning Activity. Seated in small groups. Pose an open-ended question and give time to read and think. Then, ask students to come up with collective answers to questions. Provide 30 seconds to five minutes. Discuss alternative solutions and answers. Or, show possible answers and ask students to discuss solutions. Provide time in class to simply “think” in the form of creating an example, brainstorming solutions, categorizing ideas, thinking about what has been learning, thinking about what’s still muddy, thinking about ideas that don’t fit the theory.

4 - Perspective
What type of perspective is provided? How does the student progress toward understandings? How do students “put it all together”? Match how students understand with different perspectives.

Example. Most classrooms are designed to meet the needs of sequential learners. To reach global learners, be sure to provide the “big picture” and learning outcomes for each class period. Establish the context and relevance of content and relate it to student experiences. Use “what ifs” and involve students in seeing the impact of decisions. Show how content fits into more advanced concepts. Ask students to design alternative solutions for problems. Applaud creative solutions, even incorrect ones.

Whole-Part-Whole Activity. This works well for both analytic and global learners.

As you design instruction, use a variety of strategies to reach different types of learners. You don't need to throw in the kitchen sink, however you never know what might reach a learner.

try itTry It!
Want to have some fun? Find some friends and try out the following activity.
1. Select and read a learning styles card (click the card on the right to download the cards).
2. Find the other people with a card in your category:
Preference, Perceiving, Processing, or Perspective.
3. Share the characteristics described on your card.
4. Discuss whether your learning style is more like your card or a peer's card.
5. Brainstorm a class activity that would meet the needs of all learners in your category. Use the last couple handout pages for ideas.
6. Set a timer to five minutes to mark each round. At the end of five minutes, switch cards with a member of another group and complete steps 2-5 again. 

cardsNeed class topic ideas? 
• Identify the elements of a citation.
• Demonstrate the use of X database.
• Identify a broad topic, narrow topic, and related topic from a list of topics.
• Demonstrate the skill of using the hand scanner.
• Identify the elements of a book from the title page.
• Conduct an oral history interview.
• Explain the rationale for the library's security system.
• Differentiate between primary and second sources.
• Demonstrate the steps in using X piece of equipment or Y process.
• Identify different types of reference source.


Blanchett, Helen, Powis, Chris, & Webb, Jo (2012). A Guide to Teaching Information Literacy: 101 Practical Tips. Facet Publishing.

Callison, Daniel and Lamb, Annette. (2006). Audience Analysis. In Key Words, Concepts and Methods for Information Age Instruction: A Guide to Teaching Information Literacy. LMS Associates.

Dick, Walt, Carey, Lou, and Carey, James O. (2011). The Systematic Design of Instruction. Seventh Edition. Pearson.

Felder, Richard (1988). Learning and learning styles in engineering education (PDF). Engineering Education, 78&7), 674-681.

Lange, J., Canuel, R. and Fitzgibbons, M. (2011). Tailoring information literacy instruction and library services for continuing education. Journal of information literacy, 5(2), 66-80. Available:

Moallem (2007-2008). A guidelines for developing instructional materials considering different learning styles (PDF).

| eduscapes | IUPUI Online Courses | Teacher Tap | 42explore | About Us | Contact Us | © 2012-2016 Annette Lamb (Not currently being updated)