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A "persona" is a written description of a hypothetical person which represents a real job role or potential customer. In the case of L&D, for example, personas are used to help training professionals design programs and environments for performance improvement. 

One "persona" may be "Bob Jones, large account sales representative," for example. We would want to understand Bob's age, educational background, work experience, working environment, his likes and dislikes, his familiarity with various tools, and his general working style. We describe Bob in detail (based on real people in our organization) with a goal of creating a "representative" person who fits that person in our organization.

Once the persona is created, companies often create pictures and baseball cards of the persona, so they can be used over and over for design and discussion. When we design a new training program, for example, we might ask "Would Bob Jones understand this?" or "Would Bob Jones be attracted by this?" 

As more and more personas are created, the organization can start to study and use these personas regularly in all areas of HR and L&D design.

The development of personas is widely used in marketing and is a new and powerful tool for audience analysis.