The Power of Personalising Learning

Learning and development / News
Sarah Kilian
By Sarah Kilian | 10th December 2019

Whatever learning ecosystem you have in place, it’s all about driving opportunities to connect individuals with the learning they need, whenever they need it and from any device. This helps to get learners efficiently to what they personally need to be ‘job-ready’ whilst importantly allowing them to fit mandatory training around their unique and busy schedules.

Personalised learning goes further, it’s not just about getting the appropriate content to the right person but also grabbing their individual attention, making it meaningful and valuable, to emotionally engage them in the experience.

So, why should organisations get personal …

Motivate the learner

Personalising learning, even in a small way, can have huge benefits through enabling and motivating the learner. This has positive repercussions, not only for the individual but also the line manager, the L&D team and wider organisation.

LinkedIn’s 2019 Workplace Learning Report stated that ‘more than 58% of employees want to learn at their own pace depending on their personal requirements, needs and interests’. Personalising helps you to encourage a self-service learning culture, demonstrate what’s in it for the individual and then put them in the driving seat. It should empower learners to explore, create and take charge of their learning experiences and involve them in learning at every stage of their career journey, empowering them to set their own targets and evaluate their progress. Critically, do not overlook the importance of making it relevant and easy.

I once led an L&D team and I remember a couple of training designers showing frustration that their thoughtfully constructed and insightful content was not getting the hits they expected. A short team outing through the busy call centre sparked lightbulb moments and got them thinking about other unique ways to engage individuals. This led to a new library of bitesize learning modules and a variety of activities to complete on the job, these proved much more popular with our audience.

Meet ‘consumer’ expectations

It’s good to think about your learners as your customers. That is, it’s important to recognise that as their consumer expectations in their personal lives shift, so too will their expectations of your learning system.

Today, everything is personalised. Netflix suggests films based on what I’ve watched before, and with over 150 million subscribers (July 2019) the model seems to be working for them. Spotify streams music I might like to listen to. Tailored Instagram adverts cleverly (and annoyingly) know just what will push my buttons and get me to part with my cash.

Therefore, in a culture where everything can be personalised, our consumers will be expecting the same from learning. Bridget van Kralingen, Senior Vice President of IBM Global Industries superbly illustrates this very point; “there’s no longer any real distinction between business strategy and the design of the user experience. The last best experience that anyone has anywhere becomes the minimum expectation for the experience they want everywhere.”

It’s important to pay attention to wider market and social trends that should be making their way into your learning systems. Of course, that’s not about jumping on every bandwagon that rolls into town without really considering the unique individuals that you have in your business. Is it a fad, a vanity project or is there a real opportunity to guide people towards more rewarding learning experiences that make a real difference?

Demonstrate value

A Bersin study by Deloitte highlights that companies with a high-performance learning culture achieve 37% greater employee productivity. Simply providing the resources that people need to be successful in their careers won’t impact the bottom-line, (you can lead a horse to water and all that …) However, if you can encourage your internal customers that the benefits are – enhanced productivity, creativity, retention, innovation, then you will be able to harness their potential through a personalised learning approach.

Geographical locations, budget, resources and technology are no longer barriers to crafting targeted, cost effective and personalised learning experiences for the modern learner.

So, how to go about it?

Take advantage of the opportunities

Personalising learning helps us to take advantage of technology opportunities. Data is one of our biggest assets and when accurately interpreted, we can see consistent improvements. Understanding what individuals are consuming and how they’re doing it will help you to make ‘smart’ recommendations that hit the mark and guide people to acquire the skills they need for the future.

Learning platforms have come a long way from a one size fits all model. Homepages designed for, or even by the individual, help to focus them on what they need to do and what the possibilities are. For example:

Pre-joiner platforms that introduce someone to their team and facilitate conversation and questions help not only to give a great first impression; they also highlight to your new people that they matter and that they are joining an organisation where they are encouraged to take responsibility for their learning and development. This common thread should run through your onboarding experience and beyond.

Resources for facilitators and trainers so they can see what courses they’re running, who to expect and whether pre-work has been accessed means they can personalise the classroom experience as well.

Notifications that remind the individual of activities they have signed up for or are part-way through so they can achieve their goals – perhaps not as exciting as a notification that the next series of ‘Peaky Blinders’ is available, but let’s be realistic.

Machine learning offers us endless opportunities for further personalisation based on what you or others like you have consumed or interacted with, we need to remain open to those opportunities. Google (other search engines are available), continually evolve their algorithms to remain relevant and with good reason. According to ComScore 50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020, and on that note …

Make it easy to ‘discover’

As L&D roles are increasingly about curation, a single learning environment can deliver a whole host of different experiences to the right people at the right time across your entire organisation. If only people can find what they’re looking for, or moreover, find what might deliver the biggest impact for them personally.

According to the latest Fosway 9-Grid Reports for Digital Learning ‘The ability of users to quickly find the right content at the right time continues to be one of the biggest barriers to workplace learning’.

So how do you harness what you have (both from within and outside of your learning platform) whilst avoiding overwhelming people with choice?

You’ll already have rich data at your fingertips and a whole host of people that can provide you feedback here – your customers. At a first level everything needs to be tagged appropriately for people who know ‘roughly’ what they’re looking for. At the next level, thoughtful signposting based on what someone has done before, what role they’re in, how they’ve rated other things can help someone to discover something ‘new’ that feels tailored to them.

Put the learner in control

Self-reflection tools and exercises help to empower people to learn in a way that suits them best and at their own pace also building in their own goals and interests. People can be unshackled; creating their own playlists, shaping their own pathways and bringing in their own evidence of learning outside of formal confines.

Each learner can be recognised for their own unique contribution, recognising that not all learning happens in a classroom or in front of a screen.

Provide opportunities to get involved

To help engage the learner, personalised learning should make them part of the experience. Social learning tools let you tag others into discussions, encourage your ‘helpers’ to find questions that are waiting to be answered, recognise contribution via leaderboards, and notifying topic owners that can facilitate the ongoing online discussion.

Getting learners to rate and comment on content, take part in surveys and polls and generally have their say and get involved, will gather data that can be used to tailor their experience in the future and will heighten collaboration amidst teams

Keep learning

Personalising learning is nothing new, although it’s meaning is clearly open to interpretation. Our role in L&D is to seek to understand what it means for our learners and keep pushing ourselves to develop ways of supporting the vast array of ways that people learn, and create an environment where people are encouraged to set their own development agenda. Personalised learning is not only a benefit, it’s an expectation.

This article is a summary of a workshop I led at our recent event entitled ‘Developing People and Transforming Business in the Digital Age’. What learning did I also take away from that event? Well apart from us not having nearly enough time because of the rich dialogue taking place, it reminded me that there’s always someone out there to help us see things differently. Take time out to bounce ideas, challenge assumptions and try not to get into a rut, just because ‘you’ love the Netflix interface is that really what everyone else wants? My nephew recently asked for a radio for his birthday present, one that he can personally tune in to discover music and talk shows. And there was me thinking Alexa had all his auditory needs taken care of – perhaps I’m more down with the kids than I give myself credit for – well one kid anyway.

For more information about this and outcomes from our recent event please visit our news and views page or for further details on how we help our clients personalise their learner journeys get in touch

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