Learning Personalization Gets Personal

I’ve been writing about Learning Personalization for more than two decades. Influenced by the perspectives of Sir Ken Robinson and others, it seemed only a matter of time until learning content, activities, and experiences would be personalized to some degree for each of our learners.

Learning Personalization makes total sense. We should “optimize” the time (and wage expense) of learning content. We should shape the content around what employees need to know, avoid what they know already, and adapt to their requirements, backgrounds, and ideal learning formats. The aggregate impact on motivation, engagement, efficiency, and cost could be amazing for both learners and the organization!

Learning Personalization is a great idea; yet, it has been amazingly difficult to implement. There are enemies and obstacles to personalization in the workplace:

• Compliance: The rules, expectations, and style of compliance and regulatory action demands a common learning delivery for all. They want to know for certain that all employees have been taught the same stipulated content.
• Traditions & Rituals: One example is that every day, millions of passengers are taught how to use a seat belt on an airplane. They already know that skill from their automobile experiences, but tradition (and regulations) drive the airlines to keep teaching this known skill.
• Learning Systems Can’t Get Personal: Most of our learning management systems are not able to personalize content for each learner. They are good at “counting and tracking” content that is delivered but not at adapting it to each participant’s reality.
• Design for Many: Our design models are based on finding a common denominator or efficient mixture that will address most learners’ needs.

Ironically, Learning Personalization happens naturally in one-to-one, on-the-job training. The mentor or teacher naturally looks at, recognizes, and adapts to what the learner already knows and their work context, and they can focus on new or difficult elements in the work process.

Scaling Learning Personalization is way more difficult and therefore not in the current reality of our learning designs, systems, or ecosystems. Sigh and oops! So, what might change soon and make personalization a reality in the workplace?

• Learners Outside of Work Are Personalizing: Watch how you (and others) learn about a topic when you are away from the workplace. You search for information, skip content that is off-topic, and gravitate to the “just right” content you want “now”. Employees will want the same power to personalize learning at work.
• AI and Smart Technology are Already Personalizing: Online shopping and social engines are already using data about “me” to personalize their marketing, information sharing, and preference selection. In the years ahead, AI will meet and enhance LMS and Talent Systems.
• Learning Analytics Will Drive Personalization: The conversations about data analytics and learning will expand to include the ability to leverage data about each employee that could shape their learning content. We can also aggregate data from the enterprise to assess the impact of different aspects of personalization.
• Real-Time Visual and Behavioral Responses: A learner is taking one of your courses. Could facial recognition, learner gestures, speed of response, and even mouse movements be captured and used to adapt, in real time, the next segment of their course?
• Learner Controls to Increase: A good share of personalization will come from learners themselves, as they are given the ability to select formats, content sequence, and even level of feedback they need to master new topics.

I think we need to ask two provocative questions to ourselves in the learning field:
• “Are WE ready for the age of Learning Personalization?”
• “What shifts in design, systems, data analytics, and compliance are needed to make Learning Personalization a reality?”

Also, we need to have a deep conversation with our providers of LMS, Talent, and Content systems about their ability to enable Learning Personalization; or, we should look for new ventures that will add that capacity to our ecosystems.

We need to build out our learning analytics talent and skills to leverage the data collections and real-time “data exhaust” that enable Learning Personalization.

Let’s also look at how some K-12 schools are experimenting with “Curriculums of One”, which provide each learner with a detailed and personalized course of study every week or even every day, based on data and success patterns.

And, let’s get personal in design tests with our learners. They will eventually push us from the learning publishing model to a hyper personalization reality. They want to be curious and efficient learners vs. passive students with hardened curriculums that ignore their knowledge or needs.

Learning Personalization is right at our fingertips. Let’s take it personally, now!

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