Radical shifts in the modern leader’s DNA and the fabric of cutting-edge organizations are placing new mandates on the learning function. In recent years, there has been more emphasis on personalizing learning. While the idea is gaining more currency, organizations are still grappling with implementing it meaningfully.

Organizations have approached the creation and monitoring of learning pathways through advanced learning management systems (LMSs). It’s easier with standardized, cohort and synchronous learning. But personalization is a bit trickier and calls for much more effort from learning and development (L&D) and business stakeholders across levels. It means placing the individual learner at the center of programs, processes and learning pathways. With massive technological advancements, learning has rapidly evolved as a sophisticated and highly agile function. So the good news is — with the right approach, crafting personalized learning pathways may not be as arduous as it seems.

Why it’s Important

It’s not difficult to see the pressing needs of today’s significantly changed learning environment:

    • The shift from content to context: Context is defining everything. Learning has shifted emphasis from content to context, from the days when standard courses were dished out and tracked for completion to a far more nuanced approach.
    • Adult learners desire autonomy: Employees are no longer happy with a top-down push approach. They want to know the why, what and how of their learning pathways, and to have a say in them.
    • Standardized learning is not always sufficient to meet the needs of learners: Even schools and colleges are examining new ways to teach so that education is more relevant, personalized and valuable to students. It is likely that in a few years, the traditional notion of the “classroom” will give way to a highly complex, versatile and individual-driven learning ecosystem. Estonia’s AI-driven project to personalize learning in education is a case in point.
    • Better engagement: When learning is personalized and pathways are custom-created, learners will likely be more engaged and invested in the process and the outcomes. Personalization enhances both content stickiness and learning effectiveness.

How it’s Viable

Here are some pointers for a possible approach:

    • What and Why: The what and why of learning must be firmly linked. Let the why determine the what. While many traditional learning approaches begin with stipulated content and courses, a more agile approach would ask why and then align the most suitable content to serve that purpose. Even when a learner accesses the same content, the why may determine different ways they consume it or assess their learning. The why reveals the motivations and needs for learning. Is the learning project-related (time-bound, specific and application-oriented), business and leadership development (ongoing, more indefinite, less time-bound), or based on personal development (interest-related, tuned to widen career path exploration and enable cross-functional thinking)? The why informs the content, the methods organizations use to impart learning, and how learners assimilate and apply it.
    • When: Learners have unique preferences. Some prefer synchronous learning with peers they can interact with and manage learning as a group. Others lean towards more self-paced, self-serve and asynchronous models. It’s essential to enable different formats based on how users want to consume content and process their learning. Calendar-based or on-tap content, bite-size learning or larger chunks of content, formative or summative assessments, capstone/project-based learning; all these parameters can be customized and crafted around the individual’s needs, learning goals and preferences.
    • Where: Anywhere, anytime learning is essential. But some learning must happen in labs or specially designed facilities. And some learning happens best on the job site and with consistent face-to-face team interactions. So, while digital and remote learning are here to stay, it’s crucial to design journeys that cater to specific business needs and individuals’ learning preferences. It’s not an easy balance, but with a solid data-based approach, it is possible to create a workable mix.
    • How: VARK (visual, auditory, read/write or kinesthetic) learners prefer specific modes of content consumption to assimilate and process learning. But since no one relies exclusively on one type of content or program structure, a blended approach may be needed. Whether it’s a case-study-based approach, learning on the job, synchronous flipped classrooms or self-serve models with some coaching and mentoring, getting the how right is one of the most vital elements for learning success. And it requires a deep understanding of the individual’s needs and the organization’s learning function capability.
    • Who: Deeply personalized learning pathways require a more organic, holistic and cross-functional approach. They demand all hands on deck, learners at the center proactively co-crafting their learning journeys and an organizational ecosystem where everyone supports the learning process — all with L&D seamlessly orchestrating it!

Making it Work

When creating and rolling out this kind of learning process, it helps to keep these points in mind:

    • Begin with small pilots at a team or functional level: Then test, learn, refine and scale up. A design thinking approach can be beneficial here.
    • Leverage analytics and artificial intelligence (AI): The technology is already in place, but people and processes must be re-aligned for this radical shift. So leveraging data can be a reliable way to customize learning pathways. Learners are not always self-aware. For instance, a person may think they are a visual learner, but the evidence from data may indicate otherwise. This data-based approach and consistent user feedback can help improve content and processes for better learning assimilation. Metrics on course completion and engagement can help refine the user experience, learning implementation or even user support handling. Analytics on learner goals, preferences, program feedback and peer inputs can refine content suggestions, UX, process, assessments, implementation and outcomes evaluation.
    • Enable social learning: Build ecosystems and communication channels that people are comfortable with. Spaces in which they can ask for help, showcase their achievements or share their knowledge. Organizations can also create on-tap coaching and mentoring panels from across functions and outside the organization.
    • Create Adaptive Learning Pathways. With AI taking giant strides, organizations can use technology to constantly iterate custom learning pathways — learners and L&D co-create a constantly evolving journey in which the destination changes and the pathways constantly adapt.

Agility is Key

Personalization of learning pathways takes a consolidated effort. And in designing, testing and implementing such a system, agility may be the most critical value driving the learning function — the agility to listen, incorporate, validate, inform, guide and collaborate to enable a genuinely disruptive learning philosophy in action!