Much has been written about the values and advantages of adaptive learning and testing. Both use computer-aided technology to allocate and deliver content based on learners’ needs. And both are sound strategies for delivering content and evaluating a learner’s abilities. These approaches to adaptability are based on the notion that adaptability is a function of technology – meaning that through machine learning, we can leverage information to adapt to the differences in learner styles and abilities.

I would suggest we think of adaptability in an alternative way as well. Let’s consider how an individual can and should adapt themselves to changing conditions in their workplace, and how they adapt the use of information while learning so that it becomes more personal, or more relevant to them.

According to research by Dr. Anders Ericsson, a psychology professor and neuroscientist at Florida State University, adaptability is a skill set found in all of us. He argues that all humans have the gift to adapt the human brain and body based on their experiences and changing conditions in their environment. His research has found that individuals who demonstrate extraordinary performance in their chosen profession also demonstrate the ability to be adaptive, to learn from experiences, good and bad, and get better through deliberate efforts.

We all have the ability to adapt, but some learn how to be more adaptive than others and can achieve much higher performance. In other words, adaptability is a skill set that can be learned and developed. We learn to be adaptive by learning how to process training or the consumption of formal instruction and day-to-day experiences. The more deliberate and purposeful we are about how we turn this information into behavior change can determine how successful we can be in our profession.

In his book, “Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise,” Dr. Ericsson shows that individuals who best leverage their ability to adapt by being purposeful and deliberate in getting better at what they do, consistently improve at levels greater and faster than those who haphazardly go through the motions of repetition, doing tasks over and over with no clear approach to getting better.

As simple as this sounds, the concept of deliberate practice has huge implications for learning and development professionals. Corporate training organizations have traditionally been guilty of assuming that their responsibility towards improving an individual’s performance happened within the classroom or structured learning environment. And assuming how the individual applied skills or knowledge from the training course on the job was the responsibility of the learner.

What we can take from this research is that the more deliberate we as training professionals are at preparing the learner to adapt in workplace conditions, and how we shift our focus from being a course provider to a performance support organization can and will have huge implications to the value we provide to the business.

Three Lessons

From where I sit, there are three very simple lessons we should consider adding to job training in our organizations. First, let’s become deliberate about how we teach adaptability. Adaptability is a skill set that deals with knowing how to assess and diagnose on-the-job situations that may be out of the norm, how to determine alternatives that may be suitable solutions, and how to be deliberate about improving through repetition.

Secondly, we must consider how we design and formalize on-the-job training. We all recognize that employees learn more on the job than in the classroom, so let’s assume the responsibility of teaching workers how to get better on the job. Consider on-the-job training as a formal experience.

Lastly, consider how you can teach the process of deliberate practice. The more an individual learns to be deliberate, and how we personalize our own learning and performance improvement, can not only be a game changer for us on the job, but a life-changing experience as well.