In search of personalized learning: A path to improved performance

Companies used to take a standardized approach to training. They would run the same courses year in year out, regardless of changing business objectives and individual employees’ specific development needs.

Today’s fast changing business environment has made companies think more carefully about the training they offer employees. Study after study shows that employee development is now a priority for business leaders, with one recent survey of CEOs revealing “a deep-seated concern about talent and human capital-related issues — from recruitment and retention to skill development, to nurturing the next generation of leaders”.

Business leaders know that giving people the chance to learn and develop will boost employee engagement and retention, both of which are critical to business success. But unless training gives people the know-how they need to do their current jobs and get ahead in their careers, it will have the opposite effect and add to the already high levels of disengagement that some commentators link to low productivity.

Adapting Learning

Off-the-shelf learning content tends to be too generic to address individual needs and interests – though there is obviously a place for it in the overall training mix.  But the trend now is for companies to adapt their L&D offering to reflect what each employee needs to know – to use what is called adaptive learning.

This approach uses technology to personalize learning. So instead of assuming that everyone comes to a training program with the same level of existing knowledge, adaptive learning solutions first establish what the individual already knows. That knowledge can then be topped up with short, highly relevant learning modules, with regular assessments determining the modules each learner will access next. If, for example, a learner takes a test and gives poor answers to certain questions, the system will automatically provide relevant content or put the individual on a new learning path. Those who give correct answers to the same questions will set out on a different path.

An example of this approach is provided by work that Raytheon Professional Services is currently doing by designing simple assessments of what individual employees already know about compliance – a priority for the industry since the global financial crisis of a decade ago. The outcomes of these assessments will determine individuals’ learning paths, which will consist of micro-learning modules targeted at their personal learning needs.

Content curation

Adaptive learning depends on high quality content being ready for different learning paths.  This is where good content curation comes into the picture.

Content curation is about making sure that learning materials stored in an online “library” remain relevant to the roles that they are supposed to be supporting and can be easily downloaded from a Learning Management System or a training provider’s website.

Finding the right training partner

There is no doubt that learning technologies allow employers to personalize learning in ways none of us dreamt of just a few years ago. Yet many L&D teams are still not exploiting the potential of these technologies because they don’t have the skills to do so. Further barriers include set-up and maintenance costs. In the retail sector, for example, research shows that 84% of companies are held back from making full use of training tools by unreliable infrastructure, low bandwidth and other technical factors.

So how can companies overcome these barriers? The answer has to be to find an external partner with both the technology and skills to design and deliver solutions tailored to the needs of each learner.


Conference Board, CEO Survey, 2017

Gallup: The World’s Broken Workplace June 2017

Towards Maturity: 2015 Retail Sector Benchmark Report