The ultimate guide to personalized and adaptive learning

Personalized and adaptive learning are two of the hottest trends in L&D and they’re here to stay. We take a look the difference between personalized and adaptive learning, their potential impact, and how can you make them part of your learning strategy – from simple to more advanced applications.

adaptive learning

Personalization and adaptive learning – what’s the big deal?

For 4 years running, personalization and adaptive learning have taken the top spots in Donald Taylor’s Learning and Development Global Sentiment Survey.

adaptive elearning driving performance

2018 results: Don Taylor’s Global Sentiment Survey

This is because everyone wants their learning projects to be a success. Personalization and adaptive learning up the chances of your content engaging with its audiences and driving up their performance in areas that make a real difference. It maximises their time and tunes the learning in towards realistic, workplace actions that a person can actually do.

3 reasons to make personalized and adaptive learning part of your strategy

1. Your users expect personalized learning experiences
Think of popular, global apps and technologies like Spotify, Amazon, Netflix and Google, and it’s clear we are in the era of personalization, and expect it as a norm. In fact, relevance is king. Research finds that digital content has just 7 seconds to personally appeal to the audience.

2. Personalized and adaptive learning delivers better ROI
People’s time is precious and they deserve for it to be well spent. It’s also the case that any learning experiences and resources that require less user time is good for business too.

Personalized and adaptive content is on a needs-to-know basis, not a ‘one size fits all’ approach. This reduces time users spend wading through irrelevant content and instead serves up only what’s required. It also opens the door, for learning whilst working rather than learning instead of working. Users can turn to a specific and personalized piece of content in a moment of need and then carry on with their task.

3. Personalized and adaptive learning is more effective
If training teams can get every employee to do one key thing better, one thing that relates to a business target, the accumulative effect on a business is huge.

Learning content and experiences designed for individual’s needs, skills gaps and the context in which they need to perform, are more likely to bring about these kinds of performance changes.  That is, instead of a generic initiative, which may or may not relate to that person or their specific strengths and weaknesses. 

So, that’s why personalization is important to consider in your learning strategy, but how might you go about building it into your projects and will it break the bank? Here’s some helpful tips and ideas to get your started.

What is personalized learning and how can you build it into your strategy?

Personalization: a definition 
Personalization is about targeting individuals, addressing their needs, context and goals, and providing the right content, tools and/or experiences to help them.

You can personalize content manually through effective needs capture and Design Thinking. But, as outlined below, adaptive technologies help automate personalization on a micro level.

personalized elearning to target your audience

Personalized learning tip 1: Get to grips with your audience(s)
As we explored in our article about respecting learner’s time, to make personalization central to any online learning project, you’ve got to start with your end users.

Get under the skin of who the audience is, when and why they struggle, and the root causes of those problems.

There are many different methods for getting a clear picture of your users and project needs. To keep things simple, we’ve put tried and tested methods into a handy, free, template. Get our free template to help capture your audience and project’s needs here.

Personalized learning tip 2: Be people-centred – design for your end users
As you design your online learning, consider involving end users and testing out ideas, styles, content and more as you go.

You can do this with focus groups or by tagging a quick survey onto the back of each piece of content. Analytics will also show you what’s popular, what’s not and where people drop off.

Download this guide for tips on using data to inform and improve your projects

Look for authoring platforms that make iterative design, editing and re-releasing super easy so you can act on what you discover.

Personalized learning tip 3: Keep it simple
As a learning leader, you may be daunted by the added work effort involved in personalised learning. However, here’s some simple ideas that your team can follow, which don’t break the bank:

  • Create a clear ‘what’s in it for me?’ message upfront for your target users
  • Try a simple ‘role filter’ at the beginning of your content and then use dynamic menus or branching to serve up the topics or pages that apply to that role
  • Use clips to capture users’ names and details – playing back users’ names, scores, and answers they’ve given previously to questions can help them feel like they are part of a tailor-made experience
  • Style for your audience – is your content likely to appeal, visually, to your end users? Will it attract them in and is it easy to use and navigate?
  • Review your tone of voice – is it speaking to the target audience(s)? Is it at the right level? Is it helping turn theory into actionable outcomes?
  • Localise your content – translation can really help engage global audiences, but localization can go further. This is where someone from that location helps edit the written and visual content to bring it in line with local ‘norms’ and contexts

You can then look at adaptive strategies for more sophisticated personalization….

What is adaptive learning and how can you build it into your strategy?

Adaptive learning: a definition
Adaptive learning does all that personalized learning does, but ‘live’ and in the moment. It uses algorithms to detect a users’ behaviour, and provide personalized recommendations off the back. It’s automated, and can work on a micro-level of detail.

Adaptive learning tip 1: Build personal long-term competence
To help build behaviour changes in people for the long run means moving away from one-hit wonders. Even if they are personalized, these one-off experiences are unlikely to make a long term impact on someone’s behaviours. Instead try going for spaced practice – whereby competence can be built up incrementally, over time and in different ways, so that new skills and habits become truly ingrained.

Adaptive technologies enable people to learn and build competence incrementally, but with the ultimate personalization. Adaptive tools will track users’ every move and score, and marry this to their profile choices, to serve up the very best next challenge or resource for them. If there was a worthy definition for microlearning – this is probably it. So it’s worth investing in technologies that support this, from the off.

Adaptive learning tip 2: Guide users with diagnostics
Go further than just allowing users to search and find, which might not be the ultimate use of their time. Look for adaptive-learning technologies or smart authoring tools that enable you to set-up diagnostic experiences so you can serve up a specific set of topics that match their needs.

By asking a series of questions or providing some clear choices up front, smart technologies will serve up the right set of topics or pages to that user, there and then. This can then be refined further, depending on how they answer further questions or what choices they then make. They don’t have to be told it’s a personalized menu, they’ll just know it!

adaptive learning by asking questions

Adaptive learning tip 3: Collate and report back to users, with personalized action plans
You can also use adaptive tech to create personalized action plans and feedback loops. Designers can choose what’s tracked and reported back – it could be based on how a user answers 5 killer questions threaded throughout a series of topics, which topics they have chosen, or based on a more overt ‘diagnostic’ quiz.

Adaptive learning reports help users reflect on their journey and choices so far, identify strengths and gaps, and signpost them to recommended topics. Ideally, these kind of reports are refined and updated as users continue with their learning journey.

adaptive learning reports

Time to get personal

Does your learning strategy include personalized and/or adaptive learning design approaches? We believe that every person closing a pertinent performance gap in their work, will bring about a greater result than just a handful of people achieving a more generic target.

It could be as simple as ensuring that each topic starts and ends with a page that contextualises it for different roles. Alternatively, you can look to create dynamic, adaptive online experiences with the use of branching, rules and personalized report pages. Either way, it’s key that your content speaks to its end users.

Personalized learning is one of the six pillars of people-centered elearning. Alongside the other pillars, it underpins the most successful learning projects.

Learn more and sign up to our people-centered elearning series (plus free helpful checklist)

See how Elucidat can help you create personalized and adaptive learning experiences – request a demo.
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