If Personalization Is The Michelin Star Of Learning, Why Serve Up A Buffet? (5 Strategies)

Why create a free-for-all buffet when you can so easily go for Michelin standards and cater to personal needs? Kirstie Greany explains why it’s time to go all “creepy chef” on your learners, and not only maximize their precious time via personalized content, but deliver a live, adaptive, experience that’ll make them want to come back for more.

What would a Michelin Star for elearning look like?

Imagine walking into a restaurant where the chef writes a menu just for you, based on your previous food choices and preferences. Personalized catering—doesn’t that sound good? But imagine it goes further—while the kitchen prepares a choice of starters based on what the staff knows about you, the entrée and dessert courses are completely unknown.

The kitchen would create those courses depending on your choice of starter, how much you like it, and literally, how you consume it. The meal would be the equivalent of a personal chef observing you eat and listening to your feedback before devising the next selection of dishes for you—a selection that includes dishes meant to stretch and expand your palate, too.


Now, that’s personalization. And it happens in all walks of (digital) life, from Netflix recommendations to targeted web adverts to your social media stream. Don’t forget that Amazon has been at the “Like this? You might also like …” approach for a decade or so.

Yet when it comes to digital learning, are we always maximizing the personal approach? Do we let learners drive their own journeys to close their own performance gaps and stretch them in meaningful places?

Step away from the buffet

In an age of information inundation, content that is relevant to individuals and useful at a point of need is more important than ever.

With this in mind, there’s been a huge shift to smaller, bite-size packages of learning content. (Resources, not courses). The idea here is to provide short, well-labeled needs-specific pieces of content for learners to use more freely and while on their mobile devices.

This makes total sense. Yet, while often seen as practical, portable, and easy to swallow; bite-size learning can be nothing more than a free-for-all buffet—mountains of stuff, albeit in smaller portions, but stuff nonetheless.

Yes, it’s good for learners to have choice, but surely, we can go about it better than this?

Think back to the initial restaurant analogy—and opt instead for live personal catering (yes, be the creepy “observing” chef).

Personalize the experience – live

The creepy chef responds live—he or she watches, listens, learns—and then cooks the next course (or is that resource?).

You too can respond live to your learners’ needs by taking an adaptive approach. This is where you learn as much from users as they do from the content—and then do something about what you learn, there and then. Do they need X? Give it to them.


  • You don’t need a robot.
  • You do need a content tool that does the hard work for you, one that collates, uses and reports on live cloud-based data.
  • You then need to design some rules that use this data and steer learners to relevant content. In other words, create threads that string together pages, topics, and links, depending on how learners perform.

Our tips for creating personalized, adaptive learning experiences

Elucidat captures live data and enables you to set up rules so it can drive personalized, adaptive learning experiences. You can produce incredibly sophisticated adaptive learning approaches; but you can also take some simple steps that help drive personalization.

Here are our top tips to help you be that creepy chef!

1. Get using the data

You can’t design targeted, personalized content without data that tells you a story about your users. Elucidat pulls live data from multiple sources and presents it to you visually via its Analytics feature. If you’re yet to explore Elucidat Analytics, or indeed, other means of tapping into your users’ digital and learning behaviors, now is the time. Use it to help you profile your audience and build a picture of whom you need to target.


2. Set up adaptive learning journeys

There are two ways to think about live data in learning. There’s the data that goes into your top-level reports, as the Trends image above shows. But there’s also the data learners generate at a very micro-level—how they answer specific questions, which topics or links they select, how they respond to surveys and polls. Elucidat Analytics reports on this level of detail, but more importantly, you can use it to drive adaptive learning experiences.

To show this simply, for those of you who played our Christmas Pudding Challenge, you may have wondered how you select the decoration:


It shows that decoration on the final page:


This uses the Rules function:


You can set rules so that certain content appears only if learners select an option, score a certain amount, complete a previous topic, and so on. You can also set multiple rules so that learners need to have interacted with multiple activities, in certain ways, to see a certain piece of content:


But you may have noticed that the Pudding Challenge also compares how you answered questions with others:


This also uses live data. Elucidat enables you to drop in comparisons of how an individual answers questions with how the crowd answers questions via the Clips function. We write about the power of social polling for learning here.

Now imagine that the content isn’t just about puddings, but something less superficial, like leadership behaviors, and you can start to see how data, rules, and clips become powerful learning tools—because they can drive personalized and adaptive experiences that build (self) awareness, competence, and confidence step by step.

3. Diagnose and filter upfront

Set up a series of questions that help diagnose learners’ needs/gaps/experiences/confidence levels upfront. Then serve up tailor-made topics, just for them.

Create lots of ready-made pages—which can contain challenges, polls, videos, expert-guidance, and more—and then set up rules around what to show, when. If learners are highly confident yet inexperienced, throw them a challenge and some expert guidance. If they have certain gaps or need specific performance levels for their roles, link through to those relevant pages of content.

The key is not to just serve up info—but be a learning designer about it and serve relevant, useful challenges and experiential content—like this thought-provoking example:


4. Talk to learners

Simple touches help add the personal angle—for example, calling someone by their name.


This is especially important if you’re asking someone to put his or her opinion on the line, as in the Open University’s Finding the Truth project, or if you’re asking personal questions, as we do in this leadership-style survey:


Coincidentally, this example uses the Rules function to serve up different visual outcomes that align learners with famous leaders. We also compare learners’ own thoughts about their leadership styles with what their answers tell us. Data in—personalized learning out.

5. Listen to learners

This is an obvious point, but one that’s often missing in elearning content. Why not build in questions that ask learners how they feel about their performance and/or development? Use a Likert scale and ask them to rate their confidence, for example. You can then trigger follow-up content or signpost them to relevant additional learning and support.

Couple this with open-input questions that ask learners what they want to see more of, as we do in our Masterclass topics:


You can then track the inputs via the “Your Data” Analytics extension, and make sure you meet those personal needs with your next online content creations. You could even create something that same day and publish it via Rapid Release.

Final thoughts

The technology is available, right now, to drive smart, personalized, adaptive learning experiences—particularly if you’ve opted for cloud-based tools. So the question becomes why would you create a free-for-all buffet when you can so easily go for Michelin standards?

Maximizing precious learning time and helping learners close specific performance gaps makes excellent business sense—and it’s much more likely to create customers who want to come back for more. In an age where we’re drowning in content, throw out an option that has your learners’ back, as well as their name on it.

Further reading: