Adaptive Learning: Give the people what they want (and need)

Adaptive Learning: Give the people what they want (and need)

Where were you when you first heard the term “eLearning?” I first heard it in the early 2000s.  I had the good fortune to work in a premier learning organization at a professional services firm and we had an entire department focused on learning technologies. We were talking about CBTs, video conferencing and even web-based training. Admittedly, I was a bit skeptical. How could people effectively learn by themselves staring at a computer with no instructor leading them through the content and no learning peers to expand the concepts? And, how will we keep learners engaged? More importantly, how do we ensure that they are successfully acquiring the knowledge?

Fast forward nearly 20 years and look at us now. The evolution the industry has experienced over nearly two decades has been significant.  Instructors are no longer calling the shots; learners today want to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to their learning experiences and they want them to be delivered in a personal, engaging and meaningful way.

Among the new technology-based learning methods making their way to corporate learning organizations, the one that will likely be most prevalent within 2-3 years will be adaptive learning (AL). In 2016, Gartner identified adaptive learning as being the number one technology to make a difference in corporate learning organizations. Why? Because every organization is challenged to accommodate the varied experiences, knowledge and skills that individuals bring to the workplace and they’re starving for a means to address the diversity.

So, what is adaptive learning? Adaptive learning is a personalized learning experience where algorithms are used to track a learner’s responses. AL works by asking a series of questions and the learner is prompted to select an answer as well as indicate how confident she is in that answer.  When asked, “How sure are you?” neuroscience research shows that the learner is forced to think about the answer increasing her curiosity and thereby increasing dopamine levels. Dopamine is known to play a major role in the motivational component of reward-motivated behavior. As the learner progresses through the course, real-time modifications are made to the content, quickly eliminating repetition of learning where comprehension and accuracy are high, and, focusing instead on those areas where certainty is lacking, or non-existent. The learner’s sense of confidence is increased motivating her to continue, and the repetition of the content presented in different ways triggers a more durable memory.

Imagine you’re a learning leader and your organization has just revised its performance management process. You’ve been asked by leadership to ensure that the organization’s performance managers (PMs) are aware of the new process and will be able to effectively use it to conduct performance reviews at year end. And, since you’re already going to be training them on the new process, let’s also determine how capable and proficient they are at conducting reviews and delivering developmental feedback. Yikes! Your organization has over 300 performance managers with varying levels of experience in delivering performance reviews. What are your options? You can build a “one size fits all” course on the process, but your new PMs need more information and support, but your experienced PMs will be frustrated by the redundancy. If that’s not enough, how will you effectively assess their abilities to conduct effective, productive performance reviews? With adaptive learning technology, you can create learning that will not only provide the content but track the learners’ responses and determine if appropriate learning gain has been achieved.

The benefits of adaptive learning are considerable. Although the investment in the software and implementation can be a hurdle, the return on investment can be swiftly realized.

  • Time saving – The learner does not need to sit through content she already knows; instead, the software quickly identifies proficiency and focuses only on content requiring improved competency. Less time is wasted out of the office or out of the field.
  • Personalized Learning – Through tracked data, adaptive learning software begins to “serve up” the content most relevant to the learner – sharpening the skills required to do his job.
  • Highlights Misinformation –AL software can also highlight misinformation – information that is confidently held by learners but is incorrect. Misinformation can lead to errors or safety hazards in an organization. Results from the AL training can provide leaders with incidences of misinformation and where it may exist within the company thereby mitigating risk.
  • Assess Career Readiness – Compiled learning data can not only be used to track an individual’s competencies and skills in his current job but can help provide HR and performance managers data relative to career advancement readiness.

Regardless of where your organization is on the readiness spectrum, there are some steps you can take now to be prepared to deliver. The St. Charles innovation lab, The HIVE offers a few below:

  1. Connect with industry colleagues. What are they/will they be doing to prepare for adaptive learning? What software or tools are they using to deliver adaptive learning?
  2. Determine organization’s readiness. Is your organization’s infrastructure able to support and provide access to adaptive learning solutions? Is your culture ready to make a shift to a new delivery model?
  3. Content applicability. What content is best suited for adaptive learning? Will your target audience be able to access and benefit from this delivery mode?
  4. L&D Competencies. Does your team have the skills needed to design an adaptive learning solution? What technology and people investments will be needed to successfully deliver adaptive learning?

Personalized learning gives learners what they want in an engaging way. But organizations that offer personalized learning through adaptive learning can provide their people with a customized solution that increases employee satisfaction, closes knowledge gaps, and mitigates organizational risk. Who said you can’t have your cake and eat it too?

For more insightful content related to helping Talent Executives and Practitioners better develop their talent and to support their organization’s business strategy, check out our other blog posts and the HIVE podcast series.