Learning & Development

The Power and Possibilities of Personalized Learning

Educators and other learning and development (L&D) professionals have long known that every individual learns differently. Some learners prefer learning on their own, while others are more suited to a classroom setting. Some are visual learners, while others are auditory learners, and some thrive on group work, while others benefit more from individual study.

Given these differences in learning styles, why is it that so many organizations take a one-size-fits-all approach to training their staff?

Resource constraints are perhaps the most obvious answer to this riddle. Many organizations feel it is simply cost-prohibitive to develop and execute customized training and development pathways for each employee.

While it certainly requires more thought and planning to individualize employee training efforts, it’s not necessarily beyond most employers’ capabilities. By leveraging efficient and personalized strategies for employee development, most companies can customize training pathways at least for certain key staff, if not for the organization at large.

Key Elements of Personalized Training

While many employers’ assumptions about the feasibility of personalized training programs are exaggerated or even entirely unfounded, it is true there are challenges to personalizing training, and organizations that embark on such efforts without understanding those challenges and taking steps to mitigate them will run the risk of failure.

Dave McCool, CEO of Muzzy Lane, a technology company specializing in game-based L&D solutions, cites four key requirements for personalized training programs:

  • They must be cost-effective for L&D organizations to author and maintain.
  • They must include authentic, automated assessments of employees. Manual grading doesn’t scale, McCool notes.   
  • They must generate meaningful and actionable data based on the assessments.
  • They must be equitable and accessible for all employees.

Personalized training that meets these criteria is more likely to be engaging and meaningful for individual trainees and to be flexible enough to make outcomes-based adjustments that help ensure its effectiveness and justify the increased resources needed to support individualized programs.

Technology and Content to the Rescue

Thirty years ago, it probably was cost-prohibitive for most organizations to develop effective individualized training programs, but today, such programs are well within many companies’ reach. So, what has changed? Two factors in particular have fundamentally changed the L&D landscape in recent years:

  • Growth of learning technologies. New technologies like streaming media and advances in telecommunications technologies mean individuals can easily access on-demand and live training content from anywhere they have an Internet connection. Modern training technologies have also increased their ability interact with training content—for example, by asking questions to presenters or testing their knowledge with short quizzes and games.
  • Explosion in content. The increased ability to access a wealth of training and development content would be relatively meaningless without a wealth of content to access. Fortunately, there is an incredible amount of training and development content available in a variety of formats across a wide range of industries and topics. This availability of quality content means training and development professionals can develop custom training courses for employees without having to develop every bit of training content themselves. In fact, in many cases, they don’t really need to create any new content and can simply arrange a schedule according to which trainees proceed to the next batch of material selected based on their job function, L&D goals, and preferred learning style.

Mentorships and Job Shadowing

While it can be daunting to move from a generalized, one-size-fits-all approach to a custom approach tailored to each team member, some time-tested training strategies are inherently individualized.

Mentorships and job-shadowing activities are intended to pair junior individuals with more experienced individuals for in-depth, one-on-one interaction and real-world experience, for example. These opportunities should continue to be top of mind for employers when trying to increase the personalization of training.

Leveraging Data

Leveraging objective measures of training effectiveness as a key element of a personalized training approach may sound counterintuitive, but it’s necessary, particularly in the context of efficiently using limited resources.

It can be time-consuming to regularly take a subjective, personal determination of employee L&D progress. Instead, objective metrics can be used to help training and development leaders keep track of large numbers of learners at once.

We emphasize “help” because personalized training will always require some level of subjective evaluation. But consistent metrics as benchmarks can provide some insights into which trainees are struggling to grasp certain concepts or contents and which trainees are getting bored with material they’ve already mastered and are ready to move on.

Rethinking the Supposed Cost-Effectiveness of Mass Training

As we’ve noted, there is a widespread perception that individualized training is simply too costly for most organizations. But often, organizations make such assumptions without a thorough analysis of all the relevant factors.

For example, creating mass training content is also quite expensive. It’s costly to hire speakers to present to large groups or purchase large numbers of user-seats to online training content. And it’s not cheap to have an entire organization take several hours away from its day-to-day activities to participate in training.

And while the costs of generalized training are not insignificant, its impacts can be surprisingly insignificant on many employees. Again, not everyone learns the same way, and training content and delivery strategies that don’t take individual learning styles and preferences into account may not have a great return on investment considering how many trainees simply aren’t learning the material.

Corporate training has traditionally taken a one-size-fits-all approach, but not everyone responds the same way to the same training methods. While some organizations assume they simply don’t have the resources to support individualized training, such an approach may actually be more achievable than they realize.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.

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