Learning Technologies 2020: Time to make it personal

We’re used to receiving tailored offers and services as consumers, so how can L&D teams personalise learning experiences to enhance employees’ performance? This was one of the focus areas at this year’s Learning Technologies conference, reports Martin Couzins.

Setting the scene in her opening keynote at Learning Technologies 2020, writer and broadcaster Timandra Harkness talked about how we now live in the “personalised century”.

Technology means we can access more personalised healthcare, for example, while fitness trackers reward our individual activities. Online retailers can deliver clothes based on individual measurements and preferences. This comes in stark contrast to previous eras where we were used to mass health provision, mass production and mass media, she said.

She noted how people are increasingly used to personalised information experiences through social media and services such as Spotify. Our information, entertainment, and even political communications have all become personalised. Learning in organisations needs to reflect this shift.

Making learning relevant

So, how can learning teams deliver a more personalised experience, providing resources relevant to the job or task in hand and in a way that is accessible?

We still look at training as a one-time event. It is not. It is a journey” – Bianca Baumann, GP Strategies

Start by segmenting your learners into discrete groups, advised Bianca Baumann, director of learning experience at GP Strategies.

Create personas for your ideal learners. These are descriptions of the needs of specific groups of employees, their challenges, how and where they consume learning resources, the time of day they like to learn, their work challenges and pain points and so on. Use these personas to challenge any assumptions the L&D team might have about learners.

Once you have your personas, start to explore what the learning experience looks like for each of these groups. “We still look at training as a one-time event. It is not. It is a journey,” said Baumann. Map out the learning journey for different scenarios, such as onboarding, for example, and the appropriate content for that journey.

Think about how to motivate employees to want to take training. A good way to do this is to use testimonials from others who have benefited from it. Also consider using content and resources from outside of your organisation as it can be just as good as internal content and resources.

The key, argued Baumann, is to provide the right content at the right time in the right place and for the right audience.

Business impact

For Nigel Paine, author and speaker on leadership and organisational learning, this concept of personalisation helps L&D focus more effectively on business need and impact.

“It’s about 100% engagement with the business so that what you do changes rapidly and markedly over very short spaces of time. So it’s about focus and priority,” he said. “It’s not about doing everything, it’s about doing the things that will move the needle for the business, and all the metrics are business metrics. Did we manage to increase the level of innovation, increase the customer retention and talent retention inside of the organisation, for example?”

In order to shift to this new way of operating, L&D must leave behind the old ways of “delivering perfect learning, using all the bells and whistles” and adopt a new mindset that puts enabling employees to learn for themselves at the heart of L&D, Paine added.

“This is about translating into the workforce a belief that they can learn and a sense that they’re empowered to learn rather than a belief that they can only learn if the learning team decides that they should do a course, or more.

“So it’s a completely different approach. I think that those learning organisations that don’t make that transition have got a very flaky, shaky future going forward.”

Less is more

Doing less and doing it more effectively is a key conclusion from the latest Emerald Works Health Check (formerly the Towards Maturity Health Check), a benchmark of the learning strategies of more than 1,000 L&D professionals around the globe.

L&D tends to analyse training needs when they should be analysing a business need. So we go wrong from day one.” – Jane Daly, Emerald Works

Lead author and analyst Jane Daly said L&D professionals must do less and do it better in order to achieve business impact.

“L&D needs to worry about six things rather than 106. And impact needs to be measured in partnership with an individual function, a team, the whole business or whatever level you’re working at. Understand how your L&D activities are impacting growth, transformation, productivity and profitability,” she added.

The Health Check shows that in the last 12 months L&D has had a reduced impact on growth, transformation, productivity and profitability compared with the previous year.

Daly says L&D teams need to be clear on how to have learning impact. That means enabling employees to reflect on learning and put it into practice.

“Watching something on YouTube is not learning,” said Daly. L&D teams continue to embrace digital enthusiastically but the upshot is that employees feel overwhelmed by everything that’s on offer.

There is also a skills issue here in that L&D teams are not developing the skills they need rapidly enough, she explained. Only 34% of L&D professionals have performance consulting skills, even though these are the skills that enable L&D teams to identify the root cause of a performance problem, according to Emerald Works’ research.

“That’s a real concern. L&D tends to analyse training needs when they should be analysing a business need. So we go wrong from day one,” she said.

Paine echoed this need for a more consultative approach, saying that to deliver this more adaptable, personalised learning experience, L&D teams must develop skills in three areas:

  • Business consulting – spending time understanding the business, talking, listening, asking questions, not browsing through learning solutions or focusing on a formal programme of instructional design or a formal evaluation mechanism.
  • Lifelong learning – L&D professionals need to be adaptable and open to change. That means becoming lifelong learners who are passionate about making other people lifelong learners.
  • Understanding learning – L&D teams must have core expertise in how adults learn. They have to know about learning, but they have to understand the mechanisms for delivering it in-company, which is different from delivering stuff outside company.

Ultimately, the onus is on L&D to embrace technology, to have a laser focus on the needs of employees, to do things more rapidly and at a lower cost. These are the ingredients for developing more personalised learning experiences that will deliver business impact.


About Martin Couzins

Martin is an experienced business-to-business journalist who has spent many years covering the HR and L&D sectors. As well as writing and curating content on these topics, he runs Massive Open Online Courses through MOOC Pro as well as a digital content and communications agency Itsdevelopmental.
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