On-Demand Personalized Learning: Strategic and Agile

Training content is moving beyond large courses to semantically rich nuggets of information. Developers have created a whole host of specialized, next-generation performance-support apps that deliver personalized, bite-sized learning to employees at the moment-of-need on the device of their choice.

But getting there is not easy.

Adjusting our Expectations: Amazon and Yelp

People often ask what personalized learning looks like. My answer: it’s right in front of you. That’s because we are used to, and even expect, personalization in our lives. Think about when you shop at Amazon. With every visit, Amazon collects data about you. Amazon is building a comprehensive profile in order to serve you recommendations based on:

  • Items that you’ve bought in the past,
  • Items you browsed, and
  • What others who have browsed the same items ultimately purchased.

Amazon also helps potential buyers by allowing users to rate a review as helpful or unhelpful. It then aggregates these ratings, scores them, and presents a list of the most helpful comments, providing an instant filter for the most relevant of what are often several hundred reviews.

The application to learning is unmistakable:

  • How satisfying would it be if the training materials offered to an individual learner were based on the types of materials and content they have found most valuable in the past?
  • How helpful would it be if learners could see what training assets people in a role similar to theirs are using to reach the same or related objective?
  • How much more quickly could learners perform if they could instantly zero in on the most helpful content based on peer reviews and ratings?

What’s most striking about personalization though is that location and context are very important. An example of an application that does an excellent job of leveraging these two attributes is Yelp!

Yelp! is not only great about giving you information about places near where you are, but also making sure that the content is relevant and fresh at the moment you need it. It will tell you if a place is open at the time you are searching for it. It will let you know if it is within walking distance. It often displays messages corresponding to your search terms (e.g. “Vegetarians love this place!”).

Like Amazon, the application to on-demand learning or performance support is unmistakable.

When someone is performing a task, they require only the information that is relevant to the specific circumstance in which they find themselves. Imagine an airplane mechanic trying to fix a sudden system problem on a plane scheduled to depart in a few hours; it is imperative that the procedure delivered to the mechanic is for the specific issue at hand, the specific plane, and the exact airport where the plane is located. Without context, this is impossible.

But how do we get there? How do we leverage our content across the enterprise and deliver this information on-demand for a particular role, a particular time, a specific skill, etc. And, more importantly, how do we make this informational delivery as powerful and as personal as the applications we use every day?

Strategic and Agile Content Development

The answer is that content development needs to finally become a strategic initiative within the Learning and Development organization. As an industry we need to move past the mentality of delivering monolithic content in 9-12 month cycles and move towards agile content development that includes the elements in Figure 1, below.


Figure 1: The agile content development system

The key elements, however, are bite-size content nuggets, user profiles, and social feedback.

Bite-Sized Content Nuggets

Building content as small nuggets and tagging it with semantically rich information makes it possible to reuse and deliver that content in any way, shape, or form. For example, a designer can elect to deliver a single nugget such as a procedural video:

  • Through a mobile app;
  • Through a granular search application; or
  • As part of an assemblage with other lesson and topic nuggets as a course.

User Profiles

The more you know about your audience, the more capable you are of matching them up to the right content. The chart in Figure 2 shows the results of a survey of HR and Learning executives. The survey asked them to rate how much they know about the employees of their organization. As you can see, we still have limited knowledge of our workforce.

Figure 2: Summary of responses by HR and Learning executives: knowledge about their companies’ employees.

Collecting data about employees is a critical capability for personalization. Having rich user-profile information gives us the ability to marry these profiles with tagged nuggets of content to create truly individualized learning experiences.

Social Feedback

With the advent of social and mobile technologies, subject matter experts are now only half the equation. Successful content developers, the ones who will be seen as strategic to the business, are the ones who will embrace the trend to agile content development.

This means exposing content to the community of learners, allowing them to rate and provide feedback on how to improve the content, and then immediately updating nuggets of content for continuous and ongoing improvement—a far cry from yearly course updates.

Analytics: The Key to Better Performance

When we use analytics to understand how individual nuggets of content are performing—for example, which nuggets learners are accessing, how they are accessing them, where they are using them, who is using them, and what the ratings are —what we end up with is the ability to make frequent adjustments to the content to better meet learner needs.

The more of these adjustments that we make, the more customized and personalized the content becomes. This in turn gives designers instant performance connection data. We know immediately what type of impact each nugget of content is having on our learners.

This moves us closer to the holy grail of personalization—where analytics drive the right content to the learner, rather than the learner finding the content all by themselves. Sounds a lot like Amazon and Yelp! doesn’t it? That’s the point.

Reprinted from Learning Solutions Magazine

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