Personalized Learning Strategies: The Philosophy, Execution, and Pitfalls to avoid

There’s no doubt that personalized experiences, from web browsing to in-store shopping, and even dining out, make for better outcomes. In the realm of education, personalized learning strategies have been in vogue at a number of district and public charter schools for many years now, and there’s ample research to validate that those strategies really do work.

In the corporate world, however, because of the tendency for homogenization and standardization, the personalized learning model isn’t well adopted. Interestingly, though, it is in today’s highly competitive business environment that implementing personalized learning strategies can provide exceptional return on investment (ROI) to employers.

What is personalized learning?

The term “personalization” is a great way to understand the personalized learning definition in the context of corporate learning. At its simplest, personalization entails tailoring curriculum, andragogy, instructional design approaches and corporate personalized learning environments to fit the unique needs of each learner individually.

Personalized learning has four major characteristics:

  • Learners own their learning paths;
  • There’s a focus on “learning” rather than “mandated training”
  • It focuses on individual’s competencies
  • It empowers anywhere-anytime learning

Organizations can build highly effective learning initiatives by building personalized learning strategies around these four pillars.

Why is personalized learning important?

With the right personalized learning strategies, companies can make training more effective and efficient – not just for the corporation, but also for individual employees:

1. Targeted

Personalized learning environments produce more focused learning initiatives. Instead of providing a whole slew of training for a wide population of employees, organizations can target their learning efforts to learners who truly need to learn.

2. Customized

Each employee (or groups of employees) has unique roles to play within an organization. As a result, learning environments and content can be customized to fit their specific needs. Where a handful of employees’ understanding of a company’s procurement approval system seems to be lacking, examples of personalized learning could be, for instance, for learning managers to focus on a narrow aspect of the company’s Purchase Approvals Procedures, as opposed to providing a full deep-dive of corporate procurement policy to every employee.

3. Engaged

At its very core, personalized learning definition includes an element of direct engagement in all learning activities by the target of such initiatives: the learners. Consequently, more engaged learners equal more successful learning outcomes!

4. Appropriate

Personalized learning strategies are great ways to ensure that corporate learning occurs where appropriate. For instance, while a standardized training approach might have every employee undergo mandatory shop-floor safety training, a personalized learning model might channel such training only to an appropriate sub-set of staff who will benefit the most from it.

5. Timely

Most corporate learning is “scheduled”. Courses are typically recommended to learners during certain aspects of performance or skills review. However, when learning is personalized, it is delivered at a time when it can be most effective – i.e. when the employee is most in need of it, and not several months later.

So, why is personalized learning important? Because it creates a learner-centric training environment, as opposed to a standardized schedule-based one. By putting learners in control of their learning needs, organizations can create highly effective and efficient learning programs across the company.

Building personalized learning strategies

Existing research on corporate personalized learning and real-life examples reaffirm that corporate personalized learning environments certainly do work. Here are some best practices that training managers can embrace when putting together their own personalized learning strategies:

1. Holistic view

In order to build successful personalized learning environments within the organization, training managers need to first take a holistic view of learning needs across the company. That means looking at each employee’s current role, and also studying potential learning opportunities through career progressions as they grow with the organization.

2. Incentivize learning

Based on examples from European organizations, employers should consider incentivizing personalized learning. While some staff might respond well to financial benefits, others may appreciate the need for personalized learning if they see non-monetary gains. Examples of personalized learning that offer non-monetary benefits might include, for instance featuring an employee, who has completed a voluntary course on the company’s website.

3. Consultative

Organizations will find that their staff will embrace personalized learning opportunities more if the employees are part of the strategy building process. Before you issue an edict about your personalized learning policy, make sure you put together a “working group” that consults and collaborates with a broad cross-section of staff about their personal needs.

4. Focus on key competencies

To build successful strategies, we need to answer a question: why is personalized learning important for the learner – not necessarily just for the company. The answer is that it will enhance learner’s key competencies that they can then use not only for personal growth but also for professional advancement. Therefore, when building your personalized learning model, you need to also offer content that focuses on enhancing such core competencies.

5. Decentralize

To engage and motivate staff to participate in personalized learning opportunities, the strategy should consider turning their personal working environments (their cubicle, their desk, their department or section) into personalized learning environments.

For example, instead of pulling out a group of Call Center workers from their consoles, and training them in a simulated classroom call center, create strategies that see corporate trainers move onto the call-floor to deliver individualized coaching based on specific needs.

6. Transparency

A personalized learning model that’s vague and opaque will likely not be willingly embraced by corporate learners. The strategy must be based on openness and transparency.

Examples of personalized learning approaches that foster transparency might entail a strategy where every learner can see what training his/her peers are receiving, and can openly assess their own personal skills and competencies against their fellow teammates.

7. Guidance and support

To be successful, personalized learning strategies must be supported by adequate career guidance. Although this aspect of a learner’s working life is usually not associated with training, it is still an integral part. By building an element of support into the strategy, companies can assess learning needs and help learners make better personalized learning choices.

8. Boomer, Gen-Y, and Millennial focus

While millennials are gradually becoming a key part of most workforces, most organizations still have boomers and Gen-y staff as their backbone. To be effective, any learning strategy must aim to create personalized learning environments that recognize the different learning needs (classroom, Instructor-led, eLearning, mobile learning; Hands-on, etc.) of each of these constituents of the workforce.

So, when it comes to the corporate world, what is personalized learning all about? It’s about strategizing on how to meet individual employee workplace needs with those of the organizations – which is to make employees more productive. Well, thought out personalized learning strategies can help bridge this gulf, specifically with regards to the need for staff to advance through the rank-and-file, improve their earning power, and become better employees.

Proceed with confidence – and caution!

When building personalized learning strategies for their organizations, training managers should move forward with confidence, knowing that the personalized approach does work.

However, tread lightly when deciding on how you go about implementing those strategies. You may come across examples of personalized learning that seem to take a purely technological approach to the challenge of personalizing corporate learning. Keep in mind that while technology plays an important role, successful personalized learning goes far beyond that!

Simply taking your existing training content and enabling it via technology isn’t enough. To build efficient and effective personalized learning environments, you need cross-organizational collaboration, which means everyone works together to determine the strategy – from hiring managers to HR managers, from senior executives to line management. But most of all, a successful personalized learning model can’t occur without consulting the personnel whom it targets!

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