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What Is Personalized Learning?

Published Mon Nov 26 2018


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According to the U.S. Department of Education, personalized learning refers to instruction in which the pace of learning and the instructional approach are optimized for the needs of each learner.

Today, with the click of a mouse or keyboard, learners can take charge of their own learning. Information is available instantly and anywhere. This immediate access to information has taken learning out of the hands of HR and IT departments, and out of traditional classroom settings where a teacher has no choice but to deliver instruction to a roomful of students in basically the same way.

Neal Hartman, senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management, says business leaders must accept a paradigm shift in the way they think about learning. “We’ve moved from traditional one-day or multiple-day training sessions to using technology that targets learning to the individual.” This means learning more online and on mobile devices.

With personalized learning, the learner sets their own goals and controls the learning process. A fitness coach may have many students, but the student's goal can vary, as can the approach (for example, one student may want to lose weight whereas another may wish to improve strength or endurance).

With personalized learning, a customized experience is provided to match an individual’s learning proficiency, style, time of instruction, and format or device from which to learn.

The learner should be able to choose their own approach by providing personalized feedback through interactive methods like surveys, quizzes, and games that reward learners with points they can track against other learners. Also, mentors can give real-time feedback to learners through interactive features.

Personalization should give learners what they need to learn, when they want to learn, how they want to learn, and the right learning path. And that path is reinforced through employee feedback on what is working and what is not, resulting in higher completion rates versus traditional classroom training.

Don Spear, CEO of online training marketplace OpenSesame, says, “One of the reasons our customers find e-learning particularly effective for retention is that learners can revisit the courses as much as they want at any time for refresher purposes. Plus, students can choose the best time for them to take the online course, according to their timeline and commitments.”

Spear says courses that are bite-sized (from a few minutes to 15 minutes) help those who might otherwise struggle to stay focused for a longer period of time, as can happen in a classroom setting. “And online course designers increasingly are integrating ‘gamification’ techniques and more engaging mid-course exercises, quizzes, and post-completion summaries to help the information more easily take hold.”

However, personalized learning is unlikely to be economically viable for rank-and-file training due to its individualized approach and the large number of trainers needed. It is better used for training a smaller number of business leaders and executives. Additionally, classroom training is most appropriate where interaction, team bonding, role playing, or nonverbal communications are vital to achieving learning objectives.

Personalized learning is the wave of the future, and organizations need to prepare for this. A 2017 report from Bersin by Deloitte found that it’s the biggest way companies are missing the mark with their learning programs: Only 3 percent are effective at personalization.

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