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Meet Learners Where They Are

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

What do you want the learner to come away with from taking your training course? What does that learner already know? How will you measure whether the learning objective has been met?

Adaptive learning systems allow you to be very specific in answering these questions—and personalize your training for the individual.

In his issue of TD at Work, “Personalizing Training With Adaptive Learning Systems,” James Bennett explains that most adaptive learning systems begin with “the learner either taking an assessment or viewing some content and then taking an assessment.”

The purpose is to determine where training should begin and what the focus should be. By targeting learning, you save learner time. By not going over material that may be mundane because the participant is all too familiar with it, you have a greater likelihood to keep him engaged. What’s more, by taking a personalized, adaptive approach, the instructional designer also provides advantages to the organization. For example, when you save the learner’s time, you’re saving time the employee can spend on the job.

When is this type of training most beneficial?


Information and training require frequent updates. In the compartmentalized approach that is often taken with adaptive learning, it is usually easy to update or add a section of material. This is something that may take longer—and come at a greater cost—when you’re using more traditional, nonadaptive training.

When learning the material is critical to the business. Because you are using assessments with participants, it is easy to measure accurately what the participant knows and doesn’t know, and supply the necessary, critical training and information to the learner.


Learners vary in knowledge level and aptitude. Adaptive learning is personalized. This means the designer doesn’t need to worry about designing one system and using one presentation style for all learners. “Since adaptive learning provides individualized training, this problem is solved,” writes Bennett.

Training must be completed on a recurring cycle. Much of compliance training falls into this category. And while it may not be sexy, it’s critical for compliance training where safety issues and organizational reputation (think Enron) is on the line. An adaptive learning system will identify a learner’s weaker areas of knowledge and adapt training accordingly.

Bennett explains that the adaptive learning path can be thought of “as a series of stepping stones of knowledge or skills that can build upon another.” As with stepping stones, there are many opportunities for participants to decide where they want to go next; there’s less restriction on a specific order. And choices are something we all want. Even though when people hear the words “adaptive learning,” they may think about the technology that allows widescale design, adaptive learning is really all about the learner and what is best for that person.

Learn more about the issue.

About the Author

Patty Gaul is a senior writer/editor for the Association for Talent Development (ATD).

1 Comment
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This article makes mention of some great points with training but emphasis needs to be put on measuring results; both before and after training to gauge effectiveness and success. Feedback is also imperative as that leads to further enhancement of training going forward. As is common with our excel training on site, we confirm success and relay directly back to clients post training.
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