Personalised learning: A guide for learning and development professionals to increase learner engagement.

The power of personalised learning

Personalisation is everywhere. As humans we love a product or experience that’s tailored to us as individuals. Remember those Coke bottles with names on? That’s a prime example, people went crazy to find a bottle with their name on and post it on social media.

You’re probably wondering what do Coke bottles have to do with learning? Well, if we can get excited about a bottle with our name on it, imagine how excited we could get about a personalised learning experience!

When it comes to making learning personal. It’s not as easy as embedding a learner’s name into an e-learning course, or on the training materials. If only it were that easy to engage learners!

Personalised learning was originally focussed towards mobile, bite sized learning. It can in fact be applied to most types of learning activities.

Personalisation principles

In order to make learning personalised there are three key principles to follow:

  • Just in time
  • Just enough
  • Just for me
Image displaying personalised learning principles detailed about.

Interested to know more? Then read on, below I’ve detailed how you can bring personalised learning into your learning and development activities.

Just in time:

Just in time, is about ensuring that learners get the skills, knowledge or understanding they need at the point in which they need it. Not a few months early, or even worse; a few months late.

As learning professionals, we need to be ahead of what the organisation requires and horizon scanning.  Keep an eye on what’s going on outside of your organisation and make links to what may be a future requirement, so you can be one step ahead with any seemingly unexpected learning.

If your learning and development strategy is linked to clear business objectives (which I hope it is!) this will give you an idea where your focus should be.

On a more local level, completing learning needs analysis annually with key stakeholders will help you to get more specific about the skills gaps within their department, so you can create a plan to address them in a timely manner.

Armed with this knowledge, externally, internally and departmentally you’re able to prepare learning that the business requires in advance of the need, rather than at the time of request.

Just enough:

Just enough is about ensuring that the learning intervention provides just the right amount of what they need.

Who wants to sit on a full day course to learn one skill that might only take an hour? Or attend a training course that could’ve easily just been a webinar, briefing document or updated process map.

When a learning intervention is required, make sure it’s just enough to meet the need. Avoid clouding it with unnecessary extras that waters down the learning.

Reflect on some of your recently developed learning interventions, consider the following:

  • Was it the right length of time to cover the specific learning need?
  • Was it the right learning method?
  • Let’s be honest, did it even really need to be training in the first place?

It’s easy to slip into the habit of thinking while I’ve got their attention, I’ll share other information I think they need to know. That’s driven from your perspective rather than being focussed on their needs.

If they only need a 10-minute micro-learning, then that’s all it needs to be. Avoid giving more than necessary, however helpful you think it is and focus your attention on giving them just enough.

Just for me:

Just for me considers the final part of personalisation. Making the learning experience feel like it has been personalised to their needs. AKA, not forcing every employee to go through the exact same training – there are areas where it may be necessary to give all learners the same experience, beware the impact on their engagement.  

Just for me can sound tricky, but it’s pretty simple and you may already be doing some personalisation without thinking about it. As an example:

  • Do you offer a suite of learning options in a topic and individuals can pick and choose what is right for their needs/experience level?
  • Do you assess learner’s skill first, then tailor their learning to their requirements?
  • Do you contact the learners in advance of the learning to find out what their specific requirements are from the training and shape the content to meet their needs?

Said yes to any of the above? You’re already taking steps to fulfil just for me. What I’ve shared above gives you some simple pointers to get started, in the case that you said no,

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Examples to personalise learning:

Have you read all of that and are thinking sure it sounds great but I’m still not 100% sure on how that would work in practice. The examples below might give you a better idea:

Example A) Induction Training

Your organisation requires all new starters to attend induction training. The focus of this training is to learn specific company based skills.

Rather than forcing each new starter to follow the exact same learning route, you assess them on day 1 and tailor the induction process to their skills-gaps.

Whilst someone may be new to your organisation it doesn’t mean they aren’t already skilled. If your new starters know how to do it already but just need to know company processes – skip the learning and fast track them straight towards the process part.

Example B) System Training

Your organisation is introducing a new computer system to replace a previous system.

Instead of making each team sit through the same training, create a suite of online courses for different levels and let staff choose which route is best for them. If they start too far ahead, they can always back track and look at the beginner training guides.

Digitise the materials, as a result the learners can go back and access it at the point in which they need to. This means it’s just enough (what they want to know), just in time (at the point they need further info) and just for them (they chose what to access).

Example C) Managers Training

You’re asked to create an appraisal training programme targeted at people managers.

Rather than asking each manager to attend the same training you decide to take a three-tiered approach. Firstly, you ask every manager to complete a self-assessment of their needs to identify where their skills gaps are. This is signed off by their line manager.

Experienced, competent managers receive the updated communications only. Less experienced managers attend the appraisal training that’s tailored to the lowest scoring themes in the self-assessments.

Hopefully those examples give insight for you to improve learning within your organisation. Personalised learning is a mind-set shift away from the traditional classroom sheep-dip approach to learning. It’s a powerful tool for the future of Learning and Development.

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