The new way to create truly personalised learning

The ability to create personalised learning experiences, based on employee profiles, will revolutionise L&D, claim Ben White and Martin Twiss.

Four key trends are set to transform the effectiveness of learning and development in organisations:

First, having undertaken job analysis reviews and validation studies, today’s employers now have a far greater understanding of the skills, knowledge and behaviours that are required to perform well in each specific role.

Second, more data is now available about employees than ever before, in terms of their personality, experience, interests, abilities, competencies, performance, engagement, career goals and learning needs.

Third, new digital learning assets and face-to-face skills practice options are constantly being developed which provide relevant and effective learning.

Finally, sophisticated data analysis tools and machine learning techniques now enable organisations to process and utilise employee data on a large scale.

The more information you have about [new starters], the more you can personalise their learning journey.

Make no mistake, the combination of these trends will revolutionise L&D by enabling personalised learning experiences to be created for every employee, based on the challenges they face in their role, their content usage, their career aspirations and their personal preferences.

Any learning management system will tell you which learning resources are popular in your organisation; some will even create recommendations for employees. However, this is like listening to Spotify and only getting recommendations for Top 20 chart music, because they’re the songs that everyone else is listening to.

Instead, Spotify creates a ‘listener profile’ for you, which enables it to monitor what you like and make broader suggestions that might appeal to you. Other intuitive platforms such as Netflix, Facebook and LinkedIn do the same thing and Amazon also uses its customer data in a similar way, to suggest additional purchases.

This simple concept is the blueprint for the future of L&D. People like it. That’s why next-generation digital learning platforms are now starting to use machine learning to actively interact with users and to pinpoint which specific resources are helpful for specific individuals with specific characteristics, facing specific challenges in specific roles.

Action plan

A step-by-step approach can help you to achieve this:

  • Role profiling. The first step is to understand the exact requirements of the different roles across your business and the challenges that are involved. To make this easier, your roles could be ranked into different categories such as novice, competent and expert. Once you’ve identified your specific role profiles, you can then consider the learning that is needed to embed the necessary competencies and behaviours in each role, at each level.
  • Know the preferences of your employees. The second step is to build a picture of each employee’s ‘content digestion habits’, in other words how they like to engage with learning content. Do they prefer text-based information, video content, micro-learning or face-to-face sessions? If your LMS can’t already tell you this, you can simply ask people for their preferences.
  • Match the content. The clever part comes when you put all of this together. You start to identify patterns and trends that reveal how individuals with certain personalities, at certain stages of their career have similar preferences for how they want to engage with job-relevant learning, not only around what topics they want to learn but also when and where they want to access that learning. All of this data can now be collected and analysed, so that going forward you’ll be able to create personalised learning pathways for individuals in every role. For example, when a new starter joins, you’ll be able to assess their personality, their strengths and weaknesses, their needs, their challenges and their learning preferences and then provide them with a choice of specific learning options that have been rated as successful and engaging by others who fit their profile. The more information you have about them, the more you can personalise their learning journey.

A wealth of employee data is available that can be utilised here. For example, assessment data from when they were recruited (their personality profile and their interests and motivations), their 360-degree feedback results, their performance reviews and their past training record.

This is too much information to analyse and interpret manually. However, with sophisticated data analysis tools, systems integration and machine learning, it’s possible to make sense of all of this information and spot correlations that will enable you to create highly detailed profiles of your employees.

You can then identify which learning options work best for them – and suggest those options, in a personalised plan, to others who have a similar profile.

Three benefits

Harnessing modern tools to create personalised learning experiences has three key benefits:

  1. It takes the guesswork out of providing engaging learning. If you know what works best for a particular profile of person, it makes it quick and easy for you to offer successful learning options to others who fit that profile, not only in terms of what they learn but how they learn. With effective, personalised learning pathways in place, you’ll improve the ‘speed to productivity’ of your employees.
  2. It steers your learning provision. Monitoring which learning options are the most effective will help you to create new resources and content that will appeal to your employees, benefit your business and ensure that your learning investment is spent wisely. It can also help you to track the performance of the business against your learning spend.
  3. You can start to make predictions which can help employees in their jobs and their careers. Building profiles of people’s skillsets and their career aspirations can help you to show employees how others who fit their profile have progressed. They can then see what development they’ll need to reach their next career goal. 

Plus, based on what you know about them, you’ll be able to suggest possible career choices to them that they might not have considered before. All of this information – and details of each individual’s learning journey – can be stored in an app that they can take with them if they leave your organisation.

Our industry is at a tipping point where the tools to achieve all of the above are now available. Clients recognise that targeted content and personalised learning, based on employee profiles, are the future of L&D.

The demand for this is strong because heads of L&D understand that when individual performance and engagement levels improve, the organisational culture benefits and productivity and retention rates escalate.


About the authors

Ben White is principal consultant at global learning consultancy OnTrack International and Martin Twiss is head of sales at software consultancy Green Custard.


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