It's time for chief learning officers to start leading a mindset shift in their organizations so that personalized learning is simply the expected way things are done. Personalized learning means giving each individual precisely the learning content they most need when they need it. For example, if a finance professional is working with HR data, then they should receive training content on the relevant data privacy policies as they begin the project. If an individual's career ambition is leading them towards a job that requires budgeting experience, then the organization's learning environment should enable them to get involved in the upcoming budgeting cycle.
Let's concentrate on two universal features of personalized learning: knowing what the person needs to learn at a given point in time and having the specific learning content that meets those needs. We need to stay at this fairly abstract level because learning covers so many different things – coaching, stretch projects, eLearning, Twitter feeds, etc. – that the details of how you deliver personalized learning are all over the map.
Knowing what learning is needed at a given point in time
The secret of knowing what learning every individual needs to learn at every point in time lies in figuring out who needs to know this. The key "who" is the employee. The employee needs to be empowered to know what they need to learn, and how to get it. This removes what otherwise would be an impossible task for the learning function.
Individuals need to take responsibility for their own careers and their own performance. So our model includes the individual defining their own training needs even if the learning function is capable of doing so on their behalf. Framing personalized learning as a way to empower individuals to take charge brings the right motivation to learning.
I don't mean to imply the individual is on their own. Their manager, their manager's manager and the whole HR department should take an interest in supporting that individual and providing insights on what training they need. The model to have in mind is an able individual seeking to improve themselves in the context of a wise and supportive group of people.
For individuals to direct their own learning, they need information. This means that one of the main deliverables of the learning function is to provide information about the skills, competencies and experiences employees need.
The training function should deliver that information in several forms:
- Information about career paths
- Information about the skills, competencies and experiences employees need in different jobs
- Assessment of an individual's strengths and weaknesses
- Feedback from their manager and their peers on strengths, weaknesses and what skills they should focus on
- Information on core skills a person in their line of work needs (such as time management, listening)
- Information on what skills will be in demand in the near future (e.g. data governance)
The vision of personalized learning is of a learner immersed in a world where learning is always on everyone's mind. There is a constant stream of information that helps this individual continually update what learning they should seek out.
Perhaps it's helpful to contrast this vision to an alternative. An alternative vision is that once every year or two, we might plug individuals into a learning needs assessment process that spits out the series of courses the person needs. That one-off approach is not the best path forward; it's better to think in terms of an environment that is continuous and multifaceted.
Providing the right content
Delightfully, providing the right content (once an individual knows what training they need) is an easier problem for learning teams than creating an environment that informs people what learning they need. You might have noticed: there is a massive amount of learning content available online! And it's easy to navigate to people with expertise if an individual needs something more context-specific than what is provided online.
That's not meant to underplay the importance of creating an environment where the right content is available and easy to find; it's just that this part won't usually be very difficult.
The key takeaways
Personalized learning can be a great addition to talent development. Here are a few takeaways on what you should do now:
- It's time to promote the idea of personalized learning as the normal model people have in mind when they think about learning.
- The hardest part of personalized learning is creating a rich feed of multiple sources of insight so individuals can determine what learning is most helpful for them at any point in time.
- An essential cultural element of personalized learning is that it needs to be driven by the individual seeking their own learning.
- Providing an enormous suite of content is now surprisingly easy. It's like a cornucopia that has been dropped in our lap and we should take advantage of it.