Adaptive learning is possible – right now!

Adaptive learning is possible. Today. Right now. In your organization.

I recently read an article that bemoaned the challenge of implementing an adaptive learning strategy within an organization. The author stated it is extremely difficult to execute an adaptive learning program that has true value to the employee. I couldn’t disagree more.

For the past 6 years, I’ve been talking about adaptive learning. I’ve written a few dozen articles and an eBook. I’ve presented at industry conferences. And, more importantly, I’ve worked with dozens of organizations—including my own employer—to implement adaptive learning as a foundational component of their performance ecosystems. Adaptive learning is not only possible, it’s more achievable than ever before.

As with many workplace learning topics, a big part of the challenge is the fundamental definition. What is adaptive learning and, subsequently, what practices are required to bring it to life? When people start creating awkward and granular definitions to suit their specific application or product, the level of difficulty for general application rises. Therefore, rather than get bogged down with specific use cases or awkward analogies, I suggest we focus on the employee—the person we’re trying to help as we seek to solve business problems. With this mindset, adaptive learning is:

The purposeful use of data, technology, and content to provide the right support at the right time and help an individual employee improve his/her workplace performance.

You can do this! You can apply this definition to improve the learning experience and ultimate performance for your employees. But first you need to shift how you think about data, technology, and content in the context of workplace learning. Here’s how you do it:

1 – Expand your definition of learning data

Session attendance and course completions will not get you to an adaptive learning experience. You have to expand your definition of learning data to include a more robust set of analytics. The good news is that you already have some of this. For example, how often are you using business data (sales, shrink, call times, etc.) to design and implement training? The new reality is that learning data is business data. You need a continuous understanding of what people know, how they are behaving, and what they are achieving to properly adjust your learning strategy. The more quality data you can collect, the closer you are to enabling adaptive learning.

2 – Build focused content

Stop building all-encompassing courses, such as Workplace Safety 101. Instead, build content focused on specific, measurable behaviors that you know will impact business results. For example, rather than an hour-long eLearning course called Workplace Safety 101, you could build a set of 3-minute modules on the most common safety issues, such as lifting and ergonomics. Targeted content feeds an adaptive learning experience by giving you the flexibility to provide employees with only the training they need based on their individual gaps.

3 – Challenge your technology providers

You need the right technology to scale adaptive learning. Otherwise, you’re stuck assigning the same content to everyone based on limited demographic details. The good news is that technology providers build what companies want to buy. Therefore, to expedite your options for adaptive learning, you need to exercise influence over your current and prospective technology partners. Show them the experience you want to create for your employees and challenge them to provide the tools to create it. And be particularly wary of providers that claim to offer personalized and adaptive capabilities but don’t match your desired learning experience.

Adaptive learning is not an exclusive concept. It is not reserved for multi-national organizations with millions of dollars to spend on training. You don’t need an L&D team of hundreds to make it work. Every organization can start making the shift because it starts with how we think about what we do. I’m not saying this is easy. There are stakeholders to influence, platforms to rework, and materials to refresh. But, when we recognize the potential and make fundamental changes in our practices, the great promise of adaptive learning becomes that much more achievable.

JD is one of the most prolific authors and speakers in workplace learning today. His practical approach integrates science, technology, storytelling and pure common sense to enable employees, improve performance and drive business results. For 20 years, JD has executed strategies for global organizations, including The Walt Disney Company.

Let’s work together to drive frontline performance in all the right ways.