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Curated Insights: Why aren’t we talking about adaptive learning?

Posted on: November 25, 2016Updated on: April 16, 2024By: JD Dillon, Chief Learning Architect

Last week, the eLearning Guild’s annual DevLearn event brought the L&D community together to showcase the many ways we are using technology to improve how we support workplace performance. As expected, hot topics like xAPI, virtual reality and video dominated the conversation. When I submitted session ideas for the event a few months back, I noticed no one was talking about adaptive learning. So, I suggested the topic as a light morning buzz discussion.

On the Thursday morning of the event, I facilitated a discussion with about 100 people on the potential for adaptive learning to increase the overall value of employee development. To begin, I asked everyone to raise their hand if they were familiar with the concept of adaptive learning. Pretty much everyone raised their hand. Then, I asked who was doing any work with adaptive learning. Only a few hands went up. Those who provided examples spoke mostly to branching decisions within eLearning content, which I would consider an introductory form of object-specific adaptation. This experience reinforced my sense that adaptive learning is still a pretty aspirational concept for L&D. Many see the potential but just don’t know how to bring it to life.


Adaptive learning is especially important to our team at Axonify. The ability to target and quickly address individual knowledge and behavior gaps is at the core of our approach and has proven effective across a wide range of customer industries and use cases. While adaptive learning has been a topic of popular conversation within the academic space for the last few years, it has not yet gone mainstream in workplace learning. L&D strategy has just not caught up to the modern potential of adaptive learning technology.

This month’s curated insights focus on the power of adaptive learning technology to provide valuable learning and performance support opportunities as a foundational component of a modern learning environment and workplace learning strategy.

4 dimensions of adaptive learning by JD Dillon

I admit it! I had to write my own blog post to fill in some gaps in my adaptive learning curation effort. Truth be told, there just isn’t a lot of comprehensive discussion going on in the L&D world on this topic. But, I still wanted to highlight the limited available dialogue to potentially kickstart a larger conversation. So, I put together a few observations based on my personal experience with adaptive learning as both an enterprise learning leader and solution provider.

Adaptive learning is about technology, but not just technology. It’s about content, but not just content. To be successful in applying an adaptive learning strategy, L&D must consider multiple dimensions that power the overall experience. In this post, I highlight data, content and technology as essential considerations. However, the most important dimension is the person. L&D must enable adaptive employees to help them take advantage of the additional opportunities and insight provided by an adaptive approach.

Why is adaptive learning so important? by Peter Burrows

This EdSurge article is a great exploration of the potential for adaptive learning … in K-12 education. While it’s not specifically about engagement in the workplace, many of the themes translate quite well. For example, one key to an effective adaptive learning environment is an evolved role for the teacher. The teacher can’t just walk away and expect the algorithm to takeover. Rather, their role is even more essential as they help students progress at their own paces. However, they must be willing to change their ways and leave behind what may have once been considered tried and true teaching practices.

Similarly, several roles must evolve to effectively leverage adaptive learning in the workplace. It starts with L&D and our ability to focus on the individual employee experience. At the same time, stakeholders and managers must buy into the idea of providing only the right content to the right employee at the right time rather than wasting time and effort on pushing the same generic content to everyone to make sure the organization is “covered.”

Adapting to Adaptive Learning by Artur Dyro

This eLearning Industry article gets a bit granular in its discussion of adaptive learning. Rather than explore the larger strategic implications of an adaptive learning environment, Artur digs into the content design considerations as enabled by adaptive technology. By measuring the number of mistakes a user makes while working through an instructional activity, a designer can adjust the subsequent activities to the perceived appropriate level. This is similar to the branching techniques many designers are using today as they get started with the idea of personalizing learning experiences through available data. However, this is just a small part of the adaptive learning puzzle, as additional data sources must be used to understand real-world user performance and adjust suggested development activities accordingly.

5 Learning Tech Trends to Watch in the Next 5 Years by Karl Kapp

Karl outlines 5 technology-enabled learning trends to keep an eye on for the next few years in this ATD blog post. Several usual L&D suspects, including social learning, gamification and microlearning, are included. While they have been hot topics of conversation for quite a while, these concepts are gaining legitimacy as they shift from buzzwords to proven L&D tactics. Karl also highlights adaptive learning with caution that “this is one of the further out trends” given the continued evolution required within the field to best maximize this concept. This aligns to my earlier observation that adaptive learning remains promising but highly aspirational for many L&D teams, who have yet to find ways to merge strategy with technology to bring truly personalized experiences to life.

Could adaptive learning have a positive impact on your ability to support learning and performance in your workplace? If you recognize the potential of adaptive learning, what’s holding your organization back? Visit our Ultimate Guide to Adaptive Learning to explore this topic further. 

JD Dillon, Chief Learning Architect's Headshot

JD Dillon, Chief Learning Architect

JD Dillon became an expert on frontline training and enablement over two decades working in operations and talent development with dynamic organizations, including Disney, Kaplan and AMC. A respected author and speaker in the workplace learning community, JD also continues to apply his passion for helping frontline employees around the world do their best work every day in his role as Axonify's Chief Learning Architect.

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