Developers can build a nonlinear structure that connects modules in logical ways. Some learners will pick and choose discrete modules according to their immediate learning needs and skills gaps. Others will progress through the modules following a more linear path. Some might jump to the end, heading straight to the final assessment. Building in this flexibility increases the likelihood that learners will engage in and complete the training they need—with enhanced performance as the result.
To successfully deliver personalized learning, an eLearning developer needs a clear understanding of what the term means. And that can be a problem, since so many different definitions for personalized learning are floating around. Let’s start with The eLearning Guild’s recent definition of adaptive learning: a teaching approach where the delivery of content and assessment are tailored to each learner’s abilities and needs. That sounds like a good approach to eLearning, but it raises questions for eLearning designers and developers.
In a January 2016 “Best of” Webinar, “The Future of Learning: Where Should We Focus This Year?” Guild Master Nick Floro acknowledged that the trend toward wanting “everything customized to my needs—when I need it, where I need it, how I need it—and I want it to apply to what I am doing” presents a challenge to developers, who are generally creating courses aimed at large, diverse audiences. To meet this challenge, developers need to focus on key aspects of the learning. But, which ones?
Dr. Yong Zhao, a scholar, educator, and expert on educational design, wrote a detailed description of personalization in education: “Outcome vs. Process: Different Incarnations of Personalization.” He divides personalization into two broad categories: personalization of process, which allows learners to make choices about how they learn; and personalization of outcome, which permits learners to define the end results of their learning.
“Corporate training is similar to education in that it has a predefined curriculum, but there is a need that is driving it, whether something is changing in the business, software, whatever, leadership development—there is usually some driving force that says, ‘I need to provide this to my people,’” said Guild Master Jean Marrapodi. This means that, in corporate eLearning settings, the outcome or learning goal is usually defined by someone other than the learner. In other words, only process personalization is likely to be feasible, not outcome personalization.
Slicing, dicing, and reframing the learning process
A traditional learning path has all learners work though a fixed set of modules, in order, before completing an assessment. To personalize the learning process, it’s necessary to leave that narrow one-way path. Zhao defines several elements of the learning process that you can personalize. The ones most relevant to the corporate eLearning environment are: pace, content, and assessment. Each of these raises development challenges.
Pace might be the most natural element to personalize using eLearning. In fact, B.F. Skinner advocated using technology to facilitate self-paced learning in 1954! In a well-designed asynchronous eLearning module, learners can proceed at their own pace and get immediate feedback. This personalization of the pace is baked into the design and the development.