Research & Thought Leadership

Why personalized learning is crucial in a changing landscape: 4 key areas of focus

Alex Davda

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The world is in flux with individuals, families, organizations, and even entire nations facing change at an unprecedented pace. The COVID-19 pandemic is perhaps the most significant global test humanity has faced in recent history.

With global workforces larger than cities and the line between our home and work life well and truly crossed; organizations must support their people to gain the skills and capabilities to manage blurred boundaries and succeed in a fast-changing business landscape. Through doing so, employees are better able to adapt their ways of working, remain engaged, secure, and productive, and continue to grow and develop.

Throughout history, learning has been a powerful instrument for handling transition and change. Just like educational institutions tasked with preparing young people for adult life, businesses and those responsible for corporate learning (i.e. business schools, training providers, and learning consultancies) have a duty to grow and develop their workforce.

As a result, to make considerable adjustments in behavior and the necessary shift in mindset, gaining knowledge through traditional classroom-based training is simply not enough. Learning should be impactful and meaningful, and learners must be provided with the space to apply new skills into their day to day life.

One size does not fit all

Although collective development priorities remain essential, this unprecedented level of uncertainty requires us all to question whether we are sufficiently prepared to face the unknown and what else is required.

Today, new behaviors, habits, and even values must be acquired, contextualized, and integrated into everyday life at a rapid pace. For this to happen successfully, learning must be experienced at a distinctly personal level; solving real problems in real-time, facilitated through the sharing of experiences, and the exchange of ideas between individuals and across teams.

Learning no longer needs to be characterized by attendance on scheduled training events. To be truly effective, it must be tailored to personal situations (e.g. mode, format, time of the day) and build skills that matter most. This will not be the same for all; For one project manager, building resilience might be achieved through online learning on time management. For another, their resilience can be developed by connecting more frequently with a mentor or a coach.

As a result, those responsible for learning and development are left with an important yet complex dilemma: How do we design learning which addresses common organizational challenges yet still make it personal?

Four key areas of focus to personalize learning:

1. Group Learning can still feel personal

  • Start by understanding the context; design and deliver your training and development in response to individual, team, and business needs. Deliver group learning in order to achieve synergy, collaboration, collective change, and knowledge sharing.

  • Understand training currently being delivered and do not be scared to shelve some of the offerings which are no longer relevant if necessary. With those learning programs that you continue, you can look at new innovative ways to deliver them with a focus on relevance, impact, and stickiness.

  • Appreciate that human experiences are unique. Include activities such as personal challenge projects, to encourage learners to apply learning in a manner which works for them, aligned to their career aspirations, challenges, and preferences.

2. Become more Data-Savvy

  • Use assessment techniques to identify needs at both an individual and a collective level. Allow learners to drive their own development through up-front diagnostics which will make learning truly about them.

  • Gather information on the most and least impactful training as well as relevant topic areas and modes of delivery. Then pivot the learning offer as needs and the business environment evolve.

  • Create an ongoing feedback loop between learners and the business to enable continuous improvement.

  • Review and analyze the effect of learning through metrics that help promote engagement and demonstrate relevance, impact, and overall success of your development.

3. Learn from other functions

  • Take a leaf out of your digital marketing colleagues’ playbook. See learners as consumers who actively chose to engage or disengage. Shift from a learning function that only delivers training to one that segments development and curates learning based on significance and impact.

  • Understand the areas of business where new solutions have solved genuine business problems. For example, CRM systems have led to more effective sales or business networking tools that have supported project collaboration. What has worked? What has not? How can learning benefit from this?

4. Adapt Learning for Today’s Learner

  • Provide high-quality learning that can be accessed anytime, anywhere, around any schedule. This is increasingly important as it is not just since COVID-19 that people are juggling multiple commitments.

  • Provide learning in manageable “bite-sized” chunks. A range of topics, themes, and approaches that help learners solve real-world problems.

  • Encourage people to learn together, network, and connect and share knowledge as part of the learning process. This could be holding “application sessions” after an external workshop on a skills area.

  • Focus your face to face delivery on learning that is “felt” and “experienced” enabling true shifts. Rather than teaching people how to handle difficult conversations, allow them to practice real conversations with each other, and share feedback. Provide the space for experimentation, discussion, and application of what they learn.

Our lives, experiences, time, and capacity to learn and apply new skills are all very different, even if we all share common personal, interpersonal, and societal challenges. There will always be common topics necessary for the majority and beneficial for the business. In a similar way to how we navigate our Netflix account and build our Spotify playlist; we review a collection of options and then approach the world with a desire to make it about us. As a result, learning must be offered in a way that works for our own unique needs and challenges.

Alex Davda is Head of Assessment at Hult International Business School where he helps organizations to identify, assess, and develop overall capabilities. Alex’s approach combines best practices in psychology with an innovative approach to helping organizations address real business challenges.

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