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What’s the deal with personalized learning?

Einstein once said that if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it'll live its whole life thinking it’s stupid. What you may not know is that he was referring to the public educational system and the one size fits all approach to teaching.

Although more than a century passed since he said this, traditional models of education still exist till this day and still insist on standardized teaching techniques, despite their inability to deliver the best results. More and more learners — in the academic and business world — don’t find these models challenging and engaging, so they’re searching for alternatives, they want more personalized learning experiences.

What is personalized learning?

Personalized learning is the tailoring of learning environments with the primary focus on learners and how they experience the process of knowledge acquisition. Learners are not only taught and assessed by an instructor, they also work individually or collaborate with other learners and teach each other. More often than not, technology is used to facilitate personalized learning environments.

E-learning and online courses are the cornerstone of this learning technique. Technology makes it possible to create highly customizable modules which respond to individual learning needs. A personalized learning environment promotes the success of each learner by delivering a custom learning experience tailored to the needs, interests and personal goals of learners.

Learners strive towards a high-set bar when it comes to their goals, but at the same time they are allowed and encouraged to get there by their means, following a customized path that adapts to their learning progress and motivation.

Ultimately, personalization leads to higher participation and completion rates, but also higher costs in terms of money and time. The good news is that technology, and especially SaaS technology and cloud-based LMSs, can make personalized learning possible without having to spend a fortune on it.

What can instructional designers do to personalize e-learning experiences?

Well, first and foremost, instructional designers could start by using a cloud-based LMS. This single decision will save a lot of time and headaches during the creation and management of course modules. A great LMS may not solve all problems just by its mere existence, but it will surely contribute to the delivery of a hassle-free training.

From general settings and preferences like color schemes or dedicated dashboards for different types of users, to other more in-depth aspects — like what content should be delivered to whom, how that content gets across to the learner, how much time is needed to complete a training module, what methods of feedback and collaboration are to be used, how the learner's progress will be assessed and so many more — the flexibility and various features of cloud-based LMSs provide the foundation for personalized learning experiences.

One particular advantage of using an LMS is the analytics and reporting tools. Each learner's progress is continuously assessed, starting from the placement test and going through all lessons of the training program. Reading all figures right will help instructional designers understand the strengths and weaknesses of each learner and therefore make the necessary adjustments in order to meet all their needs.

How would a learner experience a personalized learning session?

Let's jump into a learner's shoes for a while, shall we? Let's call him Tim.

So, what happens after Tim logs into the LMS? He is greeted by a personalized message like "Hi Tim! Welcome to the perfect place to enrich your knowledge about selling smelling salts (or any other subject matter)! Remember, learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere. Are you here to make your treasure bigger? Do proceed!".

Next, Tim lands on a personalized dashboard, with a set of courses that he has enrolled in based on his interests, level of expertise and learning goals. He then clicks on one of the courses and goes to a customized landing page that presents the most important data of the course that he has previously set up. In case he didn't select any settings, the system automatically presents the data on the landing page based on his history. Here, Tim can visualize his progress, what he has learned so far and how many steps he still needs to take in order to reach his learning goals — custom-tailored goals, of course.

Tim then goes into the next module, which has customized learning content based on his current level, but at one point, he has trouble with an assignment. Luckily for him, the LMS remembers his history and level of expertise, so it makes a few customized helping suggestions and Tim is ready to move on to the next module or end the learning session.

Final thoughts

Personalizing the learning experience will soon become an essential part of training programs and innovative LMSs are turning into alternative learning spaces, with benefits both for learners and for instructors. Companies that will abandon the one size fits all methods and turn to a more learner-centered approach in their training will reap the later benefits of increased ROI and profit.

What’s your opinion about personalized learning? Do you use it in your training programs? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.

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