Learning trends

Thoughts on personalized learning

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Personalized Learning

Personalization of learning is what it sounds like, programs adapted to the needs, the learning methods, and the desires, of learners. Personalization seeks what the learner wants to learn, and how he or she wants to learn. Personalization focuses on the basic desire of people to enjoy what they are doing.

Personalized learning includes elements of blended learning. We all have favored methods of gaining information and backup methods we use if the favorites don’t work or are not available. Starting very close to home, learning and entertainment options at or near the desk on which this article is being written, include media – computer, smart phone, television, music dvds, radio, hard copy books on book shelves. It includes variations, such as Netflix by-mail dvds or any one of a number of streaming services. It even includes multi-tasking, such as using a computer to identify books of interest at the library, and some combination of public transportation and walking to get to the library. It can include multi-tasking, such as checking the smart phone on the way to the library. One can also put the television on in the background while researching on the internet.

If seeking specific information, options easily available include e-mail, text messaging and calling some place where the information might be available. It allows for combining methods, such as many e-mails and selected voice calls to follow up. “Now is a good time” is a very valid sentiment, but not always possible. The ideal media can be used at convenience of the learner.

Personalization presents the reality of user control. Perhaps more importantly, it presents the image of control. The occupant of the desk on which this article is being written can choose the information to seek, the media to use for research or to watch, or both and just about anything to do for relaxation. This desk also shows the limitations, and even the problems, of personalization.

Work related personalized learning is going to occur within a context created by management. Let’s return to this article, a requested piece on personalized learning. The article cannot be about the 1991 Persian Gulf War. This article will be submitted by e-mail, so handwriting is not an appropriate medium. It could be PDFd, but this would not allow for easy editing. E-mails sent today, a holiday, to offices or libraries probably will not be answered until tomorrow. A Skype call is not an option when an office is closed. “Old-school” hard copy letters might make a good impression, at the very least for being uncommon. But this could take a few days, with luck. If this article was reviewing a book on personalized learning, the primary research source for the article would have to be the book. A potential project collaborator might run into the same problems.

If the predicted snow storm is bad enough, the libraries might close and public transit might shut down. At the very least, it will make getting there far more of a problem. If the storm causes a blackout, this computer has about three hours of power in its battery. The smart phone might have twelve hours. This does not even take into account the lack of light if the electricity goes out.

Learning in a formal work training session might well be limited by available sources. Distance learning, for all its advantages, makes it harder to get together for a person to person meeting. Electronic media only partly compensates. The teacher may have limited availability for in-person or via-media conversations, so the learner has to adjust.

“The boss” is certainly going to have a limiting impact on the free choice of personalized learning. For one thing, the boss might not be able to pay, or want to pay, for a variety of methods and subjects – particular if the programs have to be designed from scratch. Management may want employees to gain particular new skills, such as if the company upgrades its computers and mobile devices. Operating systems, computer and smart phone apps are very similar to each other. Hardware is even closer to other hardware of the same type. But little differences can be key. Keyboard controls for one word processing app blocked out text. In another app, the same process erased text. Fortunately, the “undo” button exists in both systems.

So how do we personalize learning? The first step is the first step in every plan. Why do you want employees to learn? What are your goals? What are your objectives; final objectives to represent goals, preliminary objectives to measure progress? Management has to be able to formulate what it wants to accomplish and how it will know when its goals have been accomplished. Even if the goal is just to revamp and expanding training, it has to have some way of measuring training.

What resources do you have in house? This includes money available for training. It also includes in-house media. Issues here include whether the bulk of your employees have smart phones, and what type. Programs can be adjusted to use on computers and smart phones. (See our learning hack, title, on how to do this.) Unless you were already planning to issue employees the same types of smart phones, doing so will be expensive.

You have to look outside for what you don’t already have. Find out what is available commercially, and what would have to be created. A book on personalized training, for example, is going to cost a whole lot less, even if you buy each employee a copy, than having someone create such a book for you.

You are personalizing a program or system of programs, designed to allow employees as much choice as possible. So don’t forget to ask the employees what they want. Use employee evaluations from the last training. Ask them what they want to see in the next, both subjects and methods. Increase response by either making response mandatory or reminding employees that their input is needed and if they respond they are more likely to get what they want. Finally don’t forget to ask for feedback after the program is used. This helps you improve the program or app for the next batch of learners.

The most effective learning environment is user driven, with input from management. The basic secret of user driven learning, or personalization, is that giving people as much choice as possible, increases their personal commitment to the program and to learning itself. People will learn more when they guide their own learning.