As employers address their talent development needs, more than half of organizations are offering opportunities for employees to “upskill” and “reskill,” according to a recent report from the Association for Talent Development. Their goal is to take positive action to upgrade or build new skills in the workforce.
Despite the best efforts of learning and development (L&D) organizations, the fact remains that much of traditional corporate training is inefficient and does little to move the needle in making employees more competent in their current jobs and prepare them for new demands in the technology-enabled workforce.
Any investment in corporate training must be effective, as measured by its direct support of the goals of the organization, its ability to meet the needs of all stakeholders, and its impact as a learning intervention. Time to market is becoming even more critical as technology speeds the pace of change. In such highly competitive, fast-evolving business conditions, companies can’t afford ineffective and inefficient training that doesn’t produce the right “return on investment.”
Against this backdrop, adaptive learning may be the key differentiator for L&D teams as employers seek to upgrade worker skills. Adaptive learning brings together the best of computer science and cognitive research, delivering a personalized, computer-based approach that adjusts to the needs of each learner in online and blended learning scenarios.
The Personalized Approach
To be most effective, learning programs must adjust to the needs of each and every learner. Such personalization not only improves impact and engagement but is also key to gaining efficiency when training employees who typically have very little time to devote to learning while they try to carry out their daily business activities. Historically, the only way to achieve personalization was through tutoring. This approach is prohibitively expensive for corporate training and does not scale.
Computer-based training was seen as the solution to both the cost and scaling problems, but online workbooks, lectures, videos, and e-learning “page-turners” do little more than compel learners to sit through all content whether or not they’ve already mastered it. When content is boring and redundant to what people already know, that’s an invitation to multitask while e-learning runs in the background. Or, when learners struggle, static approaches provide no help--and the result is often learner fatigue and frustration. In both scenarios, these “one-size-fits-none” learning programs have done little or nothing, and amount to a waste of resources.
Adaptive learning, in contrast, focuses on the knowledge and skills that employees do not possess or are less confident about. These advanced platforms use a “teaching-by-asking” approach that is inherently engaging. Learners spend time only on those areas in which they need development, while skipping over what they have already mastered, thus reducing the time it takes to reach proficiency. Among early adopters of adaptive learning, time savings of as much as 50% are common, compared to traditional e-learning or instructor-led training.
Greater efficiency means less time spent on training and more time for people to be on the job, or better use of limited training time. Adaptive learning is also an ideal tool for companies looking to implement a "mobile first" strategy, enabling learning and training to be accessed anytime, anywhere.
Another major benefit of adaptive learning is the ability to uncover and eliminate unconscious incompetence—that is, when employees think they know something, but in fact do not. Because this type of incompetence is unconscious, people aren’t even aware of what they don’t know or what they misunderstand, which can lead to serious consequences in the workplace, from customer dissatisfaction to safety violations. It’s a pervasive problem; our data show that employees can be as much as 20-40% unconsciously incompetent in areas that are critical to their job performance.
The adaptive learning approach offers opportunities for learners to self-assess continuously. This is accomplished by asking learners to rate how well they know a piece of content or how confident they are in their answer before the correct answer is revealed or task is performed. In this way, learners not only improve their knowledge, they also gain confidence in that knowledge. In addition, self-assessment data can be used to further adapt and personalize the learning experience.
For greater efficiency and effectiveness in talent development, employers need to make adaptive learning the foundation of their L&D strategies. Even if an employer isn’t ready for enterprise-wide deployment just yet, at a minimum what adaptive learning has to offer should be evaluated. As companies look to the future, they simply cannot afford training that does little to expand and enhance workers’ skills.
Nick J. Howe is the Chief Learning Officer of Area9 Lyceum, the learning company of Danish-owned Area9 Group. Area9 Lyceum has launched its fourth generation adaptive and personalized learning platform, Area9 Rhapsode™.