Blog Post

Are You Ready for Personalized Learning?

Carol Anderson

Founder, Anderson Performance Partners

When my family moved to Florida eight years ago, we bought a house with a pool. We loved looking outside at night with the pool light on; peaceful and beautiful. But a few months later, the bulb burned out. Rather than call the pool guy, my husband went on YouTube and learned how to replace the bulb.

I was a new CLO in a large healthcare system at the time and witnessing him turn to YouTube boggled my mind. Oh yes, I kept up with the literature on learning delivery through technology, learning paths, microlearning and just-in-time learning. They were all emerging concepts that made sense, but I hadn't seen any of them in action.

The YouTube lesson felt like a wake-up call. My organization had been working tirelessly to justify the investment in expensive content—but that day, I realized the internet had evolved to a point where content was available for free. So what was my role now?

From Content Managers to Content Curators

That was a significant paradigm shift for us, and a difficult one at that. We were used to controlling who was "trained." It was our raison d'etre. But we soon found out that even if content was free, people still needed a reason to learn—and an easy way to access resources.

To my husband, replacing the pool light was another problem he could solve, and he loves to solve problems. He didn't need much, just enough to understand the specific steps to change the bulb without being electrocuted. When the pool pump acted up, he turned again to YouTube. Employees approach learning in the same way.

My learning team's role evolved from creating content to looking for opportunities to encourage people to learn. For us, that meant helping employees know what they needed to know through a two-way dialogue with their leaders. For the leaders, that meant they became learning curators.

Learning Is Changing. Fast.

Read any journal or article on human resource development, and you'll hear the term personalized or curated learning. Enabled by technology, but fueled by ongoing dialogue, we are no longer bound to "one size fits all" curriculums.

Think about YouTube. My husband could set up a channel specifically for pool maintenance, save time looking for content and maybe even find something new. Or consider Amazon. My Amazon feed shows me what I might be interested in, making it easy to find new things. A recent press release from Cornerstone details a similar future of learning: It will look like Netflix or Spotify, tailoring content to individual needs and interests with curated "playlists."

How to Earn Leadership Buy-In

However, after many years in human resources, I have some quiet alarm bells going off. Here's why: Technology isn't cheap, and the investment must pay off. So what are you going to do to get leaders and employees to want to learn?

First, help leaders become learning curators. This curator role isn't typically in a leader's wheelhouse, so he or she will have to understand the importance of the role and why "training" isn't the solution. You have to make an intentional statement to leaders that says, "Developing your people is the most important work you will do." Then you can begin to provide the tools and resources that will help them develop their employees. If they don't realize and appreciate the significant impact learning can make on their organization, they'll likely just keep doing what they've been doing.

Second, be clear about what you're trying to do. Learning drives two things: knowledge and behavior change. Getting folks to recognize the need for knowledge is far easier than getting them to accept the need for behavior change. Before you begin planning for any learning initiatives, be clear about your goals. Behavior change requires a strong infrastructure starting with the "why," providing time to practice and receive feedback, and measuring the actual change.

Where we are heading in organizational learning is terrific and needs to happen. If not we will keep sinking funds into programs that don't provide a return. But it's crucial to start preparing now for what the future of learning holds tomorrow.

Photo: Creative Commons

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