Adaptive Learning for Today's Evolving Workforce

Written By

John Ambrose

August 03, 2015

The primary challenge facing today’s C-suite is the management, growth, and development of the organization’s most important asset, its people. Failure or success in these areas directly correlates with how well and to what extent they provide employees with proper training, skills, and leadership development.

What’s different about today’s workforce?

To answer this question, we need to examine how organizations develop and train their workforces today—and we can start with “one-size fits all” learning programs. They may have worked years ago when employees often held static positions, but in today’s knowledge-based economy that is no longer the case. The workplace and workforce are rapidly-evolving dynamic entities. The speed of change, and the failure of organizations to evolve their training programs to be more agile and adaptive, has created an ever-widening gap between employee learning needs and the organization’s ability to meet them. Consider some of the factors in the workplace ecosystem that are contributing to this situation:

  • The workforce is highly diversified and presents a new set of challenges brought about by outsourcing, global expansion, and the diverse work styles, behaviors, and expectations of a multi-generational workforce.
  • An increasing number of people entering the workforce are seeking on-the-job training and lack the experiences and skills necessary to work with today’s technologies.
  • To manage a workforce with rapidly evolving demographics, managers’ leadership skills need to be highly effective, but all too often it is an endeavor based around trial and error and learning from past mistakes.

The challenge then becomes not just, “How do I offer my employees more learning programs?” but rather, “How do I offer an employee the right learning programs in the right context?” or “How do I identify and provide the needed tools in time to support an employee’s growth?” For starters, this requires more individualized learning programs that tailor training to each employee, spanning positions, career paths, and levels of experience.

Align individual development with organizational goals

Organizational success is no accident. It is achieved through intentional leadership, making the right tools and resources available to employees, and implementing defined processes around real-time personalized development so employees are prepared to solve business problems. Organizations can  realize significant breakthroughs in performance when they graduate from a “usage equals value” mindset (offering more programs and measuring headcount) to an operating model that perpetually promotes continuous learning through engagement and tight alignment.

There are four primary factors that enable organizations to achieve these goals:

  • Engagement—successful engagement in learning programs starts with committed leaders setting the direction and tone. This means objectives are defined up front and continuous improvement on those benchmarks is top of mind.
  • Alignment—the initial step in ensuring proper alignment is involving leadership to determine learning priorities that focus on end results. Similarly, it is essential that you integrate HR with the talent strategy to ensure staff members understand program objectives and are committed to achieving them.
  • Adoption—this translates into many individuals consuming learning resources over time and then actively integrating those skills into their daily activities to improve their personal performance as well as that of the teams they’re involved with. Adaptable, data-driven eLearning programs allow individuals to apply their training on the fly and can scale to meet the needs of every individual across the entire organization.
  • Value—the ultimate test for any learning metric is whether it improves business performance. For learning programs, this means giving individuals a better understanding of their strengths and their opportunities for improvement. Upon seeing measureable improvements in their performance, these individuals can become strong learning advocates and more valuable contributors to the organization as a whole.

Put people at the center of your learning programs

Employees have come to demand a workplace culture that borrows from consumer experience, offering seamless, engaging, and highly personalized opportunities for training and career advancement. When people are able to access the type of learning that suits them best, in the moment of need, they are much more likely to adopt the learning program.

By encouraging this mass adoption, organizations will cultivate a learning-centric company culture from the ground up. The most successful businesses will be “self-developing” organizations, which build learning interactions and activities into the fabric of the organization to drive an end-to-end culture of development. A self-developing organization will experience better individual employee performance, engagement, and satisfaction, and will also yield continuous growth and innovation on an organizational level, ultimately securing their top talent and a competitive advantage.

Reinforce the value of adaptive learning programs for each individual

Achieving success in these areas requires effort. In many ways, it ultimately comes down to how engaging and beneficial each employee finds their learning process to be. This is where contextual learning is so critical. Knowing what content and resources to provide an individual at precisely the right time is what adaptive learning is all about—helping that individual get better at his or her job while they’re doing it. By automating the delivery of the right tools in the moment of need, an individual’s development is not only more relevant, but enables professional development to occur on a larger scale.

Today’s adaptive learning technology brings value to organizations by enabling them to approach learning differently—not counting on its people to be, act, and learn the same. Organizations that want to create a competitive advantage must, by definition, deliver differentiated solutions to their people. As jobs become more and more specialized and the workforce continues to diversify, it is time to leverage advances being made in big-data science to re-invent individualized learning at scale. To increase the productivity of an organization’s talent, that organization must embrace increasingly sophisticated and fully integrated talent expansion suites that put people at the center of learning.

By leveraging a broad range of information about individual employees so as to hyper-personalize the user experience, organizations can drive greater adoption and increase end-user value.

In adaptive learning, context is key

Context-aware software combines situational and environmental information to proactively offer enriched, usable content, functions, and experiences. For learning and development to be relevant, both for the individual learner as well as for the team as a whole, the user’s learning experience should involve personalized recommendations based on past behavior and in the context of their broader roles and functions.

Think about Amazon.com and other consumer websites that drive so many of their sales from suggestions presented after users have made a purchase. Or consider Yelp.com, which curates your information and that of similar users to offer personalized and localized recommendations. Similarly, using contextual learning solutions, you can integrate cross-functional data in human resources systems to recommend appropriate content that will best contribute to people’s professional growth and organizational goals.

We’re on the cusp of a renaissance in training and development—from “one-size fits all” activities to individualized learning programs driven by contextual computing. Context-aware software can provide users with specific actions to improve performance before a skill gap affects his or her work down the road. It can connect that person with others in the organization who have the tribal knowledge needed to become better at a given task. It can tell that person what development activities he or she should explore to prepare for a future job they see themselves in, instead of eventually finding themselves pigeon-holed in one area. It can help managers better schedule their people based on which person might be most effective given their learning history and current skill level. This contextualization not only provides relevant solutions to organizational challenges, but also helps leaders anticipate and prepare for future business challenges as well.

What’s at stake

Ultimately, by leveraging HR and learning analytics, the goal learning and HR leaders have is to understand what training has been most effective. Using that information, they then can implement the programs that drive better personal and organizational performance. In the current competitive landscape, adaptive individualized learning will be the biggest differentiator for companies. The workforce will continue to evolve, which is why the future of learning will not only require that organizations be nimble in their learning and development technology investments, but also invest in the talent that will be the most important asset they have as they continue to grow.

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