How the post-Covid world raises the stakes on personalised adaptive learning
Personalised adaptive learning has gone mainstream over the past few years, increasingly recognised for its potential to efficiently and effectively deliver learning and at scale. Today, adaptive learning is embraced as a leading solution to train people at a much faster pace that keeps up with changing business conditions.
Across every industry, companies are changing their business models. For example, in retail, there will likely be greater penetration of e-commerce and omnichannel business models. Restaurants will see a more permanent shift toward curbside and home delivery. Reshoring of supply chains and building strategic stockpiles of critical supplies will rethink logistics. Sustainability and environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives are redefining both business opportunities and how companies operate, including with a greener footprint.
The change will be pervasive, and training must keep pace. Moreover, training must be personalised to meet the needs of each learner, in terms of their backgrounds, education, experience, and existing knowledge and skills.
Separating the good, the bad and the ineffective
Whether in the classroom or remotely, all instruction starts with good learning—that is, the substance of the learning. That fact was brought home, time and again, during the pandemic as K-12 and higher education were forced to pivot from in-person to online instruction. The result was large-scale experimentation in delivering instruction online—and, unfortunately, a widespread failure of e-learning.
It should have been no surprise that e-learning consisting only of publishing lecture notes, videos, or PowerPoints online did not work. Moreover, when in-person instruction was ineffective to begin with, it became even more problematic when that sub-par substance was delivered online. At least with face-to-face interaction, there was a safety net – the ability to glean meaning in context or to ask the teacher a question.
In corporate L&D, ineffective remote learning also compounded a pre-existing problem: widespread dissatisfaction with education and training. A Harvard Business Review article observed that, despite $359 billion spent globally each year on training, ‘not only is the majority of training in today’s companies ineffective, but the purpose, timing, and content of training is flawed’. This problem with L&D continues to persist and points to a major fault in traditional e-learning: a lack of closed-loop feedback to determine what moves the needle on learners’ knowledge and skills. In other words, greater personalisation around what learners already know and what they need to know.
What learners know – and need to know
A critical part of training, especially during times of rapid change, must be to increase employees’ awareness of their knowledge and how confident they feel about what they know. It’s important to understand that every employee, including those who appear to be very good at what they do, has areas in which they are:
- Consciously competent – they are competent, and they are aware that they are.
- Consciously incompetent – they recognise that they are not yet competent.
- Unconsciously competent – they have knowledge but have not fully acknowledged it and/or lack confidence in that knowledge.
- Unconsciously incompetent – they believe they know something but, in fact, do not. Unconscious incompetence is a serious issue in the workplace, potentially leading to errors in quality and safety and customer dissatisfaction.
Given this array of knowledge, knowledge gaps and misconceptions, there needs to be a way for people to identify when and where they feel confident in their abilities to perform their duties, when they need help, and when that need is urgent.
‘Coding’ knowledge and skills needs
The concept of what people know and don’t know, and their awareness, can be illustrated by a three-code ‘triage’ system. In this example, the baseline is Code Green, which applies to tasks and responsibilities that are part of employees’ normal jobs. They are trained to perform these tasks and feel confident in their ability (they are consciously competent) to proceed with what needs to be done.
Code Yellow is for duties that employees believe they can solve but are not yet confident that they have the training or are prepared to accomplish. Typically, the employee’s response is to design a solution, and then seek the approval of a supervisor or an experienced colleague before proceeding. Code Yellow, however, assumes that people know who to talk to on their team or within their organisation.
Code Red is the most critical. Employees are faced with new tasks or responsibilities, and the consequences of a mistake are high. Typically, these are new areas to which employees have never been exposed. They know what they don’t know (they are consciously incompetent) and their natural response is to get help.
To triage themselves, employees must constantly self-assess their knowledge and skills, as well as their confidence in their abilities. Otherwise, in a fast-paced environment in which there is rapid change, or if it is not clear whom they should ask (which can be compounded in a remote work environment), there is the danger that employees may only guess. Over time, such guesses can ingrain errors and reinforce unconscious incompetence.
One way to build conscious competence and build confidence is with remote blended learning, which leverages both computer-based adaptive learning and personal tutoring and coaching. This powerful combination can personalise the experience and allow learners to assess their confidence in their capabilities.
In the process, unconscious incompetence is exposed, and metacognitive skills are shaped to self-assess and encourage continual improvement. In addition, blended learning also provides opportunities for employees to apply their knowledge and skills, thus enhancing retention and building mastery.
The good news is that adaptive learning is already in the corporate L&D vernacular, with greater emphasis as an education solution. The next step is to build on this acceptance by showing that personalised adaptive learning can also help companies with more targeted, effective and efficient training to help their workforces adjust to rapidly changing business conditions. While the challenges of today’s business environment can be overwhelming, adaptive learning with a personalised approach sheds much-needed light, helping to guide people through the uncertainty, with greater competence and confidence.
Ulrik Juul Christensen
Executive Chairman & CEO, Area9 Lyceum