Adaptive Learning: The Future of Corporate Learning

Peter Diamandis, co-founder and chairman of Singularity University, speaking at a Clinton Global Initiative forum in 2014, delivered an eye-opening perspective to Bill Clinton:  A Maasai warrior with Google on a mobile phone had greater access to information than the President had only 20 years earlier. At home and in the workplace today, the unprecedented explosion in access to information has had profound implications, particularly with regard to education. Some would argue it has virtually eliminated the need for employee training; with instantaneous access to so much information, why study something “just in case” it is needed?

Yet the need for employee education is greater than ever. Whether to bridge the gap between college and the workplace, to reskill workers for new roles, or to quickly bring workers up to speed in high-turnover industries, employee development remains vital to business strategy.

Remote working, globalization, and demands for higher productivity have, for more than 20 years, driven companies to turn to e-learning as way to deliver training at scale. The e-learning industry made significant promises about its efficacy, and for a while it seemed like a workable solution. But consistent problems have highlighted the failures of the approach, and have left many organizations with, at best, mixed emotions about “mass-produced” learning.

Despite this, the demand for efficient, impactful, engaging, and cost-effective corporate education is stronger than ever. We believe adaptive learning is the answer. Based on the success of adaptive learning in the academic environment, and our work with early adopters among corporate clients, we are confident that this approach holds great promise for corporate learning and employee training.

Using adaptive learning based on biological models, learning can be molded to each individual’s needs in real time. The result is training that is:

  • Efficient – delivering only what the specific learner needs;
  • Engaging – exploiting the best adult learning and motivational research; and
  • Effective – building objectively measurable competency and proficiency.

The result is a much higher standard for corporate education and training, thanks to sophisticated platforms and more precise delivery of content compared to the e-learning of the past.

The approach has wide applicability, as we have found working with a broad range of clients. Area9 has a long-standing partnership with the New England Journal of Medicine to create courses for physicians to maintain certification, as well as for continuing medical education. Using our platform, Hitachi has created courses for engineers and other technical staff on highly complex products, processes, and services. For Shinola, a retail company, adaptive learning is used to train sales staff in essential areas such as on-boarding, customer service and product training. Lloyds Register, the global services and engineering organization, offers adaptive compliance education to its clients.

Looking ahead, we foresee great appeal for adaptive learning in industries that experience high levels of employee turnover, such as retail, hospitality, and transportation. These sectors tend to be labor intensive, and people entering them often come from very diverse backgrounds. Our biological approach to adaptive learning can meet people where they are, regardless of background, to help them get up to speed quickly and acquire the skills that will make an immediate impact on attaining the organization’s goals.

Adaptive learning could also help transform corporate recruitment and employee development. Instead of requiring two- or four-year college degrees for employees, corporations could use adaptive learning to offer “micro-accreditation” in specific areas. This would allow people to increase their skills and improve their competencies in smaller increments, while making themselves more attractive to employers on an ongoing basis. Learners also experience satisfaction as they gain greater proficiency and new skills.

Gartner, the business IT consulting firm, has identified adaptive learning as the number one technology that will make a difference in corporate learning. Why? Because every organization is challenged to accommodate the varied experiences, knowledge, and skills that individuals bring to the workplace. With such diversity, how could a training course be effective using a static e-learning course with the same material pushed out to everyone, regardless of skill level or experience in a particular area or subject?

Far better are the most advanced adaptive learning approaches, in which the learning is carefully adapted and personalized to each learner—from those who grasp the material easily and progress quickly to those who struggle. The system, itself, provides help as needed, as if each learner has a personal tutor. Imagine what this would mean for organizations with thousands of employees all over the world: each would receive the specific training required to perform at an exceptional level. That’s the potential of the newest generation of adaptive learning.