by Amy Ransom

“Great Scott, Marty!  It’s a Teaching Machine and it will dramatically change the way people learn in the future.” – Doc Brown could have said in the opening scene in the movie, Back to the Future. 

You do not need a DeLorean with a flux capacitor to see how far Learning has come in the last seventy years.

Let’s travel back in time to the 1950s when cars had tail fins, sock hops were in full swing, and hanging out in malt shops was the Bee’s knees. Surprisingly, the beginning of technology-assisted adaptive learning was also a product of the ’50s.

In 1954, BF Skinner came up with the idea of the “Teaching Machine” to accommodate the variable learning rates and attention spans of students.

Now, let’s continue our time travel together through the decades as learning evolves. The theory behind Skinner’s Teaching Machine didn’t really change in the ensuing years, but the technology used to drive learning advanced by leaps and bounds. Today, the learning process can be significantly tailored to the individual in what now is called Adaptive Learning.

According to LinkedIn Learning’s 2021 Workplace Learning Report, 64% of L&D professionals globally agreed that Learning & Development was a critical corporate strategy in 2021. The report goes on to share that L&D leaders have ranked their top three priorities as 1. Upskilling and Reskilling 2. Leadership and Management and 3. Virtual Onboarding.

Adaptive Learning is proving to be a highly effective method for addressing the wide variety of learning demands within an organization. The LinkedIn Learning report indicates that employees at all levels of an organization are on the hunt for ways to improve their skillsets. But one size does not fit all; learning must be laser-focused, engaging, relevant, and effective use of time.

Learning leaders are searching for avenues that will meet the needs of today’s learners. With rapid advancements in technology, performance solutions can be built to drive business goals using Artificial Intelligence (AI)-enabled adaptive learning and a gamified approach to pushing content, challenge questions, and application exercises to learners every day. Many organizations are leveraging adaptive learning to create the forward momentum that both employees and senior management are demanding. AI offers the ability to adapt to the confidence level and comprehension of each individual learner. Experienced learners can move quickly through familiar content, while novices can do a deeper dive into their areas of interest. Each learner will gain the greatest benefit because it adapts to their unique needs and deficits and moves quickly through the areas of content mastery.

What does adaptive learning look like in real life? Here’s a case study where adaptive learning was the right solution for a dramatic business need:

The commercial division of a large pharmaceutical company was faced with a significant marketplace shift – one of their key product offerings was going to have a competing product in place in an 18-month time frame. The leadership team wanted to install a Sales Performance Solution to ensure their reps were well-prepared to articulate the value proposition of their product and be positioned to drive successful outcomes in a competitive landscape.

The first step was to analyze their current state against their future needs and identify the skills and knowledge the sales team would need to compete successfully. The outcome of that analysis was the design of a Sales Performance Solution to drive the business goal of retaining market share. The solution included AI-enabled adaptive learning and a leader-led gamified approach that pushed content, challenge questions, and application activities to the sales teams daily. Teams could interact and compete to earn points that were displayed on a leaderboard.

Measurement was a key factor of the design, with monthly checkpoints at all levels of the organization. From the executives to the individual reps, everyone in the organization participated in the program. Leaders held their teams accountable for progress weekly.

The results speak for themselves.

The idea that everyone needs the same training has gone by the wayside. With the right technology in place, learning can happen anytime and anywhere, on any kind of device. Spacing out learning over time and adding knowledge checks along the way to evaluate the understanding of key concepts helps grow learners’ confidence. Through this transformative process, brain science can be harnessed through powerful AI-based adaptive learning and gamification to make sure employees remember to do the things that will ultimately drive business results.

What we learned in 2020 has only been reinforced so far in 2021. There will not be any going back to “normal”.  Normal these days means being agile, working remotely, juggling work life and home life at the same time, finding new ways to be innovative and stay connected. Adaptive Learning is part of what normal learning and development have become. Technology can only take us so far, however; people still learn from other people. The data and analytics set the pace and navigates the individual learner’s journey, the pull-through and application cannot be skipped. A human connection is needed to foster a positive and productive learning experience. Effective coaching can break down barriers that hold individuals back from achieving their full potential. Empathetic feedback and skillful guidance will set your team on a path to their best performance, which in turn will lead to a positive business impact.

Amy Ransom

With more than 15 years of experience in the field of performance improvement, Amy Ransom delivers a fresh perspective to every interaction. Her objective is to help business leaders identify and bridge organizational gaps in order to accelerate positive business impact. Amy is an Associate Vice President at PDG.

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