How To Put Learners At The Center Of Learning

Graham Glass is the founder & CEO of CYPHER LEARNINGwhich specializes in providing learning platforms for organizations around the world.

As I know from recent holiday shopping, there are times when “one-size-fits-all” garments and gifts can actually be an iffy fit for most.

Just like that boxy, blue sweater—that I bought with good intentions but didn’t fit my wife quite right—a one-size-fits-all approach to corporate training often doesn’t work when you try it on for size. Since the goal is for someone to wear the sweater, or apply the training content, it’s important that what’s given is suited to the individual recipient.

Unfortunately, many of us probably have experienced “death-by-PowerPoint” and “drink-from-the-firehose” training, where you and your colleagues—who likely have different needs, goals, aptitudes, roles and backgrounds—are blasted with. identical content. Perhaps you’ve also plodded through mandatory training on a topic you were. already highly proficient in; this can be a frustrating, demoralizing time suck.

Learning personalization is in order, and as I’ll discuss, it’s easier than you probably think. So, why don’t more companies put individual learners at the center of learning?

Typically, it’s not because they don’t want to. But the idea can be overwhelming for companies. How can they personalize at scale? How much content is needed? Will it be consumed? It can be hard to overcome inertia, gathering momentum to upset the status quo. You need to demonstrate the “why” and commitment from the top down.

Why Relevance Is Key

One compelling reason to personalize training is that it’s what learners want. With 40% of employees planning to leave their jobs in the next three to six months, per findings from McKinsey, employers want to stem the exodus. McKinsey notes that the inadequacy of career development opportunities is a top factor driving attrition.

Effective learning and development programs can result in happier, more productive and more tenured employees. As LinkedIn reports, employees rate “opportunities to learn and grow” as the No. 1 driver of a great work culture.

But slapdash, ill-conceived or cookie-cutter approaches won’t yield the results you’re seeking. The purpose of training is to drive behavior change, so you want learners to want to engage and training to stick. LinkedIn also reports that employees say a top motivator for learning is when “it is personalized specifically for [their] interests and career goals.” How can you accomplish this?


You don’t need to tackle personalization training all at once; consider a crawl-walk-run approach. Here are tips for making learning more learner-centric:

1. Blast Through The Echo Chamber; Involve Learners In Learning Content

Oftentimes, training content decisions are made without consulting learners. But as content consumers, their input is key. To invoke the sweater example, does the person even want one? Or would a T-shirt or hat be better?

Involving learners in decision-making can entail:

• Having employees test out learning technology, including their learning management system and other communication and collaboration tools. Are they intuitive and useful?

• Surveying learners on their needs. Pre-training “needs assessments” can be given not just to managers, but to learners as well. Learn from learners; what do they need?

• Giving post-training surveys. Quizzes show how well employees understand material. But also get their opinions on the format, difficulty level and utility. Are they applying the new knowledge on the job?

• Empowering learners to set goals. Managers can work with learners to set role-specific and career goals. This information can help the company create training programs that factor in skills gaps and career aspirations and decide whether to create training (based on popular goals) or hire.

• Making content inclusive. If you have a global workforce but your training content includes local idioms or examples from just one region, it won’t resonate with some learners. Also, make sure that training is accessible to employees who may have visual, audio or other impairments.

Don’t think, too, that you need to make all training content yourself. You might choose, for example, to create product-specific modules, but rely on course catalogs from a training content provider for various “soft-skills” training.

2. Tap Into User-Generated Content

Learning by the learner, for the learner, also makes training learner-centric. Employees often trust, and are interested in, content from a colleague who’s experienced success.

User-generated content can take various forms: a central video library (with success stories, how-tos, recorded webinars, etc.), Q&A forums and collaborative groups, to name a few.

3. Strive For Variety

Include diverse training formats—video, microlearning, role play, etc.—that reflect your diverse population of learners. You can blend on-demand e-learning with live training, which often works best with highly interactive activities.

Even in cases where the company sets most learning goals, when there is a variety of content and formats, learners can still be given autonomy to select what and how they want to learn to fulfill the requirements—and to set some goals of their own. Coaching sessions, for example, can be tailored to soft skills employees select that meet the needs of their role or career goals.

4. Focus On Skills Development

In today’s business climate, and as automation alleviates some highly manual tasks, employee upskilling and reskilling are strategic priorities. In fact, according to a recent organizational resilience report from Deloitte, 69% of C-level executives whose companies implemented training or rotational programs to reskill workers prior to 2020 said their organizations had weathered the events of 2020 “well” or “very well, ” as compared to their peers.

Skills development can and should be learner-centric, which brings us to our final point.

5. Embrace Technology

Consider letting technology support the task of personalization at scale. Machine learning-based recommendations, for example, can suggest the next best step in an individual’s learning journey (take/retake a course, watch a video, participate in a forum, etc.) and surface content that maps to the learner’s previously demonstrated skills. , career goals and more. This isn’t possible with traditional tools and spreadsheets.

Learning Is For Learners

Use learning to drive change at your organization. By following the tips above, you can offer a learning experience that fits like a glove—or a sized-for-you sweater!

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