Given how much the world’s employees’ way of working will change over the next decade, it’s no surprise that corporate learning and development needs to evolve as well.

The traditional one-size-fits-all approach to L&D is not nearly as effective in the new work environment as firms find ways to adapt to the needs and demands of the digital economy. In response, L&D teams should see themselves as responsible for building critical digital skills in the workforce and improving the overall employee experience.

Employees’ expectations for what makes a good training program have shifted from wanting simple recommendations of what content they should consume to “customized learning experiences,” based on the challenges they face in their role, their career aspirations and their personal preferences.

This approach requires personalization of the L&D process. L&D teams need to create a relevant, personal interaction for employees that enhance their experience. It should use insight based on the recipient’s personal data, as well as behavioral data about the actions of similar employees, to provide an experience that meets each employee’s specific needs and preferences.

Senior HR and L&D managers should consider this personalization approach before they start investing big sums in new learning technology. Three trends explain why.

1. Evolving employee demographics and the digital workplace mean that learning initiatives will fail to meet expectations without better personalization. Taking into account individual learning styles and preferences (such as visual, auditory, tactile, and gamified) as well as the variety of roles (including those in HR, sales, and IT), it becomes evident that the same standard training for every employee just won’t cut it.

Further complexity is added when learning styles and preferences are layered on top of changing employee demographics and characteristics, such as age, culture and variation of roles. For example, millennials have a stronger predilection for digital technologies than do baby boomers. They have grown up with a high level of personalization in the consumer sector and expect the same from their employers.

L&D teams must recognize the unique needs of each employee and use specific knowledge about them (including their role, preferences, interests and intent) to personalize their learning.

2. Organizations emphasize learner experience but fail to recognize and measure how personalization can improve employee engagement. The pace of innovation, coupled with the emergence of digital and agile technologies, are fast-tracking a growing number of HR transformation initiatives within companies. One such initiative is to use personalization to improve employee experience.

To do this, HR managers use data and analytics to detect behavior patterns and discover correlations in behavior among other employees. As the similarities start to be recognized, employees can then be segmented. This segmentation enables HR leaders to effectively deliver relevant content to employees, which, in turn, leads to greater engagement.

For example, a software platform reviews learning-related data from all software engineers across the organization. If the system finds that a specific software engineer has tended to prefer face-to- face training, it then recommends other face-to-face classes that other software engineers found to be of high value.

When looking to measure and improve employee engagement, it’s important for HR leaders to have an agile, long-term and personalized L&D strategy.

3. Digital business and the internet of things require an increasing number of touchpoints, making contextualized and personalized learning even more challenging. As companies begin to embrace greater digitalization, the blurring lines between physical and digital experiences add more complexity because personalization can now occur across multiple channels. The key for HR managers is to use personalization across the employee life cycle and build a holistic L&D strategy.

But this doesn’t happen overnight — personalized learning is a journey.

Smart personalization goes beyond the simplistic “based on others’ activities, you might find this interesting,” to the application of logic and data to anticipate future behavior or estimate unknown outcomes. Organizations are beginning to see how smart personalization uses analytics to continually assess what is known about an employee and compares it constantly with what is being learned.

As more data is gathered during the learning process, L&D programs can then be retrained to improve the level of personalization.

This column originally ran on the CEB blog site.

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Sharon George

Sharon George

Sharon George, digital marketing specialist at CEB, now Gartner, specializes in content creation and SEO. Over the past eight years, she has covered a variety of topics including HR, sales, marketing and customer service.