A More Personal Approach to Learning

Sonja Schurig, Product Marketing Manager, DegreedSonja Schurig
Product Marketing Manager, Degreed

Todd Tauber, Vice President of Product Marketing, DegreedTodd Tauber
Vice President of Product, Marketing, Degreed

The age of big data has landed us ina world where we expect every online experience to be personalized to our unique interests and curated for our desires. We take for granted the personal experience presented to us on Facebook and LinkedIn, the recommendations on Netflix, individualized learning content from Cegos, and personalized playlists on Spotify and Pandora. We assume online retailers will only promote relevant products to us, and get frustrated when promotions aren’t relevant. Perhaps the best example of personalization is what you experience when you log in to Amazon. Amazon’s product recommendations seem to hint at telepathic abilities. I see recommendations for products I had no idea existed, but once seen, I must have.
Personalization is a movement with a lot of momentum among consumer websites, and the approach has been wildly successful. In 2012, Amazon reported a 29% increase in sales in its second fiscal quarter, largely due to the personalization strategy it incorporated into every part of the purchasing process. And Amazon isn’t the only one. Nearly 80% of all marketers say personalization has boosted revenue. The personalization movement for consumer websites is now spreading to enterprise software. The trend to “consumerize” enterprise software – make enterprise software more engaging for the end-user – is only in its early stages, but it’s on the rise. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for enterprise software companies to gain traction in organizations without creating a great user experience.
Personalization is an especially critical issue in corporate learning right now. Traditional learning solutions have been corporate- centric, focused on mandatory training and compliance that has resulted in low employee engagement. Half of people surveyed said they use their learning management system (LMS) for voluntary development once a quarter or less. Workers are more likely to turn to a colleague or Google to satisfy their on-demand learning needs [Degreed: How the Workforce Learns 2016]. Personalization and an employee- centric approach to learning is an often-cited trend for 2016 [L&D Global Sentiment 2016]. Research from Bersin by Deloitte highlights that improving the user experience is a main buying criterion for new HR solutions for 67% of people surveyed.
Bersin by Deloitte has published several research reports about the overwhelmed worker. We’re all bogged down with too much information, meetings, and emails. Employees cited not having enough time as the most common obstacle to workplace learning [Degreed, How the Workforce Learns 2016], but at the same time we all know that learning is a critical competitive advantage - something we all need to be doing to compete in today’s market. The solution is a set of tools that can streamline the learning process - deliver the right content, to the right person, at the right time.
Personalization in corporate learning has the potential to revolutionize what companies can offer their employees in terms of tangible career growth. Similar to the product offerings seen on Amazon, what if employees were offered courses, articles, and videos that perfectly aligned with their current and future career goals - saving them the time of searching online, subscribing to blogs, or hunting across various intranet sites in their organization? So why aren’t more corporate learning solutions offering a personalized approach to learning tailored to each individual’s needs? A few are.

There are three main ways to accomplish the goal of a more personal approach to corporate learning:
  1. Manual recommendations, the more traditional form of personalization, are learning and development-directed suggestions based on employee’s roles and business units. An administrator or learning professional sends course recommendations to groups or individuals in the organization perhaps marking certain courses as mandatory. Some platforms allow managers to create personal learning plans for their direct reports.
  2. Social recommendations from friends, colleagues, or managers.
  3. System recommendations based on data about the user.
Most traditional learning solutions can answer personalization using manual tools, where L&D professionals are assigning mandatory training based on roles and business units. But this type of personalization only covers the training that is happening periodically throughout the year. “Social” is another hot buzzword in corporate learning, and tools to facilitate social learning recommendations are on the rise. But most of these tools lack the ability to aggregate social trends, such as learning content that is popular in your network, or popular among people who are similar to you. With the advent of big data and better algorithms for gaining insights, algorithmic- or system- generated recommendations will become more prevalent in the future, streamlining L&D activities while allowing workers to take charge of their own learning.

The future of corporate learning will also need to include personalized recommendations for more than just the formal and mandatory courses traditionally offered in an LMS. If a personalization engine only makes suggestions for formal courses, this will only benefit the user periodically throughout the year.  The reality for companies today is that when workers need to learn something new for their job, they don’t go to their LMS first.
Workers are most likely to ask their boss or mentor (69%) or their colleagues (55%) for direction first. Then they take matters into their own hands. Almost half of the people we surveyed said they search the Internet and 43% browse specific resources online. Just 28% search their employers’ learning systems and only 21% rely on their L&D or HR departments.


Enterprise learning software that utilizes personalization will continue to increase in value and prevalence for government organizations as it has for private companies in the consumer market.


Tauber,  Todd.   (2016). How the Workforce Learns in 2016. Retrieved from Degreed Website: http://get.degreed.com/how-the-workforce-learns-in-2016-report 

Taylor, Donald H. (2016, January 16). L&D Global Sentiment 2016. Retrieved from URL of blogpost: https://donaldhtaylor.wordpress.com/2016/01/12/ld-global-sentiment-2016/ 

Jones, Katherine. (2014). Investments in Human Capital Management Systems 2014: What Technology Users Have and What They Will Buy in the Year Ahead. Retrieved from Website: http://www.bersin.com/Practice/Detail.aspx?id=17361