Personalization, freedom and choice: the keywords of this year’s LTSF

July 22, 2019 Aneta Stokes

During this year’s Learning Technology Summer Forum I wandered from one seminar to another, taking notes, constantly repeating the words: microlearning, personalization, mobile, AI, VR, and a sprinkle of self-education. It wasn’t the first time I had a strong sense of existence of two parallel worlds: a world of interesting discussions, guided by an understanding of the basic needs and behavior of learners, but remaining mainly in the area of ideas, and a world – as Cathy Moore put it – of Testland, built from blocks of several-hour-long modules, covered with dumps of content, with single amusement parks in the form of rusty drag & drop carousels.

Can these worlds meet? The starting point of many of the speeches was pessimistic: we’re going down, e-learning is on the losing end of the answer to the question “where do you learn at work?” In turn, the answer “because I don’t have time”, given (statistically most often) to the question “why not e-learning?”, is actually just a polite excuse. Give me a break from all this e-learning, there’s nothing in it for me.

“For everyone” means “for no one”

Why aren’t users enthusiastic about LMS? At LTSF it was diagnosed as: because they’re like traditional TV, where everyone gets the same thing, in the same form and length, and — if they want to have a choice — they can at most turn off the sound. Because they’re flooded with a sea of content in which no one can find their way. Because LMS is designed for administrators, not for users they don’t know anything about, except that they “have to get all the knowledge.” Meanwhile, today’s users watch Netflix and select series from a list of personalized recommendations, review playlists on Spotify created according to their preferences, and — if they want to learn something — reach for tutorials on YouTube or quickly check an article recommended by Google. They’re learning all the time, but according to their own rules and preferences. You don’t have to force them to do that by blocking navigation on the screen.

User, who are you?

At the conference, the word “personalization” was on everyone’s lips. Artificial Intelligence is only shyly looking into the world of L&D, but many platform providers claim that AI is the future. So, we test machine learning and chatbots, which collect and analyze users’ data: their preferences, needs, interests, roles. Learning Experience Platforms (EdCast, Cornerstone) have the ambition to overshadow traditional LMS by being able to create a personalized list of recommendations for each user (based on what they’ve already viewed or liked, what goals they’ve marked in their profile, or what users with similar interests have watched), while capturing materials from the Internet and allowing the user to post certain content. They treat users as consumers, whom you need to get to know well and attract. How? By giving them exactly what they’re looking for. There and then.


Recently popular microlearning isn’t about shredding something that would once be a single four-hour course into smaller pieces and sending it out to “all employees”. It’s about creating many short and personalized training elements. It’s designing entire training campaigns, instead of a single course, in which users receive these elements at different times and in different forms (an element of such a campaign might be a short course as well as an e-mail, a survey, an article, a video, or simply a book recommendation). Learning Pool talked about such campaigns, and MicroLearn was also one of the exhibitors — guess their specialization.

We talked a lot about videos at the conference: platforms are being created that specialize solely in placing content in this form (Panopto), some e-learning companies are turning towards producing predominantly this type of material (SABA). Video (understood as all kinds of short films and animations) fits perfectly into microlearning. A well-designed video: operates on emotions, doesn’t beat around the bush like a welcome-to-the-course narrator, and reinforces the message of what’s important. Furthermore — and with the spirit of personalization in mind — the employees themselves are encouraged to create video content: adding to the course a cellphone recording of an experienced employee giving a few short pieces of advice on a given topic will have a greater impact than many popup modules.

Send it and... have trust

Attention: now for the hard part. Alright, let’s have personalization, let’s have microlearning, but users “HAVE TO KNOW.” They also have to pass, they have to spend at least 10 hours learning, they have to get a certificate — it’s required by law — and such procedures are unavoidable, but let’s face it: we all know that pretending that “they passed the test, so they know” and “they passed all the modules, so they’ve learned” is creating some kind of parallel world of illusion.

Here, we’re looking at the so-called self-determined learning (Jane Daly from Towards Maturity spoke very well about it). She puts it quite simply: no tricks used in the training course will force participants to learn anything if they don’t want to do it. So, do they? More often than we assume. But on their own terms. They want things that will be useful. Things they need here and now. To sell a product well, they don’t need to know the history of its development in South America. They’re adults, they know their job; if they need anything, they’ll just get it.

What is the main task of training and platform designers in this context? To investigate who these users are and exactly what they need. To prepare it in a digestible form, and show them where they can find it quickly. That’s it. Control over the rest is in the hands of the “consumers.” contact

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