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Personalising content - how to help learners find their own way

Personalising content for learners – pointers from the Learning Technology Research Project on how we can help learners find their own way

Category: Microlearning

With advances in delivery and tracking systems, and the use of ubiquitous mobile devices, the recent Learning Technology Research (LTR) Project focused on how we can best harness mobile technology to improve the training and support we give our people. 

We live in an age of information overload and there’s an immense amount of digital content available at our fingertips. How can we use the available technologies to recommend, select and present good quality, relevant content that a learner needs at any particular point in time?

One of the most important things with any form of eLearning, but particularly microlearning, is the concept of personalisation.

Personalisation is the intelligent selection of content relevant to the individual and their particular needs and the presentation back to them in a form that is easy for them to use and consume.

The LTR Project used the creation and delivery of a mobile learning programme delivered to Apps on participants’ smartphones and tablets. The researchers presented the training content as a spaced learning curriculum delivered as small, multi-media learning modules, sometimes referred to as a type of microlearning. The study threw up a number of illuminating insights into how we can personalise content selections for individuals to make them more timely and relevant. 

Learning Technology Research Project App

Learning Technology Research Project App

Download the App for iOS devices, or download the App for Android devices. Alternatively, search 'LTR Project' in your App store.

I’ve examined the LTR Project Report and have had the opportunity to study the source data. I’ve summarised what I see as the main opportunities for personalisation of content below. Some of these are methods not traditionally associated with personalisation. However, with the capabilities now available to us by using mobile devices, and particularly smartphones, important new methods have opened up to us as educators. I want to share these with you.

Personalisation is all about using automated processes within the learning and support platform to sift through available materials. You then use one or more variable criteria to select items that are considered most pertinent to the individual and their needs at a particular physical location, a point in time, or whilst planning or doing an activity.

It sounds complicated, so let’s start with the basics.

Organisation                                         

Simple, you belong to an ‘organisation’ and therefore have access to, and hopefully an interest in, the content of that organisation.

Role

Content can be associated with a role(s). Again, that’s simple and easy to do.

Personalising learning experiences

Special interest groups

We can extend this by allocating or offering optional membership to particular content topic areas. Once again, it’s easy to do.

The process can become a bit more involved with large organisations that have multiple sub-units, regions and roles. But most good, modern, digital learning platforms and LMS-type systems will offer comprehensive solutions that will give you these essential features.

Membership of organisation and roles is really all about targeting content to relevant people and groups.

Personalisation goes further in providing a way of selecting content particularly relevant to the individual at a given time.

Self-selection

This is the obvious starter. Most modern solutions will provide powerful search capabilities that delve into the metadata associated with each piece of content, and have the ability to reach right down inside curricula and sub-modules to find what you are looking for. Add to this the ability to return the search results in an attractive, meaningful and usable way, and self-selection becomes truly useful.

What’s popular? 

We are all familiar with the ‘likes’ and ’thumbs up’ on commercial shopping and social media sites and then being able to sort on the most popular items. However, only a subset of learning platforms and LMS solutions do this. It seems a curious omission because recommendations from your peers is surely one of the most powerful ways to promote the most helpful and popular items of content.

What am I interested in?

This requires the host platform to track and monitor your past content searches and content access history, then use it to find other similar items that you may find useful. Again, we are all very familiar with this in the online shopping world, but learning platforms have been slow to use this type of approach. I think I can understand why – just because I looked at a piece of learning on ‘x’ last month doesn’t mean I want to look at lots of related stuff this month… or maybe it does? Perhaps it depends on the usage scenario in an organisation.

Personalising learning content

Where am I?

Mobile phones have an inbuilt geolocation functionality that can be linked to content selections. Why would you want to do this? In certain selected usage scenarios, this would be valuable – for example, civil engineers visiting flood defences being provided with relevant location schematics; or company site plans and health and safety training for visiting staff.

What am I touching?

Physical interactions with items through QR or bar code scanning, or perhaps RFID (radio chip identification) can be used to prompt the learner with the information they need to do their jobs. For example, a maintenance engineer repairing hospital equipment could receive videos and a manual, or a retail sales assistant could receive product literature or demonstration videos. This is readily provided by linking the LMS to the inbuilt camera and scanner capabilities of many smartphones.

What am I going to do?

Integration to planned work schedules can be used to provide just-in-time training and reference materials to the user. This involves integration to other IT systems, but means that you can now link an employee’s work plan with the relevant training and reference content – and provide it onto the individual’s laptop or mobile device.

Conclusion

Rather than assuming that our learners have to fit in with some big central system, the aim is now to help them more, by putting them right at the centre of the learning experience. Using modern technology means that this is now very achievable and offers a whole new way of looking at programme design and implementation.

Notes:

The Learning Technology Research Project was undertaken at the end of 2016 and examined the learner preferences and the educational impact of a programme of training delivered to Apps on people’s mobile phones and tablets. The programme was delivered at spaced intervals as a set of multi-media microlearning pieces from the Agylia learning management system. User behaviours, experiences and preferences were studied by researchers from Agylia and the University of the West of England. Download your full copy of the report. If you would like to find out more about the LTR Project or the technology used, please email info@agylia.com

Tim Buff
Author: Tim Buff

This article was published by Tim Buff on 14.06.2017. Tim is CEO and Chief Learning Strategist at Agylia. Tim's role is to help people and companies design and implement digital learning strategies - this often involves pushing boundaries to develop innovative and creative solutions.

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