When I think about personalized learning experiences, I think of bedtime with my kids. In order to engage them in storytelling, we made the experience personal by making up our own stories. I’d start the story and they would add to it and we’d each continue in turn, bringing in people and places we knew. Not only did it make it fun as no one quite knew the outcome, but it was also a journey they had a say in and could relate to. I guess much like the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books that were so popular some years ago.

Those books allowed kids—who were used to being told what and how to read—the opportunity to take control of the storyline and determine the fate of their favorite characters. The series created a personalized, engaging reading experience that got kids interested and motivated to read.

The same thing that ignited a passion for reading amongst millions of school kids can be applied to corporate learners today. To deliver learning that moves the needle on performance, learning experiences should be interesting, meaningful and relevant. But how do L&D leaders cater to that at scale?

Here are five ways L&D leaders can personalize the learning experience to engage learners, boost performance and meet L&D objectives:

  1. Target the WIIFM (“What’s In It For Me?”)

Learning has to be relevant. For learning to be effective, employees need to be able to relate to it on a personal level. It could be applicable to their current role, goals and career path—or their life in general as the blurring of work and life is increasing. With increasing cognitive load, no one has time to go searching for what they need; intelligent systems need to do the leg work for them. Know the person, know what’s important to them, know their cadence, and in doing so you’ll understand when’s a good time to surface learning that’s relevant.

Directly connecting learning to an employee’s personal goals, as well as to the organization’s overall business objectives, brings greater L&D success. In fact, recent research from Brandon Hall Group found that 54 percent of companies with high-impact learning programs connect learning to personal objectives—compared to just 8 percent of their low-impact peers. Using talent management technology that links learning activities to performance objectives can help crystallize this connection for employees as well.

If employees don’t see the value in what they are being asked to learn, they will either not participate in the training or, in the case that it is mandatory, begrudgingly endure it. When learners do understand what’s in it for them, they bring their best selves to the table, they carve out time to participate, and they are engaged and motivated to learn. Context alone, however, doesn’t forego the need for the learning to be a great experience; the consumerization of learning has left us no choice in that matter.

  1. Enable Self-Driven Learning

According to the LinkedIn 2018 Learning Trends Report, 58 percent of employees prefer to learn at their own pace, while 49 percent prefer to learn at the point of need. And intuitively this makes sense: After all, who understands an employee’s development needs, interests and goals better than the employee him or herself?

For employees to stay motivated and engaged, they need to be given the keys to drive their own learning and career development. Instead of prescribing learning content, L&D teams must become curators of content, creating an environment that allows employees to create their own learning experience while also staying aligned to organizational objectives. It’s a “do it yourself, but not alone” approach—and it’s what modern learners crave.

As Brad Beacom, Vice President-Senior Systems Consultant at MUFG Union Bank N.A. notes, “Gone are the days of just searching for learning within a corporate system, or simply expecting that your people will learn when you tell them to.” To facilitate self-driven learning, his organization creates dynamic, personalized learning paths in its learning management system (LMS) that empower employees to learn on their own, while also aligning learning outcomes to business goals.

  1. Harness the Power of Informal Learning

Learning resources have come a long way since the once-ubiquitous, black-and-yellow “For Dummies” books found in every bookstore and library of the ‘90s. People now have instant access to relevant, targeted, interesting content that will help them perform their jobs better—and it comes in the form of informal content like webinars, blogs, podcasts, and TED talks. But instead of mistakenly taking a hands-off approach to informal learning—believing it doesn’t need or lend itself to structure—savvy L&D professionals harness the power of informal learning to engage learners and drive efficiencies.

When L&D leaders take an active role in informal learning by creating a central place where learners can share and collaborate on informal content, learning becomes more relevant and impactful. Modern technology can help organize informal content, make it more easily accessible by the wider organization, and track its impact on learning and performance outcomes. A learning platform that supports both informal and formal learning allows employees to take advantage of the wide variety of learning available on the web, add it to their learning plans, and collaborate and share it with the rest of the organization.

  1. Create a Culture of Experimentation

Employees are busier than ever, but it’s important to find ways to give people the time and space they need to learn new skills and pursue learning opportunities that interest them. By creating a culture of continuous development—one that is actively supported and modeled by managers and senior leaders—employees are more likely to be able to justify taking time away from their “day job” for personal development.

Employees also have to be given a learning environment where it is safe to explore and take risks. Encourage a growth mindset, praise employees that try something new, offer plenty of opportunities for employees to have learning experiences without fear of failure, and look for ways you can eliminate the fear of failure in your existing learning programs. In a hackathon, for example—the sprint-like event first made popular by tech firms, often lasting just 24 hours—a team of individuals come together to develop an innovative solution to a specified problem. But in the hackathon, failure is okay, expected, and actually even celebrated. Find more ways to celebrate failure: it means your people are learning and growing.

  1. Offer AI-Driven Learning Recommendations

From Netflix to Spotify to Amazon, all of us have become accustomed to increasingly sophisticated, tailored consumer experiences in our daily lives thanks to the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Personalization is the name of the game and we expect the same modern, consumer-grade experience at work. But while you’d be hard-pressed to find anybody that would say personalized learning is a bad idea, delivering personalized learning at scale is where many L&D leaders—especially those in larger organizations—seem to get tripped up. Fortunately, this is where AI shines.

Bringing AI into the content creation and delivery process allows organizations to customize the learning experience to each learner’s unique needs, interests, preferences and aspirations. A modern talent development platform with predictive analytics capabilities can play a huge role in creating “smart” personalization by offering intelligent learning recommendations for each learner, surfacing content that will help them in their current role—and help them get to the next step in their career.

As Jo-Ann Zafonte, SVP of Global Talent Solutions at FCB adds, “The ability to adjust content and experiences based on individual interests is important for consumers in today’s world. Why should this be any different for the experience of our employees?”

Creating the Ultimate Learning Experience

In Brandon Hall Group’s 2018 Personalized Learning Survey, 95 percent of respondents said personalized learning improves the link between learning and individual performance. Instead of the one-size-fits-all, “build it and they will come” approach to learning employed by L&D leaders of decades past, the new era of learning and development is all about creating personalized, tailored experiences for learners. With the five tips outlined above, you’ll be on your way to implementing a high-impact learning strategy that engages, motivates and inspires the modern learner—while also delivering training that fuels better business performance.

Author Bio: Andrea Miles VP of Digital Content, Saba Software

As VP of Digital Content at Saba, Andrea Miles designs beautiful learning experiences that connect with individuals and help change people’s lives. She has 25 years in learning experience across a variety of digital and communications roles including a number of executive positions in leading European digital learning companies including Epic, Edvantage Group, and Lumesse. Andrea has immense energy and passion for learning and is constantly seeking new insight to challenge the status quo and bring fresh thinking to her global clients.