Just a spoonful of personalisation in eLearning…

by Melany Blackwell

What is personalisation in eLearning? Remember Mary Poppins’ carpet bag of goodies? It contained exactly the right thing at the right time, for the right situation and audience. Imagine having that bag and all its belongings handy in learning and development. What would come out of it?

Digital learning offers fascinating alternatives if you are using the latest tech authoring tools for personalisation in eLearning.

What if you could offer learning that leaves the learner wondering, ‘How did they know? It’s exactly what I needed right now!’ Well, to a certain degree, you can. If you know to ask the right questions and use the latest technology, you can make your learning ‘just so’, through personalisation.

Personalisation in eLearning is an important aspect in digital learning design
Personalisation in eLearning – where are you on the opportunity spectrum?

Digital learning solutions with their large bandwidth of media and the latest customisation options truly enable big leaps in meeting your learner where they are, with the content they need.

Know your learners and what influences them

Personalisation in eLearning, of course, starts with understanding who your learners are and why, when and how they need to access the learning. Organisations still choosing to shepherd entire branches into all-staff training sessions are missing out on incredible opportunities to make their learning investment go the extra mile through personalisation efforts. In our experience, the upfront investment of learner cohort analysis and exploration of non-traditional learning offerings to suit them is a cornerstone for modern learner engagement.

The learner analysis will uncover what differentiates the different learner personas’ needs and what are some commonalities that you can use for synergies, i.e., what can they all learn in the same way and what portion needs to be divided into cohort-specific content?

Choose modern learning design tools that can personalise at scale

Contrary to face-to-face training, where the entire room of learners listens to the same case study example or perhaps works through a handful of scenarios in break- out groups, digital learning offers fascinating alternatives if you are using the latest tech authoring tools. In this, our new digital-learning reality, you can have learners watch a video with a question popping up at time stamp 01:20:00. Depending on the viewer’s answer, the video will resume at different points and only show content relevant to the individual viewer. This may sound like a complicated feature to create, but it is just a plug-in readily available in top-tier authoring tools. For personalisation in eLearning, all you need to do is upload your branching video segments in one file and identify the branching points through the video’s time codes.

Think beyond your LMS or intranet for broader access and better learner experience

Another way to personalise your learning is by empowering your learners to access learning when and where they need it. For example, just before an important meeting or to refresh product knowledge to upsell while attending to a retail customer’s needs.

When you use device-agnostic authoring tools, your content will work on any platform and reach even locally dispersed cohorts. There are tools that enable that without extra coding around breakpoints. All your instructional designers will have to determine is whether a certain image should be replaced with another one for a smaller screen, as might be needed for complex diagrams.

Develop once, personalise by brand

Large, umbrella-brand organisations can take advantage of personalising a learning resource for one brand and rolling it out to ‘like audiences’ in their daughter/sister companies. The branding switch happens by simply applying different branded themes to the learning content in the authoring tool, making tedious rebranding of content a story of the past.

Provide career-specific learning pathways

Modern capability development frameworks are linked into smart learning ecosystems for people to tap into. Create some logical pathways in people’s careers and offer curated content dependent on their specific development needs. As a result, people feel supported and able to pull the learning content when they want. This supports timely, job-specific learning and also satisfies curious life-long learners.

This type of personalisation in eLearning can be expanded to a virtual one-on-one mentor or coach – letting your staff select their online coach or mentor best suited to their learning journey. Let them discover ‘a day in the life’ of someone who started the job one year or ten years ago or learn the information through the specific lens of the most relatable persona.

Use accessibility functions for user preferences

Wherever it makes sense according to the diversity requirements or context of the learning piece, achieving accessibility to level 2.1 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) should be your standard approach. When you apply accessibility practices in your learning from the start, your users will have more opportunities to tailor their learning experience to what they prefer and need. For example, some learners may prefer to refresh on some learning while commuting on the bus, so closed captions will be helpful to have.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is an internationally recognised standard created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The purpose of the WCAG standard is to define how to ‘… make web content more accessible to people with disabilities. Accessibility involves a wide range of disabilities, including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, language, learning, and neurological disabilities…These guidelines also make web content more usable by older individuals with changing abilities due to ageing and often improve usability for users in general.’
Find out more at www.accessibility.org.au/guides/what-is-the-wcag-standard/

Offer branching case studies for different learner personas

When you have to address the question, ‘what will this mean for me in my role?’, branching case studies offer meaningful learning experiences that users can relate to. The art of efficiently creating these types of scenarios is to get the scope right between ‘just enough’ backstory with persona journeys, without adding too much padding that does not drive the core message.

We believe it is high time to consistently harness the power of digital technology to make learning the best it can be, for all learners. Unlike a group of learners in a room, online learning can be, and should feel like, a tailored one-on-one personalised experience.

Are you using the right tools to create personal learning experiences? Where are you on the personalisation in eLearning opportunity spectrum?

This article originally appeared in Training & Development magazine, June 2021 Vol. 48 No. 2, published by the Australian Institute of Training and Development.

Crisis L&D: Delivering high-quality learning, fast

by Melany Blackwell, co-founder and CEO, App-eLearn

The email arrived on a Wednesday afternoon. Critical training needed to be rolled out to a large cohort of several thousand people on Monday morning – on a shoestring budget. It was a high-profile project. The training was a matter of saving lives.

So, with no time to lose, it was a case of roll-up-the-sleeves and get it done well and fast. But how do we produce a quality learning resource under such constraints?

Crisis L&D: Keyboard with emergency key in red

Mission impossible?         

What sounds like an impossible scenario can be a harsh reality in times of crisis. Need we mention ‘COVID- related training’ and its impact on the way we do business since 2020?

Learning and development teams can be valuable champions of crisis communications and training if they are able to build on their strengths and can adjust their usual modus operandi. So, here are a few considerations to aid a successful high-profile crisis training project.

Think basics during crisis L&D

The need for speed leaves no room for L&D business as usual – which normally comes with planning cycles to design eLearning courses and training programs intended for a long shelf life in a learning management system (LMS).

What is needed during a time-critical crisis is a rapid development piece, homing in on the core message to be conveyed. Ask, ‘what does the minimal learning solution look like that covers all a learner needs right now?’

Who? Where? What? How?

Communication and training channels during a crisis may differ from where people normally access their training. When there is a need to deliver training to thousands of learners within days, face-to-face sessions are unlikely to be an option (especially during the peak of COVID), so digital is the way to go.

The learning piece needs to be able to be deployed across all necessary and existing channels and devices, with minimal bandwidth and fit for purpose for the situation at hand. The channels can be an organisation’s own LMS, LRS or social learning platform, but may also need to include access through mobile and web channels. The chosen learning format needs to cater for a full suite of diversity and accessibility without delay.

Clear-cut processes   

It is important to assign clear, uncomplicated review cycles and accountability for content development. There is no room for a substandard performance in learning design, accessibility issues or unplanned technical complications when it comes around to delivery time on the Monday morning.

The same principle applies to input from subject matter experts and ensuring stakeholder reviews are tightly managed. Look for the shortest route to obtain definite, authoritative sign-offs on technical matters. Should in- house team capacity or skill be a threat to the project, engage trusted learning vendors with a proven track record of being able to deliver high quality fast. A job like this one cannot afford to go wrong – people’s lives were at risk.

Tools and resources       

Crisis L&D is not the time for long storyboarding or designing learning artefacts in an iterative, agile way; this is the time to be on-point with key learning messages. Think repurposed photography, rapidly produced video and illustration, and eLearning authoring tools that offer the flexibility to carry them all.

Use authoring/design tools with templates, a range of interactivity effects that are accessible, responsive and platform agnostic – and that inexperienced learning authors could operate under remote instruction if required. If mobile deployment is needed, choose an authoring tool that is natively fully responsive, without the need to recode or manually adjust break points for different screen sizes.

L&D teams are on a front line during this pandemic.

Melany Blackwell, Co-founder and CEO, App-eLearn


Typically, in a crisis, a watertight way to see who has completed the training is needed. Whatever learning platform and authoring tool is used, the end product needs to seamlessly integrate learning analytics and big- data tracking into existing systems for fast and detailed reporting.

L&D teams have become much better at learning analytics over the past few months; some have learned about, and adopted, xAPI. Those teams will be ahead of the game in deploying rapid learning pieces with solid granular trackability for compliance and performance measuring purposes.

L&D teams are on a front line during this pandemic. They can be a catalyst for rapid development of quality crisis learning artefacts if they build on their wealth of experience, embrace tools which support rapid development using easy-to-use pre-built templates, with automation around responsive design and learning analytics.

In our high-profile crisis case, the COVID-related training was indeed delivered Monday morning and it was accessible immediately from any location, any device, automatically capturing learner data and completions for analytics.

Months later, we are able to validate that the training was timely and effective. As L&D professionals, we were rewarded in knowing our training played a critical role in keeping staff trained, and in turn, our crisis L&D helped save lives.

This article originally appeared in Training & Development Magazine, March 2021 Vol. 48 No. 1, published by the Australian Institute of Training and Development.