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The Age of Adaptive Learning

Ryan Laverty
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The way we approach learning, as organizations, sets us up for failure. Training needs are changing rapidly, while our approach to training is stuck in the past. In learning, the only thing we can count on is that it will change again, leaving us with lower relevancy than ever before. Instead of trying to predict what content will be needed next, let’s ask what learning systems can be prepared for anything. Welcome to the Age of Adaptive Learning

The way we approach learning, as organizations, sets us up for failure. Training needs are changing rapidly, while our approach to training is stuck in the past.

We’ve all heard the studies on the skills gap, the millions of employees displaced, and the need to adapt. According to McKinsey, COVID-19 has only accelerated these trends, with 87% of executives seeing skills gaps but less than half having a way to address them.

Paired with these studies are rollouts of prominent training programs to “fix” the re-skilling problem.

The problem with this approach, however, is that we tend to focus more on changing our training materials than changing training fundamentally. In learning, the only thing we can count on is that it will change again, leaving us with irrelevant and ill-prepared for the unpredictable.

Learning’s supply side problem

In the Disruption Dilemma, Josh Gans mentions two kinds of disruption: Demand-side, where businesses are disrupted by missing what consumers want, and supply-side, where businesses are focused on their existing competencies and incapable of building new ones, often due to a global supply chain.

The world of learning and development is no stranger to demand-side shifts. Every new industry requires new skills, and professionals are left wondering how to train the masses.

But what if we’re looking at it all wrong? What if learning’s rapid requirement shifts should be addressed as a supply-side problem rather than a demand-side one? Proven content and institutions can take a long time to develop, as difficult to shift as the global supply chains that build t-shirts and iPhones. Hence, the constant reskilling gap.

Instead of trying to predict what content will be needed next, let’s ask what learning systems can be prepared for anything. Let’s focus on building an adaptive learning system.

Making learning adaptive

A new world of highly adaptive learning needs to meet a few requirements:

Speed to deploy

The modern content library is like a college course: well researched and thorough, but often outdated and difficult to build. When a new subject area arises, learners are at the mercy of their educator’s speed-to-production.

In academia, this involves a professor submitting curriculum, getting accreditation, and building out a semester’s worth of content. In L+D, this involves waiting on a content provider or learning designer to build hours of rich video content or gamified learning experiences, often with a high production value.

Both approaches sacrifice speed for depth, which doesn’t work well when industries are changing by the week. Students of YouTube videos and TikToks will be well-versed at the forefront of new information. These students sacrificed production quality for speed of information, and won.

New content tools and mediums will need to be cost and time-efficient, prioritizing getting the latest info to the learner over a deep, expensive experience. In the long run, we also may not have to sacrifice a deep and meaningful learning experience -- it may just look different than we’re used to.

Adaptive content tools

In addition to fast deployment, new lessons will need to be highly adaptive. What’s the point of pushing out a lot of content if it has to be changed every year?

Content will need to be modular, so learning designers can place relevant and timely information in previously outdated trainings. Imagine if every course from financial literacy to design thinking could be updated with the latest studies and practices in minutes

Is there a new TED talk that’s making headlines? A new case study or article that a training would be incomplete without? Updating training should be as easy as copy and paste.

These tools will transform the role of learning designers as well. Without the burden of high production value, they’ll become master curators, focusing solely on getting the most important, relevant, and engaging information into the final content cut.

Frictionless, accessible delivery

Fast and adaptive content only works well if learners actually read it. In an adaptive learning approach, learners will be queued into an existing delivery method like SMS, WhatsApp, Slack, or Teams, meaning that managers and trainers can focus on content rather than deployment.

The delivery method will also be frictionless, meeting learners in a medium they’re familiar with and eliminating the need for any sign-up or third-party platform.

Imagine a global workforce opted into learning curriculum by time rather than just subject, with their trusted teachers deploying the most prescient information every single day.

For these learners, learning is not a task but a habit.

How we make this happen today

This all sounds great in theory, but surely there are reasons for such legacy systems. For specialist learning, such as in academia, content may not adapt on the fly.

For these arenas, however, the need to work with an adaptive learning system is crucial. A doctor perfecting their craft needs to stay as up-to-date with the latest in industry as an employee receiving their mandated training. All learning systems, depending on content and audience, will either be partially or fully adaptive.

At Arist, we’ve built out the system that makes all of this happen. Backed by top learning research and experts, learning designers get a simple yet powerful LMS and learners get a frictionless, microlearning experience that meets them where they already are: via text message.

We’ve created supply chains and hiring practices that can adapt in an instant, but haven’t designed a learning system that does the same. We built Arist because employees and trainers deserve a fundamentally better tool, one with instant speed to deploy, infinitely adaptive content, and frictionless delivery to any learner.

We’ve just started to roll out this future of learning, and we hope you’ll join us.

Here’s to learning better,


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