Some days I feel like Rip Van Winkle, waking from a long sleep to see the world changed around me. Unlike Rip, I haven’t been physically asleep but more mentally blocked, not seeing the subtle changes around me until I trip over them. One major shift that impacts my own business practice is what I shall call the personalization of organizational learning.

Personalized learning and development looks like this: I need to know something and I want the opportunity to learn it now, not tomorrow, next month or next year. Now, preferably in my workspace, at my own pace, with content tailored to my specific needs and requirements.

Wow. What happened to course catalogs offering programs for an entire year out? You need to brush up on delegation skills? I can give you a 3-day program in a city far away in 6 months. In the meantime, just wing it.

What is astonishing when seen in today’s work context is how long that learning paradigm worked. People would author annual individual development plans then chip away at the coursework for an entire year or more. Budgets had to be loaded with dollars for travel, staff had to cover the absence when people were away. Most importantly, the learner had to take 3 days’ worth of generic content and figure out how to apply it to their own situation. Marvelously inefficient.

Here are some of the hallmarks of learning and development today:

  • Employees own their own development based on their current job and future aspirations. They need help from their manager to assess their current skills and identify deficiencies to address but they drive the plan.
  • Plans are made and adjusted continuously, not on an annual basis. Change is too rapid today to make a year-out view accurate. Learning needs to be just-in-time, and location agnostic. This translates into virtual platforms, be it podcasts, videos, virtual classrooms, document libraries, virtual learning groups, and so on.
  • Since there is bad as well as good online, organizations need to create an online share space for curated learning. If someone discovers a great podcast or online video on a topic, let them share it with others. This could even spark learning teams who tackle common learning needs together and curate good solutions.
  • Incorporate human interaction learning such as virtual mentor relationships that allow the learner to bounce ideas off an expert in an interactive, live dialogue.

The bottom line is to embrace virtual as the means to provide personalized learning experiences. Between telecommutes and altered work schedules, face-to-face live programs are nearly impossible to make effective. Invest in collaboration tools, share sites, and video technology to allow staff to design their learning to be customized, personal and effective.