What is adaptive training?

Pamela S. Hogle
Smiling woman with short hair, wearing glasses.
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No two learners begin training with the same experience and background knowledge.

No two learners have the same knowledge gaps. And no two learners have the same mastery needs, whether they seek the level of expertise needed to do their current job or an aspirational level of mastery that can help them move up to a more challenging role.

Yet a lot of eLearning feeds the same content to all learners.

Adaptive training takes a different approach — one that starts with recognizing each learner as an individual.

Target the right content to each learner

Wooden blocks resting on a white and pink background. Six of the blocks have icons of people; the remaining block has a set of gears. Four lines are drawn coming off of the gear block and connecting to four of the blocks with the icons of people.

Adaptive learning tools are technologies that “can respond to a student’s interactions in real-time by automatically providing the student with individual support,” according to Decoding Adaptive, a research paper by Pearson Learning and EdSurge.

Adaptive training algorithms target different content to each learner. They use data to do this.

An adaptive algorithm may use data from the learner’s past training performance, as well as performance in a current training course, to identify knowledge gaps and establish what that learner already knows. The adaptive algorithm might then add data on the learner’s mastery goals to the mix. It will generally factor in information on the learner’s job role or goals, too.

All of this data creates a unique snapshot of the learner. It’s an evolving picture: The algorithm updates what it knows about a learner every time the learner completes an activity, takes a quiz, or completes a unit of eLearning. 

Every time the learner engages with training, the adaptive algorithm crunches the data and figures out, from a broad pool of content, exactly the right information and activities to deliver to that learner at that time.

Adaptive training is effective training

Adaptive training works, partly because it frees learners from the tedium of covering content they already know and exposes them instead to challenging and relevant training.

In a paper published in Computers in Human Behavior in 2018, researchers S. Hubalovskya, M. Hubalovskab, and M. Musilek found that adaptive eLearning improved learner effectiveness by reducing wasted time and allowing learners to skip some material.

They stated, “Learning effectiveness decreases with routine completion of simple exercises. Pupils thus lose motivation.” By allowing learners to focus on challenging material and fill in knowledge gaps — rather than cover easy or repetitive material — learners were able to push the edges of their knowledge. And they did so while spending less time on training.

Using adaptive training in a corporate learning setting allows employees to get the training they need quickly, spending less time away from work, while also benefiting from more relevant and challenging training.

Adaptive is different from personalized training

Though the concepts are often conflated, adaptive training differs from personalized learning in a key way: Adaptive training is dynamic.

When training is personalized, it accommodates learners’ preferences for media format, for example, or offers learners control over when and where they take their training. Personalized training might offer learners the option of creating a custom learning path by cobbling together a unique curriculum that will help them progress toward their career goals. While personalizing the experience for individual learners, these options do not change the content that the learner consumes.

Adaptive training zooms in to a much more granular level: In an adaptive paradigm, no two learners receive exactly the same content. The content delivered to each learner dynamically targets specific goals and gaps in that learner’s knowledge at that moment in time.

Boost the benefits: Adaptive microlearning

Adaptive microlearning packages the benefits of adaptive training in a mobile-friendly, engaging, bite-sized package.

Microlearning is popular with modern digital learners because it is flexible and focused. They can get the information they need without a lot of unnecessary additional content. They can get it on demand and on the go. And they can consume it without interrupting their workflow or having to schedule or “go to” training.

Adding adaptive delivery to microlearning is a magical pairing. Easy-to-find, accessible content targets the learner’s knowledge gaps. The content is always relevant and timely. And it’s easy to update, so adaptive microlearning won’t waste learners’ time on outdated information.

Adaptive microlearning is an ideal solution for corporate training, whether for compliance training, onboarding, sales — or any other training need. Pairing flexible, engaging microlearning with adaptive algorithms to meet each learner’s unique needs is a winning strategy to boost performance without wasting time.

Smiling woman with short hair, wearing glasses.
Pamela S. Hogle

An experienced writer, editor, tech writer, and blogger, Pam helps you make sense of learning science and eLearning technology. She provides information you can use to drive improvements in your training effectiveness and ROI.

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