True adaptive learning: a crucial component in the next generation of training

What are the keys that should be considered to create highly effective and cognitively engaging training content applying the principles of adaptive learning? How is it possible to achieve deep learning data and the shortcomings in shallow measurement techniques to ensure common pitfalls are avoided? Interview to Glenn Bull.


(@americalearning) Originally from New Zealand, Glenn Bull is the founder and CEO of Skilitics, the creators of the world’s first enterprise training development platform designed for integrated learning measurement. The Skilitics platform is fast gaining attention globally for its disruptive and innovative approach to training design and measurement.


Glenn is the visionary behind this cloud-based solution and spearheads the company’s global strategy. He is also the editor of training comic. He is a member of the eLearning Guild Academy’s Advisory Council. Glenn has presented concurrent sessions at numerous  conferences including ATD’s International Conference & Exposition, TechKnowledge, DevLearn, Learning Solutions, mLearnCon, and Training 2015. Glenn was keynote speaker at the Society of Applied Learning Technologies Conference in 2014 and speaks globally on learning innovation and measurement, including IFTDO 2015 in Asia.


This year Glenn Bull will speaking at several sessions at ATD 2016 (Colorado Convention Center, Denver, US, May 22-25). The title of one of his presentations: “Adaptive Learning: Unleashing the Holy Grail of Deep Learning Measurement”. This session will explain true adaptive learning and how to leverage this methodology to optimize your training engagement, effectiveness, and deep learning measurement within your organization. Glenn will discuss advanced case studies that utilize adaptive learning in areas such as healthcare and finance. He will also discuss the emerging role of the learning architect and the importance this role will have in the future.


Anticipating his conference Glenn Bull said: “The holy grail of corporate training is achieving detailed and credible learning measurement, coupled with an engaging and highly effective learning experience. In order to achieve this, you need to revisit your approach to creating content.


“Adaptive learning uses sound instructional design principles, coupled with emerging technological innovations, to achieve a new level of training sophistication. Adaptive learning is a methodology that intelligently adapts the learning experience to each individual learner, based on the learner's actions, decisions, abilities, and even other external factors. The result is more engaging, effective, and efficient training and reduced cost through a decrease in time for training for the organization.


“More importantly, the dynamic branching nature highlights the critical differences between learners, achieving deep data and enabling truly informed business decision making”.


What are the keys that should be considered to create highly effective and cognitively engaging training content applying the principles of adaptive learning?


  • Design based on the best way to achieve the learning objectives rather than the quickest.
  • Mimic the way learners respond to tasks in real world situations, then deal with each response separately.
  • Avoid using instant feedback - provide the opportunity for the learner to recognize or experience their own mistakes rather telling them they were wrong.
  • Provide simulations and activities with as little instruction as possible – let the learner explore, then provide guidance and drive the direction of the learning based on the data gathered.
  • Don’t be scared to make activities and questions difficult, but always ensure they’re contextually relevant to the learner.
  • Don’t force a learner who is clearly proficient to go through additional content under the guise of “re-inforcement”.
  • When asking questions consider the thought process the learner will need to go through – how will this question force them to think?
  • Make it as real as possible.


How is it possible to achieve deep learning data and the shortcomings in shallow measurement techniques to ensure common pitfalls are avoided? Can you make some suggestions about this?


It is the differences between one learner and another that provide the most significant insights. When a learner incorrectly answers a question, it’s most likely an indication of a gap in their existing knowledge. In a linear learning environment we tend to deal with this by providing feedback. We then have two options, either direct them down the same path as those who answered correctly or, send the learner back to the question and ask them to re-select from the remaining options. In both cases we‘ve just squandered the opportunity to deal with an identified knowledge gap, not to mention having just disengaged the learner by fobbing them off with some feedback they probably didn’t read.


The data in that situation may seem useful on the surface – we know the learner answered incorrectly. However, we don’t know why - nor can we be sure a learner who answered correctly didn’t achieve it by guessing. The data provides no indication of guessing, reasoning, confidence or understanding. Obtaining this level of insight can’t be achieved through one isolated question. Throughout an adaptive learning course we are able to build evidence, utilize empirical techniques and understand the learner’s decisions with the benefit of context.


Adaptive learning provides a data-driven framework capable of achieving more advanced questioning techniques, the opportunity to gather further information when needed and the ability to take all factors into consideration. The data achievable with an adaptive learning course is vast compared to linear learning, however it all comes down to the tool being used to create it.


The analytics we are all looking for won’t be achieved simply by building adaptive learning, it’s a matter of using an adaptive learning platform designed for gathering and analysing data.


Why true adaptive learning is a crucial component in the next generation of training?


We are faced with a growing need to improve the quality of our training. For too long we’ve been using development tools built for the rapid production of simplistic slide based content. These tools tend to target a diverse audience ranging from graphic designers to web developers. This has not only promoted the dumbing down of training content, but has de-emphasized the necessity for solid learning design.


We’ve focused on tracking completions and time spent rather than measuring learning, understanding, behavioral adjustment and competency. We have formed a habit of utilizing statistically flawed assessment techniques which improve the chance of success rather than concentrating our efforts on gathering the intelligence we need to assist our people to grow.


Through a framework designed to respond to data, adaptive learning provides the ability to individualize the learning experience.


The underlying concept focuses our attention on finding and filling knowledge gaps, learning through consequence and experience.


More than anything, adaptive learning sets the stage which allows us to start collecting deep data capable of providing incredible insights due to its inherent nature to detect the differences between learners.  Rather than looking at isolated data, we are able to analyze an entire pathway which enables context.


Adaptive learning allows us to shift our thinking from what a learner did to why they did it.


What are the abilities of better training design to business stakeholders?


The purpose of training in a corporate setting is to increase revenue. The most common cause of training not delivering on that goal is bad learning design. By recognizing existing knowledge we can shortcut learners who demonstrate strengths while at the same time dynamically responding to the needs of those who are struggling. This approach not only increases ROI through reduced seat time, but achieves it while increasing the level of engagement.


When we recognize and respond to individual needs we create a sense of relevance which stimulates engagement – simply put, our learners feel listened to.  As overall learner engagement grows, so too does retention. The flow on effect to all of these things is a thriving training culture.


May 2016