Training Industry

Is Adaptive Learning the Way of the Future? Axonify Thinks So.

  • Is Adaptive Learning the Way of the Future? Axonify Thinks So.

At any given time, training organizations work with learners who are experts in their field and in company policies, subject matter experts who are new to the organization, entry-level employees with no experience in their field, employees with a range of learning preferences and abilities, employees who learn quickly, employees who learn slowly, and employees who don’t want to learn at all.

What’s a training manager to do?

Adaptive learning first came on the scene a few decades ago, but with contemporary technology, it’s easier than ever to personalize learning experiences. Rather than expecting learners to adapt to content, we can now efficiently adapt content to learners. By using platforms that leverage learner data to understand past experiences, training organizations can customize new content and enable learners to control their own professional development.

Research supports the use of adaptive learning. A recent study by Concordia University Chicago found that the university’s use of an adaptive learning platform resulted in improved performance and “deeper understanding.” In 2014, Skillsoft and IBM Research completed an adaptive learning pilot program with 32,000 users and found that personalized learning based on data such as user-content interactions, content relationships and consumption patterns improves engagement.

Adaptive learning can even support leadership development. As author Marcus Buckingham points out in a 2012 Harvard Business Review article, since “leadership is not generic,” leadership development programs shouldn’t be, either. Buckingham writes about a program his company developed with Hilton Worldwide to develop an app that delivers personalized leadership techniques twice a week to managers based on their individual leadership styles. Every time a manager interacts with the app, it adds information to their leadership profile and then provides even more customized content in the future.

This month, Axonify raised $27 million to expand its business, which offers an adaptive “Employee Knowledge Platform” to personalize and measure employee learning. Training Industry spoke with Carol Leaman, Axonify’s CEO, about its platform and its plans for the future, and she provided some insights into the direction the company – and the training industry – is heading.

From the beginning, Leaman says, Axonify took the approach that “one-size-fits-all” learning is not the best way to train employees. Adaptive learning is “essential to maintaining interest…but also to really strategically and surgically close knowledge gaps.” Axonify closes those gaps with its employee knowledge platform, a system that measures what employees don’t know and then provides bite-sized pieces of information to help them develop new skills.

Like others, Axonify’s approach to microlearning is founded in the principles of cognitive science, which dictate that the human brain can only digest and retain four to five pieces of information in one sitting. Axonify’s platform teaches those four to five pieces using short videos or modules and then reinforces key points three to five times a day. Leaman says their programs have helped Walmart save “tens of millions of dollars” by reducing workplace accidents and Bloomingdale’s save millions with loss prevention.

Area9 is another company that has found adaptive learning to be useful in closing knowledge gaps. Last year, for example, its “micro-adaptive e-learning approach” helped Hitachi Data Systems identify learners’ gaps and speed time to proficiency. Ceros and Smart Sparrow are just two more examples of platforms that use adaptive learning to maximize employee knowledge and skill development.

In recent years, the shift from learner-centric to business-centric learning has focused training leaders on strategic alignment. Leaman says the importance of connecting learning to business outcomes will continue to be of vital importance and asserts that Axonify has “cracked that code.” She says that the company is now regressing outcome data to specific individuals’ knowledge and skills, thereby measuring the actual impact of learning on business results. Adaptive learning enables this alignment by ensuring that only the content learners actually need is created and delivered, and by delivering that content more effectively and efficiently.

Axonify plans to use its new funding to grow in every area, from expanding its sales efforts to building new products more quickly. Leaman is “really, really interested and excited” about the offerings Axonify has in its pipeline, and she says the new investment will bring those products to market more quickly and to companies that don’t currently use Axonify’s offerings but that, she believes, would benefit from them. Adaptive learning, as envisioned by Leaman and her company, “elevates every person’s level of knowledge to their maximum potential as soon as possible.” It seems to be the way of the future, and Axonify is fully on board.

About the Author

Taryn Oesch

Taryn Oesch, CPTM is an editor at Training Industry, Inc., where she manages website content. Prior to joining Training Industry, she worked in higher education and wrote for a regional newspaper. She holds a BA in psychology from Meredith College. Connect with Taryn on LinkedIn.

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