I’ve been wanting to write for some time about the customization of, well, everything. I think it’s fascinating that so much can be customized to your very specific, individual tastes. Personalization is in virtually everything we do.

Movies/television? Give Netflix a go.

Music? Check out Pandora.

Hungry? Get a NatureBox with your own favorite snacks.

Sports? Yes, even sports. ESPN’s 22 million (and growing) website visitors are going to see a customized display based on their own location, interests, etc.

This incredible shift is hitting us in all of these areas, but a story I heard a few years ago about a school in New York could be the next advance in learning.

Let me introduce you to the School of One from iZone. Here’s a bit about them:

iZone is a catalyst for 21st Century learning across the New York City Department of Education, (NYCDOE) the largest school district in the country, serving 1.1 million students in more than 1,700 schools. We work with schools, the edtech marketplace and policy makers to design and scale promising learning models that prepare all students for college and careers.

So what is the School of one? In a nutshell it is an individualized education plan that adapts to a child’s learning style. Not just a program that we set based on a child’s preferences, but an actual adaptive program that can change over time to deliver the highest-impact learning experiences possible.

This is blended learning at its best. Children are taught in traditional group classroom lectures, small group work with peers, and online tutoring sessions. Then teachers can review the data on performance before and after the types of sessions, and an algorithm helps to select the following day’s exercises based on which ones the student learned from best. Over time this happens continuously to fit the program to the individual student—hence the name “School of One.”

But What about the Workplace?

We know that our training and development efforts are not going to reach all employees in the same way. And each employee has different needs from the training programs we offer.

What if instead of using a blanket program we could tailor it over time to deliver the best possible learning experience for the lowest possible price? Here’s an example of how this could play out in the workplace.

The Custom Learning Training Method

Let’s say Mary scores highly on a post-test after she sits through a live instruction class, but Bob scores higher after he completes a learning game. Tomorrow we swap them to compare the results. If both of them have the biggest improvement from the learning game, maybe we start lean more heavily on the gaming aspect.

Then we introduce another element: social learning. At this point they diverge. Mary does poorly when it comes to social interaction, but Bob does even better than with the game. So in terms of the learning programs Mary’s preferences are built this way:

  1. Game
  2. Live instruction
  3. Social

But Bob’s are different:

  1. Social
  2. Game
  3. Live instruction

And over time the algorithm will continuously tailor the training to best meet their needs and return the best results for the time invested.

How is this different?

Some would say that companies already offer these types of training options, but the difference here is the system learns what works best for you and redirects time and resources into training you via that medium. It’s not just based on preference–I might like video training but it doesn’t necessarily improve my results as much as a learning game.

My first thought is that this sounds incredibly costly to develop. But Pandora offers an even deeper level of customization completely for free for most users (and still managed to net $230 million in 2015 revenue). And Netflix is just a few dollars a month for a matching algorithm that measures your TV and movie preferences to deliver recommendations that you would enjoy. As more attention moves to this concept of the custom learning experience, we will see more opportunities to scale these types of programs. I’m excited to see what is next.

What are your thoughts on custom learning experiences? What other ways can customization and personalization weave into our training methods and HR practices? 

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