Studying for the Graduate Management Admission Test, Ashish Rangnekar found himself frustrated by the lack of tools to help. He wanted a personal learning companion available to him anytime, anywhere.
He couldn’t find one so he created one himself.
This was 2008. Within a month, 1,000 people had paid $10 each to download his mobile learning app. That turned into BenchPrep, an exam preparation platform co-founded by Rangnekar and Ujjwal Gupta.
Rangnekar’s story illustrates what many learning leaders are finding: Traditional one-size-fits-all learning is less and less effective for a dispersed, globally diverse audience. But at the same time, the need for learning and training is greater now than ever before. Forty percent of global employers report a talent shortage and 65 percent of today’s middle school students will end up at a job that hasn’t been invented yet, Rangnekar noted.
“Our society is going through this profound change and it will lead to new job categories, new skill requirements, new certifications and new licenses,” he said.
Investors have taken note, pouring money into an education technology market estimated to be worth as much as $252 billion by 2020. One independent estimate put the investment so far in 2017 alone at $1.8 billion.
Vendors like BenchPrep are placing their bets on personalized learning technology paired with shorter, bite-sized learning to answer the challenge.
Take a Bite Out of Learning
Today’s learners live in a digital environment broken up into small nuggets, Rangnekar said. Snapchat makes short messages easy to send and Twitter takes blogging down to a bite-sized 140 characters. That makes learners less patient and more open to shorter, just-in-time learning opportunities. “The learner experience is kind of catching up to what a digital native is going through,” Rangnekar said.
“It allows the user to focus on one concept at a time without any distractions and that enables retention,” Rangnekar said. “It’s not just about consuming content but their ability to retain it and apply it on their job or in the classroom.”
New technologies do a better job of minimizing distraction and focusing attention particularly for learning in work environments, according to some education technology executives. Maksim Ovsyannikov, vice president of product at Grovo, a learning technology company, said traditional learning management systems don’t work because they don’t capture learner attention.
Ovsyannikov noted research from Bersin by Deloitte that showed 87 percent of executives say their companies are not learning fast enough. That’s because most learning programs are just not good enough, he said. Companies with even somewhat successful learning programs should see close to 50 percent improvement in business outcomes.
“Leaders need to understand that learning at work is very different from learning at school,” he said. “While at school we are used to 40 or 50 minute lectures, those kinds of things simply don’t work at work.”
Micro or bite-sized learning works better because its content can be customized to specific companies, industries or jobs, Ovsyannikov said. “Your learning initiative is only as good as the content that’s in it,” he said.
Further, Rangnekar said this type of learning gives specific insights into where the learner is struggling.
“If we can better understand at a very granular level where exactly the weaknesses are, we can create an extremely personalized experience for them to succeed,” he said.
Learners are demanding an experience that is personalized and focused on helping them succeed, Rangnekar said. Amazon personalizes their shopping experience based on past purchases and what they browse, the information they receive comes through a personalized feed via Facebook and Netflix offers tailored entertainment choices.
Ovsyannikov said too often learning is assigned to learners at the wrong time and for the wrong reason.
“Then you as a learner in the enterprise dread this encounter because it simply doesn’t help you do your daily work,” he said.
But Rangnekar said bite-sized learning is not a magic solution. The winning combination is flexibility and personalization so that the learner has more say in their learning. “What creates specific engagement for a specific learner might not work for someone else,” he said.
BenchPrep is working on projects with customers to customize the learning experience for each. ACT, a testing company, wants more gamification. “They truly want to deliver games because that’s the way to engage a 16-year-old student,” Rangnekar said.
On the other hand, Infusion Nurses Society, a certification company in the health care industry, looks at gamification in a different way.
“For them, actual games matter less but they want to create an incentive management tool so they can give specific goals to their candidates so every learner has something that they can achieve every day,” Rangnekar said. “That becomes the engagement driver or the gamification mechanism for them.”
Whatever path companies take, education technology developers argue that shorter, faster and more personal is the way of the future. Companies that aren’t personalizing the learning experience to their workers’ experience are the ones that are struggling, Ovsyannikov said.
“They focus on a delivery method that doesn’t really work for the business,” he said.
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