Why Personalization is the Future of L&D

Melissa Suzuno

HR and L&D Insights Writer at Udemy for Business

October 16, 2018

Personalization has become standard in the consumer world. We’ve come to expect instant and personalized search results that are relevant to our specific needs. But this type of recommendation engine isn’t just for music, movies, or restaurants. Within a learning & development (L&D) context, personalization fueled by advances in machine learning is changing the face of corporate learning. Employees can now browse through topics and courses that are uniquely tailored to their interests, behaviors, and goals.

Personalization is poised to transform the L&D experience

In the context of L&D, personalization is driven by machine learning and complex algorithms to create learning journeys and offer recommendations based on learners’ past behavior. Gartner contributor Sharon George writes, “Personalization will revolutionize L&D by providing customized learning experiences for every employee, based on the challenges they face in their role, their career aspirations, and their personal preferences.”

These elements of personalized learning complement Bersin by Deloitte’s characterization of the mature learning organization. According to Bersin’s assessment, “successful learning organizations have moved beyond L&D and training; instead, they are developing their entire organization to fully integrate learning with the flow of work and at the point of need.” Moving beyond the static classroom, personalized online learning enables organizations to serve up courses that are unique to an individual employee in the moment of need.

Here are four benefits of offering a personalized learning experience for your employees.

4 benefits of personalized learning

1. Personalization promotes skill progression

In the L&D context, personalization can be used to create a customized learning journey that’s relevant to a learner’s job, interests, and more. A CLO blog post explains, “A learning path is a sequence of courses or learning materials that allow learners to build their knowledge progressively. Personalized learning paths are either pre-generated based on job roles, org charts, competencies required, or can be changed dynamically based on learners’ progress, interest or some other criteria.”

Udemy for Business’ new Smart Recommendations product feature powers what individual learners should learn next using the data of 24 million learners on Udemy worldwide. By analyzing billions of learning interactions unique to Udemy and Udemy for Business, we can deliver smarter, personalized learning recommendations for each individual. By surfacing more powerful and intelligent content to learners, we can engage people more in learning and help employees navigate the ever-evolving skills landscape. See how Udemy for Business delivers personalized learning to individual employees.

Here’s what that might look like in practice: Employees who take Python courses might receive content recommendations on Natural Language Processing because that’s the topic most learners take next. It’s an area of computer science that utilizes Python knowledge and a natural skill progression for Machine Learning. Alternatively, a new manager that takes a general management course may receive course suggestions on giving feedback, good communication, emotional intelligence, or presentation skills to further hone their management skills. Through these kinds of recommendations, employees can deepen their knowledge beyond the original course they took.

2. Personalization boosts learning engagement and self-directed learning

Personalization can ensure learning is relevant by connecting learners’ past activities to their future goals. In Student Engagement: Key to Personalized Learning in Educational Leadership, writer and teacher Larry Ferlazzo cites relevance as one of the keys to sparking intrinsic motivation in learners and defines the concept by asking, “Do students believe that accomplishing the task or reaching the learning target will help them achieve a short-term or long-term goal?”

Creating a personalized learning experience also has the potential to boost learning engagement and retention. In Science Shows Making Lessons Relevant Really Matters, journalist Sara Bernard writes, “Students need a personal connection to the material, whether that’s through engaging them emotionally or connecting the new information with previously acquired knowledge (often one and the same). Without that, students may not only disengage and quickly forget, but they may also lose the motivation to try.”

Referencing research by neurologist Judy Willis, Bernard explains that when learning is relevant and meaningful, it helps engage students with what they already know and build neural connections and long-term memory storage.

By serving up relevant courses that matter to employees and are related to their past learning behavior, Udemy for Business’ Smart Recommendations helps promote continuous self-directed learning at organizations.

3. Personalization helps employees prepare for what’s next

In today’s era of technology disruption, employees must stay on their toes and learn continuously to prepare for what’s next. Personalization can adapt and anticipate what learners are hoping to accomplish. In 3 Ways Personalization Can Improve the Employee Experience, Gartner contributor Sharon George writes, “Increasingly, organizations regard learning and development (L&D) teams as strategic partners responsible for building critical digital skills in the workforce and improving the overall employee experience.”

With the speed of technological change, it’s critical that employees learn from the latest, most up-to-date content. Udemy for Business’ agile content model reflects the rapid pace of technology change. We’re uniquely positioned to deliver the latest trending topics based on the behaviors of over 24 million global learners. Our Smart Recommendations product feature delivers trending topics relevant to the individual learner. For example, if an employee takes an IT certification course in AWS, they might receive recommendations on related hot new topics like AWS Lambda, the AWS serverless framework, and others. See how a Udemy for Business subscription can help your employees stay ahead of what’s next.

4. Personalization helps support continuous learning and a growth mindset

Openness to learning and discovery is essential in today’s world of work since employees and leaders face many challenges that they’ve likely never encountered before, and new technological developments are changing the very nature of work itself. In an HR Times article, Hatfield and Roesch write, “Our research shows that the most valuable learning happens in actual business situations that require leaders to stretch, and in workplaces that support leadership development objectives.” In a Leading Edge Forum blog post on digital transformation, Digital and Business Transformation Executive HR Leader Michael Leckie writes, “The leaders of winning digital firms are very happy to set goals they have no idea how to achieve.” See 4 Key Leadership Skills to Drive Your Digital Transformation.

As your leaders and employees drive a digital transformation at your organization, creating a growth mindset and culture of continuous learning will be critical to your success. By offering personalized learning journeys based on current trending topics, you can help your employees stay ahead of the game.

It’s an exciting time for personalized learning in the workplace. Advances in technology mean that employees are better positioned to stay ahead of the digital age by bridging their skills gap faster. Relevant recommendations and learning journeys can boost overall employee engagement—and the success of your business.

See how Udemy for Business’ Smart Recommendations can create a more relevant and personalized learning experience for your employees. Learn more here.

About Udemy for Business:

Udemy for Business is a learning platform that helps companies stay competitive in today’s rapidly changing workplace by offering fresh, relevant on-demand learning content, curated from the Udemy marketplace. Our mission is to help employees do whatever comes next—whether that’s the next project to do, skill to learn, or role to master. We’d love to partner with you on your employee development needs. Get in touch with us at business@udemy.com

Top 10 Tech and Soft Skills Trending in 2019 thumbnail


Based on data from 30+ million learners on Udemy, here are the fastest-growing top 10 tech & soft skills in 2019

More from L&D Best Practices Topic

L&D Best Practices

May is Mental Health Month: Here Are 5 Courses to Explore

When Madalyn Parker sent an email to let her coworkers know she’d be taking the day off to attend to...

L&D Best Practices

Employees Crave Career Growth—Here Are 5 Ways to Provide it

Forget higher salaries or fancy benefits—career growth opportunities are what employees really care about. For the first time in Jobvite’s...

L&D Best Practices

Designing Behavior-Driven Learning at Casper

Get L&D insights delivered to your inboxBy signing up, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. We...