Personalized eLearning: A Customized Approach To Accelerated eLearning

Personalized eLearning: A Customized Approach To Accelerated eLearning
Summary: Today's world is far different than the one our parents and grandparents grew up and lived in. The age of "standardization" and "One-size-fits-all" no longer applies. Today, especially where technology is so ubiquitous in every aspect of our lives, "personalization" has become very important - be it in manufacturing, services or retail business. Personalization is needed to make a product or service more endearing to the target audience, and this is especially true for eLearning. As a result, the concept of Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) is becoming more relevant in today's academic world.

What is Personalized eLearning?

The concept of "Personalization" can easily be understood from taking a closer look at some of the existing digital technologies that all of us use. For instance, from the browser that you use to roam the Internet, to the email and messaging systems that you use to stay connected with friends and family, to the digital boxes you use to watch TV shows and movies online - they all offer personalization and customization options.

However, when it comes to eLearning systems, "personalization" takes on a whole new meaning. Personalized eLearning is the act of customizing:

  • The learning environment (e.g. how the content appears to the learner - font sizes, colors, backgrounds, themes etc.)
  • The learning content itself (e.g. audio, video, textual, graphical etc.)
  • The interaction between facilitator, student and the learning content (e.g. mouse, stylus, tap/swipe, keyboard; e.g. using "Gaming", Quizzes, Online discussions, Demonstrate-do-check-reinforce, Adaptive learning approaches, Tutorials)

So what does Personalized eLearning mean?

Well, as it relates to eLearning, personalization involves not only providing the ability to customize the learning environment, similar to the "preferences" and "settings" options that most digital tools offer today; but also personalizing many other aspects of the entire learning experience. Personalized eLearning therefore encompasses the ability to customize aspects such as:

  • What content should be delivered as part of the learning experience.
  • How the content should be delivered.
  • The sequence of its delivery.
  • How students will be evaluated.
  • What feedback mechanisms will be offered.
  • ...and much more.

While traditional eLearning was an extension to symmetric learning approaches, personalized eLearning espouses a marked shift from "facilitator lead' teaching to "learner centric" learning. Where conventional eLearning tends to treat learners as a homogeneous entity, personalized eLearning digresses from that path by recognizing learners as heterogeneous mix of individuals.

Ways To Personalize eLearning

In their paper, titled Personal Learning Environments: Challenging the dominant design of educational systems, authors Prof Scott Wilson, Oleg Liber, Mark Johnson, Phil Beauvoir, Paul Sharples,  and Colin Milligan suggest that current eLearning environments aren't "... supportive of lifelong learning or personalization."  Educators therefore need to re-evaluate current eLearning courses to find ways to personalize them.

So what can instructional designers do to personalize eLearning experiences?

As noted previously, there are multiple factors that impact students' ability to learn, including age, demographics, cultural background and the level of education, to name a few. All of these play an important role in determining how eLearning personalization should be approached.  Some points that should be taken into consideration when deciding to personalize an eLearning experience include:

  • Personalize the learner.
    Make the course "personal" to the learner. Capture his/her name as part of the registration process, rather than using a generic "Student A." Ask your learners to sign on with their name, and then use the name throughout the course (e.g. "Welcome, Adam! or "Well done,'ve cleared Level II!")
  • Personalize the environment.
    Let learners determine what their online eLearning environments should look like. Let students pick avatars to represent either themselves or their "facilitators." Where possible, let the learners pick voices (male/female) for audio content
  • Personalize the content.
    Whenever possible, incorporate content from learners’ personal environment and reflect  learners’ browsing habits and preferences - such as Blogs, Social Media sites or other relevant content sources
  • Personalize the roles with the use of photographs and pictures.
    Throughout the lesson, use a photograph of the instructor or even ask your learners to add their own photo to make the content more "personal."
  • Personalizing learning objectives.
    Enable learners to make the learning objectives relevant to why they are taking the course. For example, if the goal is to move from Supervisor to Manager, then learning objectives must reinforce that goal.
  • Personalizing learning sequences.
    Students should be able to chart their own learning path.  Creating "nonlinear" content allows learners to pick and choose how they will learn.
  • Personalize the "conversation".
    Whether it is voice/video, or just text, using phrases like "Now,  let's click 'Done' to end this segment", instead of "Click done to end," will make the content more personalized.  Furthermore,  "Now, click 'Done' to end this segment, Jill", is even more personalized than the previous two examples
  • Personalize the navigation.
    Foster "inquisitiveness" by allowing learners to explore various parts of the content, even if they aren't currently or actively studying/learning it. This will allow eager learners to explore segments they find personally interesting - just like they would do if they were reading a text book
  • Recognize individual competency.
    Allow learners to skip certain segments of a course (perhaps by directly going to the "Test your knowledge" section) and start learning the areas they feel they need to learn – instead of forcing them to learn what they already know
  • Personalize the media.
    Some learners learn quickly if they watch a short video, others need to read a printed PDF file rather than viewing the same document online. Giving choices such as "View", "Listen" or "Print" will tap into each learner’s individual learning styles and preferences.

When harmonized together, all aspects mentioned above will create a truly Personal Learning Environment (PLE) that will empower learners to manage and control their own learning.


Personalized eLearning is essential because each student learns differently. As a result, in order to be effective, the personalization must take into account each individual's needs, requirements, learning objectives, skill level and learning abilities.

The personalization process should also use a progress monitoring mechanism to validate whether the personalization is delivering effective results. If not, appropriate revisions must be made to course delivery (e.g. change content from text-based to video/audio content ,etc.) in order to achieve the desired learning outcomes.

If you want to learn about designing instructionally sound eLearning courses, please check out the Instructional Design for ELearning: Essential guide to creating successful eLearning courses book. This book is also available in Spanish