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Tips For Personalization in E-Learning


We hear a lot today about personalization. Online retailers are doing their best to personalize customer and potential customer experiences. They have to know their audiences, craft segmented advertising and offers, and target product and service promotions based upon diverse needs of those audiences. An e-learning course is no different. It is a product. And whether a course is a part of mandatory training set up by a company, an optional professional growth activity, or part of an academic program, personalization is important.


Everyone comes into an e-learning course with a personal background and a personal goal. It is your job as a course developer and deliverer to understand these individualities and honor them. Of course, you have goals and objectives for the course, and you have activities by which learners can achieve those goals and objectives. But you can find ways to personalize the course for each learner, with some good communication and some pragmatic tweaking.

Here are some things you can do to personalize your course and have your learners finish the course with the satisfaction that their goals have been honored and that the learning was meaningful to them.

Begin with Goals that Focus on the Learner, Not the Course or You

Course developers have goals. These may include designing a course that meets their standards and that include what they think are the key elements of the curriculum. This is as it should be. However, those goals need to be developed based upon learner outcomes, not personal goals of the developer/instructor. Here is how that is done.

When learners enroll in your course, they need to be surveyed. What is it that they want out of your course? Some may be in pursuit of additional skill development so that they can qualify for positions they want; some may already be employed and looking for career advancement within their organizations; and some may just have a personal interest, such as exploring a content field. If the course is credit-based, some may just be looking for those credits.

When you understand the individual goals of your enrollees, you can tweak activities that will be meaningful to them and that will supply the motivation for them to complete the course.


This has long been a term in academia. Teachers give a pre-test at the beginning of the course, so that they can determine what knowledge students already have and what gaps exist in their individual learning that must be filled in before they can be successful in a course. For example, a math pre-test might determine which students have memorized their math facts and which have not. This provides good information for individualizing instruction. If memorizing math facts is not a part of the course goals, than students who have that gap may be allowed to use a calculator.

The point is this: If some of your students have learning gaps, they will not meet with success in your course. What can you do to fill in those gaps? One effective response is to provide the resources for those students to fill in the gaps and give them time to use them. This may mean that students finish specific modules at different times, and that has to be okay with you. Being rigid in time frames and deadlines defeats your purpose – enrollment retention and mastery for everyone.

Here is a real-world example:

Investoo offers a course in advanced technical analysis for investors. Enrollees come into the course with a variety of goals and backgrounds. Some may be personal day traders who want to enhance their analysis skills; some may be employed by investment firms and want to be able to provide better information to their clients. By pre-assessment activities, the course instructor can design personalized activities that will bring everyone “up to speed” if they should have gaps in knowledge. This may mean that those who need remedial activities will not begin the first module when others do. Knowing this in advance allows an instructor to have the resource materials in place for that remediation and to assure the student that the timeline for course completion is flexible. No pressure. And the student know that his needs are being met.

Lots of Options

You have designed learning activities that you feel are meaningful and will allow practical application of skills and concepts. You may have even provided several options based upon your knowledge of learning styles and preferences – written research reports, presentations, media productions, group and/or individual projects, etc. If a student presents an option that you have not provided, let’s say a case study or a survey, you need the flexibility to discuss that option with the student and mutually determine how that activity will demonstrate mastery of a concept or skill. This type of flexibility on your part is what motivates students to move forward and gives them the practical application activities that will be personally meaningful. Learners need to have some control over how they pursue mastery.

Feedback and Support

Nothing says personalization more than frequent communication on an individual basis. It’s important for an instructor to address all enrollees about general things that apply to everyone. But each student must believe that the instructor is invested in them as an individual. This takes time and effort but the payoff is a highly motivated individual who will continue to work hard. This is done in three ways:

  • Immediate personal feedback as activities are completed for your review. This should be private and personal – not just a “grade” but real feedback with comments, suggestions, positive reinforcement.
  • Instructor availability through messaging, email, and even face-to-face communication through Skype, for example. Learners need to feel that their instructors are available for their personal questions and issues.
  • Reach out to students personally, if only to ask how a project is progressing and to solicit questions and feedback as the course progresses. Learners may have valuable suggestions and they honored when asked.

We’ve all been involved in learning experiences in which rigidity and “one size fits all” instruction has occurred – a syllabus, inflexible deadlines, and a time frame that has no flexibility. This is the stuff of traditional classroom environments. E-learning is not a traditional learning environment. And it is precisely the environment in which personalization can occur.

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