Personalisation and Digital Learning

Everything we do online is tracked, recorded and turned into meaningful data, and the new digital economy is based on big data made up of our actions from the clicks, likes and shares to the every online purchase we make. The point is that we -as users- are part of these huge data sets that come in an overwhelming volume, velocity and variety and it is getting harder and harder to escape it.

Our digital experiences are getting personalised

What we have in return is personalised digital experiences. Let’s have a look at some platforms we use every day.

Mark Zuckerberg had announced earlier in 2014 that they aimed to make Facebook’s newsfeed a completely personalised experience. It tracks everything you like, all the pages you follow and the shares you make, and finally thanks to its algorithms you are exposed to a more relevant newsfeed that shows you what you want to see and like. Plus, you can prioritise whose posts you see first on your newsfeed.

Instagram’s previous “explore” feature showed the most popular posts while it is now personalised in a way you see posts based on who you follow and like in general. Besides, its new algorithm rearranged the order of the posts to show you first the ones you are more likely to like instead of the most recent ones.

Same with Spotify. Every Monday morning it cheers you up with a “discover weekly” playlist curated for you. They use two factors to do this. First, it creates a taste map to understand what genre you like by looking at your song history. Second, it goes to other users’ playlists that have the songs you listened to before and creates a playlist with the songs you have not played yet.

The recommendation systems of Amazon and Netflix do the same trick by recommending you the items and shows that you may like based on what you have purchased and seen before. According to a Netflix survey, an average Netflix user quits unless they come across something interesting within the first 60–90 seconds.

Finally, the tech giant Google has recently launched a travel planning application called Google Trips that aims to offer personalised service collecting all the travelling data from your Google accounts — the e-mails about that specific travel, the tickets you bought online etc., and puts all the relevant things in the app with further information and recommendations about that specific travel destination.

Personalisation seems to have become the punchline of all online services from shopping to music and it will no doubt continue to be so as customer satisfaction and addressing their personal needs are two essential growth strategies of commercial companies.

Personalisation in Digital Learning

Digitalisation in learning is becoming more widespread. An increasing number of educational institutions, companies and individuals are seeking digital solutions in education. According to Docebo’s latest e-learning report, the size of the e-learning market is expected to exceed USD 240 billion by 2023.

Despite its increasing prevalence, one of the biggest problems in e-learning is still drop-out. People start e-learning with great enthusiasm and they tend to lose it through the end. Latest MOOC reports also painfully point out to low completion rates.

A lot of academic studies show there might be numerous factors leading to this like learners’ attitude toward technology & e-learning, content quality, system quality or unmet expectations, which eventually cause drop-outs.

Although the reasons for drop-out can be multiple or even completely personal regardless of e-learning, a big part of the solution can be personalisation of e-learning. What we usually see in e-learning environments is boring video lectures, multiple-choice quizzes and exams. It is all about a standard learning experience that goes the same way for everyone.

Of course personalisation in education is not a new concept. In traditional education it is of high importance to address each student’s learning style and unique skills. Yet, it takes a lot of time, money and effort to make learning personalised for each learner in a traditional classroom.

How can technology help personalise learning?

Can technology play a role on making personalisation less effortless? It seems so. Advanced technologies like artificial intelligence now increase the prospects of creating personalised learning environments. We call a lot of those systems “adaptive”. It is the system’s ability to adapt to each learner’s unique needs that make it adaptive. The intelligent systems track each learner’s activities and collect data about their learning behaviours. This allows for gaining useful insight into how they learn and interact with the course content and with other pupils. What we have in return is the capacity to design learning paths that are suitable for each learner. Some examples are Claned and Smart Sparrow that developed smart learning platforms making it easy for educators to design more meaningful learning experiences for students.

Given the fact that technology improves at an incredible pace, we will have even more sophisticated learning systems than we do now. We can even imagine virtual learning assistants who would understand who we are, what we need to learn and how we learn. They would analyse our current cognitive, social and psychological states and generate a learning plan which is completely personalised and relevant. They would give us feedback at the right point and in the right time, guide and scaffold us when needed. They would even predict the most suitable times of a day in terms of learning performance and would constantly learn, re-learn and un-learn about us and engage us when our motivation drops.

Exciting but when will this happen?

A futurist Robert Frey predicts that students will connect to virtual teachers from home by 2030. He even claims that students will learn 10 times faster than they do now.

To me it is still unknown when robots will start teaching us, however one of the biggest technological revolutions in education will take place when we create truly personalised learning environments for learners.

E-learning and Edtech professional, MA in EdTech@Uni. of Manchester, BA@Bogazici University, currently product management at European Leadership University