The Learning and Development field is full of buzzwords and jargon.  Often we lack a common understanding of what these terms mean.  Take the term ‘personalised learning’ for example.  One of our previous Learning Uncut guests, JD Dillon, had a very good article published in the June 2020 edition of  Training & Development magazine titled ‘More than Netflix: The Real Potential of Personalised Learning.’  Like JD, I’ve been concerned for some time that the Netflix metaphor significantly underplays the potential value of personalised learning.  JD’s article identifies data as a common element in personalisation tactics.  One player in the personalised learning space that I’ve had my eye on for several years is Area9 Lyceum.  Since founding in 2006 they’ve been refining their use of data to meet the needs of individuals in the moment as they undertake online learning.

In this episode Nick Howe, the Area9 Chief Learning Officer, is joined by Henrik Harder who was the CEO of the Danish roadwork education centre VEJ-EU in late 2018 when the project we discuss was undertaken.  They describe shifting a full day of face-to-face theory training with a very diverse audience to an adaptive, personalised online platform.  Nick talks us through how the system calculates what the learner already knows and where to take them next to ensure that they know everything needed and get through the content in the shortest possible time to achieve this with confidence.  Henrik discusses the experience for both the 2,000 learners per year and the instructors – who use data from the online component to shape how they manage the remaining day of practical face-to-face activity.

One outcome was that the time to complete the knowledge component of the course reduced from 8 hours to a median of less than 3 without removing any content and allowing even the slowest of learners to achieve proficiency.

Episode Highlights

– Sector needs driving redesign of a two-day face-to-face road safety certificate course that 2,000 people complete annually.

– Challenges of meeting needs of a diverse audience. Qualified engineers were bored while some of the lower educated road workers struggled to keep up.  A stark example of the very different background experiences and needs that learners can have in any given situation.

– Adaptive learning defined as adjusting to meet the needs of learners in the moment, drawing on the analogy of a personal tutor.

– While there is underlying complexity in the AI and algorithms driving adaptive, personalised learning the learner is presented with a simple, ‘clean’ experience.

– How the system calculates what to present the learner with next.  Some of the underlying science, including the importance of self-awareness, spaced repetition and cognitive overload.

– Why the 75-year old mother of a participant contacted VEJ-EU and what led her to tears when she called back two weeks later.

– How the instructors use data from the online theory component to improve facilitation of the one day face-to-face practical session, and why they don’t want to go back to PowerPoint presentations.

– Nick’s tips for getting started with adaptive learning.  Educate yourself and keep it simple.

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Do You Have a Suggestion for a Learning Uncut Episode?

I’m always looking out for stories for the podcast.  Have you done something interesting and impactful?  It may be innovative.  It may be something more traditional that has been done really well.  It does not need to have won an award.  If you have a good case study you’d like to suggest for Learning Uncut or know of an example from someone else please get in touch by DM on LinkedIn or email me at

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