A Cautionary Word From Research About Personalization


Personalization—it seems to be the 2017 buzzword for nonprofit associations and conferences.

Everyone seems to be talking about it like here and here.

Yet, personalization is more than technology. It means more than our past purchases or posts in social media. We have likes, dislikes, preferences, strengths, weakness, emotions, experiences and knowledge that do not show up in organization data systems. We are much more than recorded data when it comes to personalization! Data and technology can help make your conference more configurable. Personalization of a conference experience is a much deeper and complex ambition than making it configurable.

Defining Personalized Learning

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation engaged RAND Corporation to carry out an ongoing comprehensive study of schools implementing personalized learning approaches. Nonprofit organizations and conference organizers can learn a lot of what’s working, what’s needed and how to contextualize personalization for their customer experiences.

So what is personalized learning?

Personalized learning at it basic level is designing learning experiences that meet a learner’s individual needs while incorporating their interests, preferences, social-emotional factors, goals, aspirations and ongoing progress says RAND.

RAND further clarifies personalized learning as a way to prioritize a clear understanding of the needs and goals of each individual learner. Then we design learning experiences to address those needs and goals. This entire personalization process, as well as the learner’s progress, is also highly visible and easily accessible to the learner.

A Word Of Caution From Research

We have to be very careful at jumping on the personalization bandwagon—personalized conferences or personalized learning–and thinking technology systems of record can help us create the best customers experiences. Systems of record are a step in the right direction. However, they are not the silver bullet or an ends to a means. They are not the win-win for personalization.

Researchers of the personalized learning trend have found some modest promising signs. However, they are loud and clear that the findings are a “cautionary tale” about a trend whose popularity and backing far outpaces its evidence. They warn of putting all your eggs in the personalization trend basket. So be forewarned associations and conference organizers.

“(Personalized learning)…may not work everywhere and it requires careful thought about the context that enables it to work,” says John F. Pane, a senior scientists and distinguished chair in education innovation at RAND. While Pane made this statement about personalized learning in schools, his insights apply to adult education as well. And they have implications for personalized conference experiences too.

The Role Of Technology And Deep Learning

RAND identifies that technology holds promise to enable personalization to an extent that was not possible at a large scale in earlier decades. However, its greatest role may be to manage the complexity of the personalization process reports the research.

Schools successfully implementing personalized strategies have found that technology is only part of the model.

Learners must spend most of their time learning cognitive skills and concepts through individual and collaborative deep learning experiences say the developers of the Summit Learning Project and effective personalization methods. (Did you catch that? Deep learning experiences, not shallow or advancement learning experiences!)

Successful personalization methods help learners set short-term and long-term goals, develop habits of success, embrace meta-cognition (learning how to learn) and take ownership of their learning.

The RAND study also identifies four personalized strategies associations should understand, adopt and use. Read more about these strategies in the next blog post.

What has your organization done to implement personalization steps toward an improved conference or learning experience? Why are associations and its suppliers so quick to jump on the personalization-data-train without thinking through their contexts and customer needs?

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1 comment
  1. Mary says:

    Really interesting topic, and great article! Technology plays such a huge role in conferences today, but its essential to utilize it effectively. Personalized learning definitely has its place in many conference and event scenarios, but its not a one size fits all kind of deal! Thanks for sharing your insight here – there’s certainly much to think about!

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