Mass Customization of Learning: Necessity or Luxury?

Training and development in most organizations is based on a popular “one size fits all” phenomenon, where customized training is viewed as a threat to organization’s ROI.  The “one size fits all” idea is very well received in today’s corporate culture as it provides certainty around organizational training costs. The illusion of ‘certainty’ may serve as enough justification for organizations to resist change and maintain their existing training and development practices. Generally, once an illusion is formed, it is very difficult to break it.  This is especially the case for large multinational organizations, where organizational ego stands guard to ideas that are not fully supported by empirical findings.

In recent years, numerous researchers have attempted to break these illusions (i.e., certainty); among them are Dr. Jean M. Adams (Assistant Professor from Schulich School of Business and Associate Director of Institute for Research on Learning Technologies), Dr. Gareth Morgan (Distinguished Research Professor, Schulich School of Business), Dr. Ronald Owston (Professor at York University, Director of Institute for Research on Learning Technologies) and Rita Hanesiak (Senior Manager, Scotiabank Human Resource).  In their comprehensive report published in 2010, Dr. Adams and her colleagues examined the influence of four different blended learning models on performance outcomes of the management teams in Scotiabank (third largest bank in Canada).


One major take away from this study was that factors such as learner characteristics and uniqueness make it impossible for learners in the same program to have consistent learning outcomes.  In other words, this study was unable to find a single ‘perfect’ blended model for all learners.

Dr. Adams and her colleagues argued that the ‘mass customization’ approach, where learners would have more control in own learning experiences, would provide an opportunity for learning professionals to work alongside learners and select learning strategies (for developing specific skills) that will work best for them. This study is an important addition to the limited but growing field of research examining training outcomes and employee uniqueness in large organizations. It is important for research to continue to explore learner uniqueness and characteristics, in order to provide a more accurate picture of the factors that can influence job performance in the workplace.

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