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eLearning Learning
August 31, 2021

Making Adaptive Learning 3.0 Work in Your Organization

Adaptive Learning benefits both the learner and an organization's bottom line. In this episode of Powered by Learning, Craig Joiner, Senior Vice President, Brand Experience at Fulcrum Labs dispels some myths about Adaptive Learning and explains how organizations can put it to work to achieve their goals.


Show Notes:

Craig Joiner breaks down the barriers to Adaptive Learning in this episode of Powered by Learning. His key points include:

  • Adaptive Learning is like a high-tech version of one-to-one coaching. It should challenge each learner just above their current knowledge level to boost confidence and push toward subject mastery.

  • Remember that Adaptive Learning isn't a magic bullet. It integrates a variety of training best practices including competency-based learning, microlearning, and personalized learning.

  • Adaptive Learning helps learners avoid taking training they don't need. Instead, they invest their learning time in areas where they need more knowledge and skills.

  • If you're new to Adaptive Learning, you may want to start with a pilot with a small defined number of learning objectives that need to be delivered to a relatively large number of learners.

Read more about Adaptive Learning in this Training Industry article written by Fulcrum Labs Founder Patrick Weir.


[00:00:00] Susan Cort: This is Powered by Learning, a podcast designed for learning leaders to hear the latest approaches to creating learning experiences that engage learners and achieve improved performance for individuals and organizations.


[00:00:16] Sponsor: I is brought to you by d'Vinci Interactive. For more than 25 years, d'Vinci has provided custom learning solutions to government agencies, corporations, medical education and certification organizations, and educational content providers. We collaborate with our clients to bring order and clarity to content and technology. Learn more at


[00:00:40] Susan: Hello and welcome to Powered by Learning. I'm your host, Susan Cort. Today, I'm joined by d'Vinci CEO, Luke Kempski, who's going to talk to our guest, Craig Joiner, Senior Vice President, Brand Experience at Fulcrum Labs. Fulcrum Labs has developed a 3.0 Adaptive Learning platform and has helped partners from both enterprise and higher education achieve their goals. Welcome, Craig.

[00:01:06] Craig Joiner: Hi, how are you doing, Susan?

[00:01:07] Luke Kempski: Hey. Great welcome, Craig. I'm so glad you could join us this morning.

[00:01:11] Craig: Thank you, Luke. It's great to be here. I've listened to a couple of your podcasts now and very insightful, both on the questions and the answers provided a lot of additional clarity and perspective for me.

[00:01:21] Susan: Well, good, thank you. We're going to ask you to do the same today. Let's start out, telling us a little bit about your role at Fulcrum Labs.

[00:01:29] Craig: I am Senior Vice President of Brand Experience, and I work hand in hand with our Client Success Director. Fulcrum is a very outcomes-driven company, and these two roles work very closely to make sure that we're delivering for our partners on what their main KPIs are and also in translating that into marketing materials or engagement materials and just all-around thinking of new ways. With learning, there's always new challenges, and sometimes we even step a little beyond what you would consider a traditional SaaS adaptive platform role. That's where I help fill in.

[00:02:09] Luke: That makes sense, Craig. I think that adaptive learning is such an interesting topic and one you hear talked about a lot in theory, but you don't always get concrete examples or practices. Can you start by giving me your definition of adaptive learning and how that applies to what you do at Fulcrum Labs?

[00:02:27] Craig: I can. Thanks, Luke, this is a good question. Over time, we've seen people's understanding evolve. I'll take it from the most general level, the real general ideas of adaptive learning, and this is pretty simple, the idea is obviously to maximize the impact and efficiency of learning, and it's really by having the trainee adjust to the individual learner's needs.

At Fulcrum, we think of adaptive learning as basically, an extremely high-tech version of a one-on-one coach. That's a very visual concept. We've all experienced a one-on-one coach, and we've all experienced the benefits of having that personalization. Where the definition of adaptive gets more complex really is in the ways that different adaptive platforms adapt and why they adapt, what those decisions are and what data goes into those decisions on how it adapts.

Obviously, I can't speak a lot for other providers, but for Fulcrum, one of the main goals of that activity is simply to achieve optimal challenge, really, that learning sweet spot for each learner that's just above their current capability to maximize that application-level mastery and to boost their confidence in these new skills. Really, it all comes down to what I say all the time, which is so that people can apply these skills back on the job. This isn't just theoretical knowledge.

I'd also like to mention that while adaptive is really this critical component in achieving great training results and reducing training times, it's really just part of what an adaptive platform like Fulcrum is all about and why they're so successful. Adaptivity, while it's very powerful, when you combine it with other things like microlearning, or competency-based approach, or data analytics, learner choice, any of these things, that's really where you start to see the dramatic results in terms of learning outcomes and also the learner experience, which, as you know, is key to engagement.

When you're combining those things, it really is that 1+1+1=10. You really get this, adaptivity is the hot thing right now that people want to talk about because they've seen the results, and they understand the benefit of that idea of a one-on-one coach, but really, it's the combination of these other elements that really make it the most powerful.

[00:04:42] Luke: Yes, and that definitely is what's most interesting about it is how different aspects of learning and some of the current approaches to learning are overlapping with this whole idea of adaptive learning. It would be great if you could zoom in on an example of how adaptive learning can apply in an enterprise setting.

[00:05:03] Craig: One of the things we've talked about in the past is we talked about something very topical right now, is companies are seeing a significant amount of turnover. I'm sure you've heard it as well. Obviously, having their advantages to be able to get your employees trained up, both in terms of speed but also getting them on the job. Something that we talk about, which is what you don't want to have happen, is you don't want to have training and check the box.

You don't want people to go on the job and be, as we say, faking it till they make it where they're out there really making mistakes. Obviously, some situations are more critical than others. We often talk about and people ask me, "What does Fulcrum specialize in?" I said, "If the idea of people in your company faking it till they make it just scares the hell out of you and you can't sleep at night because of that, then we're probably someone that you should be talking to."

For a specific example, one of them is onboarding. Again, very topical, we're seeing a lot of turnover. We've heard terms like the Great Resignation. A lot of people, because of the pandemic, are reevaluating life and moving around, taking different jobs, having different criteria, so onboarding is very important. One of the partners that we work with, really high turnover rate, in the 80% range, and the skills that people were applying were critical and, in some cases, dangerous.

They began using it for onboarding. What they saw, the way that they were measuring, we always talk about, we want to make sure that they have success. In this case, they were measuring equipment damage as their primary KPI, if these people were actually applying the training on the job. What we saw, what the training delivered in Fulcrum's platform is they told us within the first year, they had reduced accidents by almost 60%.

When we heard that, it was almost too much. It's like, "Oh, people aren't going to believe us." Again, this is the partner's number. We were astounded by that. They said they had three months during the year where there were zero accidents. This is incredible for them in terms of cost savings and worker's comp that they were having to pay when equipment was damaged and things like that.

[00:07:18] Luke: In that case, Craig, can you talk about, what was the learning experience like? How did the learning actually adapt? Without getting into it really technically, if it's in a manufacturing environment, for instance, how does the learning adapt to the learner?

[00:07:34] Craig: One of the things that Adaptive is really good at is not penalizing people who come in with preexisting knowledge. We see this with onboarding, time after time. You might have someone who's just coming into the field for the first time, this is their first job. They basically need everything, all your skill set. Then you have other people who might have changed companies, and they're coming into your company from another company.

Onboarding is very different for them. What those people specifically talk about, they say, "I love that you didn't penalize me for the things I already knew, that this system allowed me to test out of areas." That's a common theme, too, testing out. Adaptive allows you to test out again at application-level mastery. It allows you to test out and very quickly move through the training.

Then the people who didn't know anything, they said, "I felt very supported. I made a lot of mistakes in the beginning." Again, we see that in the data. People come in, they don't have any existing knowledge, they make a lot of mistakes. The system is delivering at the optimal challenge, so the whole time, they feel confident. They never lose confidence, they always think, "I can do this. I can do this" because it's not, for example, serving them content that's difficult and then serving them even harder content.

It's understanding, it's mapping both their performance in the course but also their behaviors, and it's making suggestions to them. That's something that they say, "Oh, I loved it."

The other thing that people talk about, you talk about, how is this for the learner? They talk about how the platform, they say, "It put me in the driver's seat." It's funny because the learner doesn't necessarily talk about the adaptivity in that sort of a way, they talk about the experience. "I love that it put me in the driver's seat" is something we hear a lot of.

[00:09:20] Luke: That's great. I know that adaptive learning in terms of how it's evolved over time, what we talked about five years ago or even longer ago about adaptive learning is different than what the evolution of technology, and the use of data, and other things coming along that have really influenced-- I know at Fulcrum you talk about Adaptive Learning 3.0. Can you give us a brief history of the prior versions and leading to what's new about it today?

[00:09:48] Craig: I can. We've had a front-row seat to that because these aren't just versions, this is literally the experience that Fulcrum went through developing. When we started out, adaptivity was really about branching, very basic branching. In a lot of cases, we were a little more advanced, but the most basic branching being someone went in at the very beginning, gave some input, and then a pathway was projected for them that they went on, and there was no further adaptivity beyond that.

We started to evolve, and that was a little more various points along the learning education in Adaptive 1.0 where it was also further branching. That was really the beginning for us and for a lot of Adaptive platforms as well. What we started to see in the next level of sophistication of Adaptive 2.0 was the use of algorithms. It's like, "Okay, we could write these algorithms. We could put these things in place, and it could adjust a little, in a much more detailed way."

We could tap along the way, people, their pathway could be adjusted. That was great. That got us a long way until we realized, well, the systems should be learning and in comes Adaptive 3.0, which is really taking advantage of artificial intelligence and having the system learn from what is successful, what's not successful and really optimizing that. The accuracy, what you get with the AI, the ML compliment in Adaptive 3.0 is you get the ability to more accurately deliver exactly at the person's need, again, more to that optimal challenge.

[00:11:26] Luke: How would that apply in the situation we were talking about before, in terms of the onboarding at the 3.0 level where the system is actually learning? Can you give an example of that?

[00:11:37] Craig: I can actually give two quick examples. The system is learning and adjusting. One of the ways I'll give an example is the system is whilst the AI is going through and not only evaluating what to deliver to the individual learner, it's actually identifying how well the course is performing and giving us analysis, very actionable analysis. It's actually flagging content areas that are problematic.

What we've seen is that when we go in, we've adjusted these problematic areas, we've seen something really interesting. As you would expect, what we saw in this onboarding scenario, we saw an increase in performance in those areas where the content wasn't performing well, but what we additionally saw that is more interesting and also very powerful extension we saw performance in the whole course increase.

For example, if we identified a few problem areas and we fixed those areas, we saw overall course performance go up so that what it's proving is that when people have these experiences and it's not great, it's not optimal, people are underperforming in other areas of content. You go into a new section, you might be-- Let's say you're in hydraulics and all of a sudden you move into another section that's on weights and balance or some completely different subject.

The under-performance of the one content is bleeding into the other. Being able to fix those things and also the other thing you see is the instructional designer gets smarter. They start to learn how to craft better questions because they're seeing actionable analysis and they can A/B the content that they've edited.

[00:13:11] Luke: I'm glad you pointed out the instructional designer impact. I think that would be a good place to go next. A lot of our listeners, Powered by Learning, are involved in the development of learning experiences. How do they have to change in their approach to developing learning experiences based on having an adaptive platform at their fingertips?

[00:13:35] Craig: That's a great question. Obviously, part of that depends on where they're coming from. For example, we're based on a microlearning framework, all the studies have shown that microlearning increases performance. If you come from a microlearning, the transition into a Fulcrum platform is even smoother. Obviously, if you're not microlearning, I would suggest you start doing that anyway because all the studies are showing that that's the most effective way to deliver training.

A lot of it has to do with when I talk to instructional designers, what I get a lot of is a lot of myths. You talk to them and they say, "I'm hesitant. I love the idea of adaptive learning, but I don't want to give up. Craig, I love Storyline 360," or "I love Rise," or "I love this simulation tool that I've been using. I'm not interested in." That's just a myth that's out there. That's not with Fulcrum's platform.

We have the benefit that we originally also had a content division, so the fact that our content team of 40 people was working with our tech team, we were really building a CMS and a design system that accommodated for, and we had feedback all the time. We built a system that can accommodate any of that. Although people often come to us, they don't think that at first.

The other thing is, building a course in our Adaptive platform is actually a lot more similar to a traditional e-building and traditional e-learning course when people think. I think another myth that's out there is people think, "Oh, I have to think of all these pathways. It's Adaptive, so I must be thinking of all the schematic of all these pathways that could happen." That's really not the case. You build a fairly traditional style and then the system is really what takes care of all that. That often comes as both a huge surprise and a huge relief to people when we talk to them.

[00:15:47] Luke: Yes, that makes sense, and it sounds like the real key to it is to think in terms of small chunks, in terms of microlearning so that the system can pull in what's needed to adapt, based on t hose learning elements or those learning objects or those microlearning pieces, however you want to refer to them.

[00:16:06] Craig: Exactly. Again, we're achieving application-level mastery, and part of the way that we do that, as well, is also we're based on a Bloom's system, so we're pushing people towards application [unintelligible 00:16:19] level.

[00:16:20] Luke: Excellent. Adaptive learning makes a lot of sense. It still hasn't penetrated a lot of organizations, I guess, in their approach to learning. What do you think gets in the way of that?

[00:16:32] Craig: A lot of it is back to the myths. Eight years ago, nine years ago when people were like, "Adaptive? What's that?" and we would have to really explain like, "Here's what Adaptive is." Over the years, what we've seen is now there's more interest in it. There's been enough time where there are results out there, but there are a lot of different platforms that are out there or have been out there that are no longer out there but put a lot of ideas out in the workspace.

It's really just about educating people on the differences, and I think people come to it sometimes with a dated idea. We talked about Adaptive 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0. Sometimes people come to us and their concept of Adaptive is more of a 1.0 or a 2.0 thought, so they're like, "Well, it sounds pretty good," which 1.0 and 2.0 were pretty good for the time. We have to get them up to speed on what the latest and greatest--

Usually, what perks people's ears is, "Would it be valuable for you to be able to objectively measure the results of your training?" That usually gets a lot of heads nodding. We've always been challenging. Most of the people we start out with are at the level of surveys, right?

[00:17:50] Luke: Yes, absolutely. I wonder if you could take it another step further in terms of that value to the organization and maybe talk about if there was, for instance, a large health system with lots of employees, multiple facilities, multiple locations, defined roles but a lot of variations in roles, where would having an adaptive learning platform bring value in that scenario?

[00:18:16] Craig: Well, when you start talking about a health system. I'll go back to what I said earlier, which is, "Oh, that sounds like not a good 'fake it till you make it' scenario."


Whether people's lives are at risk here, it's like, on the clinical side, these are situations where you want people to do the training. The first time they apply that skill on the job, it needs to be accurate. The big value of Fulcrum is application-level mastery, and we achieve that. Two things, one is we get people to application-level mastery. The other thing that is part of Fulcrum's mission is helping turn these people into confident subject matter masters.

It's giving people the confidence. Adaptive can be really powerful in terms of giving people confidence, again, because it's adjusting. Think of when you're at the gym and you have a trainer working with you, and they're pushing you at optimal challenge, and you know they're not going to get you hurt. They know your limits of your body better than you do, and that's the way the system is, as well.

Luke Kempski

By Luke Kempski, CEO

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