Overwhelmed users? Too much generic information?

Tailoring information adds value to the user’s experience.

Educational materials that attempt to meet the needs of everyone often meet the needs of no one in particular. Tailoring replaces the cookie cutter approach by personalizing content and increasing relevance.

Many educational efforts suffer from a problem of relevance. For example, math teachers may struggle to convince students why they need to learn algebra. Likewise, health educators may struggle to provide information to patients that is helpful to their specific health conditions and circumstances.

Virtually every educational effort can benefit from personalization. However, tailoring education to individual needs using traditional methods is impractical and cost-prohibitive. Students cannot each have their own personal teacher, and health educators cannot have a hundred versions of a pamphlet printed to meet the needs of each patient.

Tailoring techniques can facilitate learning. For a math student, problems could be dynamically changed according to his or her particular interest. The student could practice math by calculating yards to a touchdown, sale prices at a clothing store, or miles to the moon.

By harnessing the power of information technology, however, educational material can be individually tailored to meet the needs of the learner. Imagine, for example that students learning math have access to a supplemental web site with interactive charts and activities. The web site could be programmed with dozens of hints and points of relevance.

Medical procedures, such as a biopsy for breast cancer, are less frightening and better understood when illustrations are tailored to the personal characteristics of the patient.

In health education, the goal is to give the patient just enough information to make informed decisions about their unique situation. Care must be taken not to inundate patients with irrelevant information. Through the use of content rankings and a brief patient questionnaire, the patient can be directed to a suite of pages applicable to his or her specific condition (e.g. an elderly Native American woman with diabetes who is undergoing chemotherapy).

This method is supported by the Social Cognitive Theory of learning, which views the assimilation of information as a product of personal factors, behavior, and the environment. When an individual is able to observe the behaviors of others who are similar to them – through video clips, for example – or has information delivered in a culturally relevant manner, he or she is more likely to internalize the information and change his or her behavior.

Tailoring information to the needs of the user, through the use of information technology, circumvents the problem of relevance that faces so many educational efforts today.

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