A microlearning snack: when, how, and why to feed it to your employees

October 22, 2019 Aneta Stokes

The modern corporate world is fully digitized. Portals, platforms, smartphones, intranets. Apps, tools, and functionality. A lot of flowing content: e-mails, materials, brochures, and trainings. Everything is designed to make life easier, increase the pace of work, and be at hand. But is it? Not necessarily. The digital world is growing and productivity has been standing still for years. It seems that we’re not catching up, we have modern tools, but we often function in a pre-modern way. Tasks are waiting, and we’re digging through emails, reacting to notifications and reminders. We’re stuck in trainings that are several hours long, getting distracted by our smartphones nine times an hour.

Less time, more to do

Two in every three employees complain that they don’t have time to do their job (“Meet the Modern Learner” survey, Bersin by Deloitte), let alone engage in long training sessions. Maybe that’s why in 2017 L&D platforms received a relatively low Net Promoter Score. (Net Promoter Score is a tool to assess customer loyalty, similar to a satisfaction survey). Because instead of making it easier, they have made it more difficult for overburdened users to deliver more units of mandatory content. The L&D world reacted to this negative score by creating Learning Experience Platforms, which personalize content and have more developed signposts based on AI. The idea of “learning in the flow of work” appeared, along with microlearning. The purpose is to reorganize the learning process at work, tune it to the possibilities and needs of users in a world where everything is on time, and their attention — even when watching funny cat videos on YouTube — is lost after four minutes. Do those ideas work?

Microlearning — everything is a lesson

Videos, articles, animations, books, podcasts—everything can be an educational element. We usually look for such elements when we have a specific problem to solve: I don’t know how to do this interaction in Storyline… There is definitely a tutorial on YouTube. I’m looking for an article about team management because I have a problem with my own team. I Google how to install a new functionality on my smartphone, how to do a kick-off ,how to fill out a loan application. When you’re looking for a specific solution, you don’t feel like going through a lot of training slides about loans, and you don’t need the historical background of lending at the moment. You want to know whether to write “A” or “B” in this particular form.

The mission of microlearning is to come to your aid in such situations. So it’s not a big course cut to pieces. The “pieces” are to be separate and well-planned. Maybe all your employees need is a video with instructions? Or role-playing a few scenes about decision-making, during which they will practice the most difficult moments of a sales talk? Maybe they’ll be more grateful for a link to the short article or podcast recorded by your expert than for the next Course on Everything based on the PowerPoint slides prepared earlier by this expert? There is an appeal behind microlearning: let’s not be afraid to give employees less instead of more. Let’s be economical when it comes to content. The more content, the less of an impact it has on learners.

Macrolearning is still here

This doesn’t mean, of course, that macrolearning should disappear. In any large organization there’s a need to create more structured and extensive courses, and this certainly won’t change. A library of longer training courses is useful for employees starting work or entering a new role, and helps companies to face a number of strict statutory or procedural requirements. Let’s not change it but still enjoy the alternative of microlearning. Because not everything has to be a multi-module course. Not everything has to end with a test. Not every piece of information about a change in our organization has to be told by the chatty narrator and illustrated by slides, necessary to pass.

How about a combination?

There are issues that are particularly important to an organization. Onboarding. Compliance. Ecology. Customer service standards. Information security. Many others. Complex issues, consisting of many sub-topics, with an important theoretical but also practical part, with multiple aspects, are sometimes broken down for several target groups. Those that your organization cares about in particular and you certainly feel that they cannot be “dealt with” in a single course, even an extensive one. In such situations, it’s worth opening a window for a training strategy, and instead of packing everything into homogeneous modules, it’s better to design a process consisting of different, separate macro and microlearning pieces. A game at the beginning? Theory in an article? A course consisting only of exercises? Then a video recorded by one of the managers? There are many ways and you can juggle them depending on your needs and purpose. A strategy spread out over time and applying “learning in the flow of work” in different, not necessarily forced doses has a chance to work better than a course pill, even if it’s washed down with a test.

Does it work?

Microlearning doesn’t replace macrolearning but complements it, expanding the possibilities of reaching users and supporting them in their daily work. It’s perfect for reinforcement, reminding, and exercising. It absorbs ideas for short games, quizzes, challenges for employees, making it more stimulating than traditional courses. It works as an additional element, not necessarily forced by a pass, and responds to the frequent needs of employees: to quickly find what they need, and to practice what can be useful. The latter is an important block when building a learning organization culture, where not only technology and content are the focus, but also a positive experience.

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