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Why Microlearning Is the Future of Corporate Training

by Debbie Williams


What is the future of corporate training? Microlearning. What does "microlearning" mean to you? Don’t be intimidated by the term. Although it sounds official, it is something that you may engage in quite often. Even on a daily basis. Microlearning is not a new concept. But it’s a powerful one. According to eLearning Industry’s contributor Asha Pandey, microlearning consists of “short, 3- to 5-minute focused learning nugget(s). These are designed to meet a specific learning outcome."¹ Microlearning could involve a learner watching a tutorial on YouTube. Or, reading a 300- to 500-word educational article. Microlearning is any type of learning that takes place in short spurts, and that is easy to digest.

team of successful business people having a meeting in executive sunlit office

Microlearning: the Key to Information Retention

Employers try to widen the skill sets and knowledge bases of their employees in a variety of ways. Microlearning is just one. Others include formal learning, long-form learning, blended learning, and online learning. (In some cases, online learning and microlearning are interchangeable.) Microlearning makes up a small percentage of the learning in an average workplace each day. But it is one of the most effective forms of information acquisition. It is effective at helping people keep and recall information.

According to a German study² reported on by Lenny DeFranco, microlearning drives 20 percent more information retention than long-form training.³ DeFranco said, “(The study) examined how online learners performed. Did they do better on multiple-choice assessment questions (‘learning questions’) that were frequent and fine-grained? Or did they perform better on questions that were infrequent and blocked. The results were clear: smaller slices of content were better. And, not just for helping the participants remember information, either. But, to perform more efficiently as well. The fine-grained group took 28% less time to answer their assessment questions than the blocked group. Yet they did 20% better. This group also performed 8% better on the comprehensive test than the blocked group. Learners in the blocked group had to re-read three times the number of sections than the fine-grained group did. The following was true across the three scoring measures in the study. The fine-grained performed 22.2% better than the blocked group. It also performed 8.4% better than the medium-grained group. The fine-grained group used “micro” content and frequent assessment questions. Working this way, they did better than both the other competing groups, in every category. From this study, it would appear that bite-sized content is, indeed, better.”

Microlearning promotes information retention. Because it comes in small doses and is more memorable than long-form learning. It also fosters information recall. It does this by catering to the average employee’s short attention span.

Cater to Changing Attention Spans with Microlearning

Today’s workforce looks different than it did 10, 5, or even 3 years ago. A major reason for this is both startling and true. Over time, peoples’ attention spans are getting shorter. What’s the culprit behind this phenomenon? You guessed it – technology, especially social media. Various forms of technology are helpful in many ways. But they are also eroding the human attention span. Huffington Post staff wrote about this phenomenon. “…The social and emotional circuitry of a child’s brain learns from contact and conversation with everyone it encounters over the course of a day. These interactions mold brain circuitry. The fewer hours spent with people – and the more staring at a digitized screen — portends deficits.”4 It goes to reason that this would also apply to adults. The average American adult spends 11 hours a day using some type of technological gadget.5 The ramifications of this are damaging. Spending lots of time on such gadgets sharpens certain cognitive skills. But, it also shortens attention spans. This is why employers may want to use microlearning in corporate training. Today’s company leaders must look beyond the long-form learning of yesterday. That is, if they want to develop their employees and grow their businesses.

Microlearning caters to learners’ ever-shortening attention spans. This is why employers are turning to it, and why it is the future of corporate training.

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Banning BYOD Is Not the Answer to Attention-Span Problems

Some company leaders assume they have a solution to the shortening attention-span phenomenon. They may opt to ban BYOD (“bring your own device”) policies at work. While this is a logical solution, it is not an expedient one. Employees are going to bring their iPhones and tablets to work and use them on breaks. And, on-the-clock as well. Regardless of a no-device policy. To fight technology and social media is to fight a losing battle. It's not a good idea to restrict devices at work. Instead, it’s better for employers to work with technology. This can help to bring about the desired behavioral changes in their employees. Microlearning is administered through technology. And, it can help bring about these changes.

Microlearning Triggers Behavioral Change

Microlearning has profound characteristics. It has an ability to cause knowledge retention. It also has an ability to trigger behavioral change in workers. Simply put, this type of learning is a catalyst for change. Alex Khurgin, Director of learning at Grovo, recently made a presentation on microlearning and behavioral change. In his presentation, The Microlearning Transformation: Understanding How Behavior Change Really Works, he explained that there are three ways to change people. One is by motivating them. Another is by facilitating “aha” moments. These moments tear down old mindsets and erect new ones. Also key is facilitating microlearning. He explained that microlearning changes human behaviors. Especially when presented in 5- to 10-minute daily lessons. These can include cues, stories, and role models (positive and negative). According to Khurgin, microlearning is the shortest path between “aha” moments. These are also known as “new mindsets”. And, they bring about behavioral change.

Khurgin is not the only professional who believes microlearning is key. That it can change employees’ behavior. So does Asha Pandey, eLearning specialist and contributor to eLearning Industry’s blog. In her article How to Use Microlearning-Based Training Effectively6, Pandey gives a practical strategy for how to use microlearning to trigger behavioral change in workers. She suggests that trainers use a microlearning nugget. This features “a branching scenario with a visual indication of how learners fare with the choices they make. The learners are presented with a real life scenario (a project need). Besides the learning of the primary learning course, they need to apply their knowledge and determine the right audio strategy for this project. As you see, the visual indicators provide cues to the learners on how they are performing. Looking at these cues, they can re-look at further choices as they move forward.”

The human interaction elicited by microlearning has a lot to do with its behavior-changing abilities. This type of learning often presents learners with a few minutes of training. Then it prompts them to act on it. In this way, microlearning is like video-based learning. Video-based learning is another powerful training medium used in the workplace.

Microlearning Makes Employees
Experts at Their Jobs

It’s amazing how microlearning can apply to any subject. And not just to scholarly subjects . Cooking, cosmetics application, and communication techniques are often learned best in small chunks. This is also true of other “fun” subjects. Such as fishing, songwriting, boxing, or interior decorating. Short videos or gamified learning units can work best to deliver lessons. Many people become experts in their favorite hobby. This is due to the widespread availability of microlearning materials on the Internet. This is all well and good. But, company leaders don’t care if their employees are great at baking cakes or building muscle. Managers want their workers to be well versed in company policies and procedures. They also want them to be skilled at their job duties. This is not too much to ask. With microlearning, it is possible for every employee—not just top performers—to be better at what they do. In fact, it may not be a stretch to say this. Microlearning, when administered correctly, can make workers experts at their jobs. The same way it makes them experts at their hobbies. It's not hard for employers to ensure this. Installing microlearning in the workplace in practical ways, is a good strategy.

Practical Ways to Install MicroLearning
Training in the Workplace

Microlearning is easy to put in place in the workplace. Here are a few simple ways to do this:

  1. Train workers with videos that are a few minutes in length whenever possible.
  2. Shorten learning units. For example, break up a 50-minute training session into 10 5-minute sessions. Use video, virtual games, forums, and audio clips to deliver the information.
  3. Allow learners to pace training. Some people will do better learning in 3-minute nuggets than those that are 5 minutes or longer. Other will get bored with this small of a nugget and will need one that is considerably longer. Let employees take ownership of their learning experiences by pacing them as they see fit.
  4. Gamify online learning or video-based training. This will help to catch and keep employees’ attention.
  5. Offer succinct, story-rich presentations during training.

Microlearning Should NOT Replace Formal Learning

As effective as microlearning is, it is not without deficiency. When used only as a primary mode of learning, microlearning can be destructive. In his article The Story Behind Microlearning7, David Cutler wrote about the problems that crop up when microlearning is incorrectly used. He quoted Curtis J. Bonk, Professor of Instructional Systems Technology at Indiana University:

“For the learner[s] themselves (who rely on microlearning), they will lack a larger perspective. They will lack synthesis. They will lack a sense of the macro structure of a field or discipline if everything’s a lot of little teachings. It's not hard to learn how to spell a certain sentence in Spanish. We can do some microlearning pretty quickly. But will you understand what you’re saying? Will you understand when to say it, and how to say it, and the contextual cues in that environment? Will you misuse the language because you missed some subtle cues from others there?”

In response to this, Cutler wrote, “For what I gather, micro-learning can and should be used as another tool. Not as a replacement for any type of formal instruction.” In other words, microlearning is best used as a supplement. A supplement to a more formal learning program in the workplace.

It’s not uncommon for employers to become overwhelmed at the thought of choosing, implementing, and overseeing an entire employee-training program. It can be confusing to find answers to questions like…

“How much microlearning is too much?”

“What other types of learning will my employees respond well to?”

“If I invest in a formal learning program, will I be wasting thousands of dollars?”

Without a doubt, launching a corporate learning program can be a daunting task. Still, ensuring employees get quality training is crucial for company growth. The solution many employers turn to is a full-featured eLearning system. An eLearning system, or a social learning management system (LMS), integrates microlearning to the degree that it is highly effective and supportive of a formal learning program. It also utilizes many other methods of learning such as social learning, mobile learning, blended learning, and video-based learning.

Beyond offering a formal training program supplemented by microlearning, Cornell student Alex Avery suggests that employers create a learning culture in the workplace.8 He wrote, “The most successful training organizations operate as if their businesses are changing all the time. Even if they are not. To avoid getting stuck in one approach to training, create a learning environment. One way to do this is by incorporating all types of informal learning into everyday processes. This can mean including collaborative, social learning activities; self-study or on- demand learning experiences; and embedded learning, where employees have job aids to refer to while they do their work.” A simple way to create this type of learning culture is to put in place a social learning management system. One that makes good use of microlearning.

Use LMS software to deliver
short eLearning courses 

The best way to deliver short eLearning courses and other types of microlearning is with LMS software. By using a full-featured LMS, you can design corporate eLearning courses and eLearning activities that meet the needs of your workforce perfectly. TOPYX LMS has all the tools you need to create online training that gets the results you want. Request a free LMS demo of the TOPYX platform to learn more.

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Debbie Williams

Debbie Williams

Director, Marketing