The workplace landscape is constantly evolving, and professionals are more harried than ever. Let’s face it, we’re busy! We do more in less time, often away from our physical desks while working on mobile devices.
As learning & development professionals, we must always be exploring ways to help others keep their skills and knowledge up to date in this demanding and fast-paced work environment. It's no wonder then that microlearning is exploding in popularity.
Microlearning is essentially bite-sized training, typically in an online or web-based format, and usually lasting less than 10 or 15 minutes. Most of us are familiar with microlearning already, even if the term is new. Who hasn’t gone to YouTube to watch a video about how to quickly fix something? That’s a key advantage of microlearning: access to important information quickly, often with the purpose of accomplishing a particular task.
Microlearning can encompass a variety of media, ranging from video snippets, audio clips, animation, and of course, traditional eLearning. These elements can be used individually as a standalone microlearning engagement. Or, they can be combined to create a blended microlearning module. As with all training, the media outlet should not be the driver for the training; it should be selected based on it being the best delivery strategy for the content and the audience.
It’s important to understand that in an L&D context, a single microlearning event is almost always part of a much larger overall learning curriculum containing specific learning paths for different audiences. Microlearning elements can stand as individual pieces in the right situation, but the simple fact is that they can only cover a small segment of content.
Why use Microlearning?
Individual microlearning elements are faster and cheaper to design and develop compared to standard training deliverables. This makes microlearning accessible even for L&D organizations that have tighter budgets, enabling the rapid delivery of short, content-rich modules with relatively little impact on resources.
Microlearning fits well with mobile, which is one of the main reasons for the model’s growing use and familiarity. Learners can complete training in short timeframes, often while on the go. No longer do learners need to sit at their desk, log into the organization’s learning management system, and complete a 60-minute eLearning course. Learners can access microlearning when they need it, capturing the essential information, and then proceed with their day.
To that point, microlearning serves as an effective strategy for engaging young professionals. Millennials, who tend to spend a great deal of time on their smartphones, are an optimal audience for this training format. Microlearning’s short bursts of content are a natural fit for handheld electronic devices.
Sustainability is another benefit of microlearning—again, due to its compact size, it is relatively easy to maintain, update, and repurpose the content.
Constraints of Microlearning
Microlearning cannot serve as the end-all, be-all for a training program. It should always be considered as a smaller piece of the larger training project pie.
As such, it may not be the best outlet for delivering critical content, such as compliance training deliverables. Microlearning modules can enhance an overall compliance training plan, but this type of content could be undervalued and wind up falling through the cracks. This is not to say that any content delivered in the microlearning format is seen as lightweight, or even irrelevant; due to the ability of accessing the training via mobile device, the content should be assessed when considering microlearning as a delivery format.
When to Use Microlearning
Microlearning is a solid option for performance support elements, such as job aids and reinforcement tools.
Content best suited for microlearning can be categorized as information the learner needs "just in time." In essence, the learner may be familiar with the content, aware of how it connects to other elements of an activity or task. This task is typically something the learner doesn’t execute on a regular basis. The learner needs to be able to perform the task, but doesn’t need to have those steps memorized.
An example could be changing the register tape on a point-of-sale system; the frequency of this task is low for the learner, but they still need to be able to perform it. When the opportunity presents itself, the learner can access a short how-to video or step-by-step instructions (both considered microlearning) via a QR code. The execution of the training may take a total of five minutes. The microlearning moment empowers the learner to access the information they need, when they need it, allowing them to continue forward with their work.
Keep in mind, converting other training into microlearning isn’t as easy as it may sound. (This is true for converting training programs into alternate delivery strategies period.) As you probably have assessed, transitioning microlearning from other forms of training delivery is not an apples-to-apples shift. The content, purpose, and audience of the training should seriously be considered before selecting any format.
Microlearning Best Practices
Select concise content for microlearning modules or bite-size training interventions.
Keep in mind that microlearning is typically accessed via mobile devices. Concise content is ideal for this delivery mechanism.
Approach the design with a “lean” mentality.Focus only on the content the learner needs within a given microlearning element. Don’t complicate microlearning modules by adding extraneous content. The old L&D adage, “Need to know vs. want to know,” is key here.
Don’t design and develop microlearning in a vaccum.
Think through how the one (or two, or more) micro-moments are part of a bigger picture for the learner. Consider where each microlearning event fits within the overall training initiative. Ask yourself how this one microlearning event connects to other learning elements, regardless of their delivery formats. Is it a springboard for new learning? Can it be used as a refresher element for previous learning?
Diligently track the maintenance of microlearning deliverables.
A learning sustainability plan is important generally for an L&D organization, but even more so for microlearning elements, which may be used in several different training programs simultaneously. This will help you understand the impact of a potential change to one microlearning element that is part of several training programs. Track where exactly the microlearning is used, which audiences access it, and when it is edited/updated.
Plan to and execute on measurement, evaluation, and adjustments.
Again, this applies to all learning initiatives, as it helps to reinforce the value of each individual microlearning event. You may come across insights on how the learning can be used in other ways, reaching a more profitable learning intervention for your organization.
Microlearning isn’t the ultimate solution for L&D organizations, but its flexible, just-in-time execution allows it to serve many purposes within a greater learning strategy.