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Microlearning: What It Is and What It Isn’t

Last month, we published the results from our 2017 Learning and Remembering Survey. In the survey, we asked respondents to tell us what learning trends or new training delivery methods they are most excited about for 2017. The number one answer? Microlearning. 18% of respondents said they’re excited about microlearning for the year ahead. The overall breakdown of trends cited lines up with the type of solutions we have been creating in recent months:

Learning Trends Chart

Microlearning can take many different shapes. Some use short videos. Others create short tutorials that are mobile-optimized. Many turn to bite-sized games.

With that being said, just because people are excited about microlearning, doesn’t mean they know the proper way to incorporate it into their training strategy. I hope this article will help you discover what microlearning is, what it’s not and how to effectively blend it into your 2017 strategies.

Small but mighty microlearning

There are lots of ways to describe microlearning. I think eLearning Heroes says it best when they compare it to one of my favorite things: food! The idea is simple. A large eLearning course is like an entire cake. It’s something you wouldn’t eat all by yourself and you have to give it plenty of time to digest.

Microlearning, on the other hand, is like a batch of mini-muffins: easy to eat in just a few bites. Likewise, microlearning delivers content to learners in small, bite-sized pieces. It allows learners to focus on a single objective for about 5-7 minutes at a time.

There are plenty of reasons why microlearning is a good training tool. Let’s take a look at a few.

Microlearning is a valuable reinforcement method.

The first word that comes to mind when I hear the word microlearning is reinforcement. What do you really think sales reps will remember from a 3-day product launch meeting if you don’t follow up after training? Microlearning allows you to reinforce the most important concepts and need-t0-know information after a training event without requiring a large time commitment from learners.

We designed Knowledge Guru’s new Drive app with this use case in mind. The app delivers customized daily mini-games to learners on their mobile devices. Each day of play takes only five minutes to complete.

Microlearning is useful if you want to space content out over time. 

The challenges and cost of not remembering are staggering. The good news is that proven strategies (like microlearning) exist that inhibit forgetting and enhance remembering. We recommend using a 10-minute microlearning snippet to introduce a concept, a live meeting to elaborate on it, and a reinforcement game offered later (such as Knowledge Guru) to provide additional repetitions. Also consider sending simple email messages or a link to a short video that reinforces, or reiterates a message.

Spacing is only one part of remembering. Repetition is the second part. Our brains constantly set priorities for us cognitively. The brain continually assesses what info and skills are essential to us and lets go of what is not. Frequent repetitions cue our brain that something is important and needs to be retained. Microlearning allows organizations to deliver these frequent repetitions to learners in small, easy-to-access chunks of content.

Busy employees need something quick and easy to access.

Let’s face it: the people you train are busy and likely feel they can’t commit much time or attention to training once they are out of the new hire phase. Sales reps are out in the field most of the day and have little time to sit down at a laptop. Call center reps work in high production environments where they’re on the phone all day with limited time for anything else. Most people simply don’t have time to take training all at once. But microlearning could be a good solution to help people fit learning into their busy schedules.

When microlearning is not so mighty

Microlearning may be an optimal solution in the situations mentioned above. And lots of organizations think learners need microlearning. When in reality, microlearning may not be the right solution for their employees at all.

Two years ago, BLP President, Sharon Boller, wrote an article for ATD on microlearning myths. Her assertions on microlearning still stand today.

Microlearning can’t help learners go from novice to expert. 

In order to sustain a successful product launch, you want your reps to know your product(s) inside and out. Sales reps need to confidently communicate the points of differentiation that drive the value of the product based on each customer’s needs.

When you need to help learners become experts, a microlearning module is not enough. It takes longer periods of time to develop more in-depth knowledge or advanced skills.

Microlearning is no replacement for performance support. 

Microlearning is great for spacing learning out over time into small chunks or reinforcing a larger training experience. But what about when learners simply need to look something up? This is where performance support comes in. For instance, sales reps might find it difficult to keep up with new product releases and need a way to easily reference them. Sharon suggests:

“In this scenario consider creating a Google-esque type of search tool rather than one-off micro-learning modules. You can house all those micro-modules within your Google-esque environment.”

Microlearning should include less content than a full-sized course.

This one should be obvious, right? If the content learners need to know barely fits in a one-hour eLearning course, you shouldn’t try to simply replace that course with a 5-minute microlearning module. You’ll have to either strip the content down to the essentials or break one longer course into several smaller micro-lessons. You might also use a microlearning solution to reinforce the key points from the course.

Is microlearning right for your organization?

When deciding how to deliver training, you want to make sure you understand exactly who your learners are and what they need. Our Training Needs Analysis worksheet will help you ask the right questions, zero in on the “need to have” information, and make a sound plan for identifying the right learning solution.

How Microlearning Enables “Micro-Moments”

blp-learn-banner-update

Welcome back to our #BLPLearn blog series, where we offer a monthly look at design and technology as it pertains to learning and development. I’m your host, Jake Huhn—Senior Marketing Technologist at Bottom-Line Performance.

What are Micro-Moments?

There is a lot of talk in the L&D community about microlearning, and for good reason. But outside of the training world, the Internet is abuzz with a different “micro” term: micro-moments. That’s because back in 2015, Google shared a slew of new research about micro-moments. Much like in 2011 when Google pitched the “Zero Moment of Truth” concept, this new research sets out to be a game changer.

According to Google:

“Micro-moments occur when people reflexively turn to a device—increasingly a smartphone—to act on a need to learn something, do something, discover something, watch something, or buy something. They are intent-rich moments when decisions are made and preferences shaped.”

It turns out that the research Google has done to help serve its interest in the marketing world is extremely relevant to our own industry. Our learners are essentially our consumers. That’s why “Learner Personas” (modeled after “Buyer Personas”) are such an effective technique.

What the research shows


micro-moments

The data surrounding this concept is compelling to say the least, and it has so many implications for the L&D community as we adapt to the increasing mobile landscape. According to the report, 62% of smartphone users are more likely to take action right away toward solving an unexpected problem or new task because they have a smartphone.

And here’s an even more incredible statistic, as far as training is concerned:

90% of smartphone users have used their phone to make progress toward a long term goal or multi-step process while “out and about.”

I encourage you to read through this introduction to micro-moments on ThinkWithGoogle.com. This has big implications for how we use mobile and microlearning in training.

Tying it all together

It is important for us to realize that these micro-moments are already engrained in our learners’ behavior. Many of these micro-moments happen on the smartphone, and the research shows that people are using them to solve problems, find information, and reach goals.

When done correctly, microlearning enables and encourages micro-moments. And since learners increasingly want and need a “micro” experience, mobile learning is no longer an option; it’s essential. Mobile learning solutions should be implemented not just because they are convenient or trendy, but because mobile is now part of everyday life. Your learners are the same consumers that Google is trying so hard to understand, and micro-moments are how they make decisions and seek out information.

Sources:

https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/micromoments/intro.html

https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/articles/how-micromoments-are-changing-rules.html

http://www.forbes.com/sites/onmarketing/2015/04/09/googles-micro-moment-why-its-a-game-changer-for-cmos/#495cc30422b4

Can Micro-Learning Help Stressed, Unmotivated Learners?

micro-learning-2

I’ve published two posts on micro-learning in recent months. One was on this site; one was done for ATD. Both generated discussion with some folks debating my assertion that we need to be very cautious about leaping to it. I’m going to stand by my assertion. I think “micro-lessons” can be great for some things; I do not think they are the answer to most things. And for learners who are over-extended and not motivated to learn in the first place, they are not the answer at all.

Will Thalheimer, someone I respect tremendously in the arena of learning science research and applying research to practices, wrote an extensive comment to my ATD post. He also linked to a post by Alex Khurgin, CEO of Grovo, a SaaS company that produces lots of micro-learning. Khurgin positions micro-learning as good for 21st century businesses. Khurgin’s blog is high-level and, in general, promotes micro-learning as the solution to the crazy pace that exemplifies many of today’s organizations.

Here’s the thing. I feel like I am an example of the “C-suite” person so many say are the reason we need to shift to micro-learning. I do not own a Fortune 500 company, but I am a business owner who has concerns about maximizing what my team can do. My company has been named as one of the top 25 fastest growing companies in Indiana… and making sure our team members continually learn and grow is a key reason why we’re on that list. Their skill and knowledge fuels company growth.

Why Companies *Think* Learners Need Micro-Learning

Micro-Learning 1

Within my company (and probably many others), these truths all affect my team’s ability to learn:

  1. We’re stressed. Life is stressful, not just work. We all have a bazillion things to do each day and many people who need things from us.
  2. We face multiple interruptions each day. If we don’t discipline ourselves to ignore email, disconnect from instant messaging, or mute our phones, we can be distracted every few minutes all day long every day.
  3. Time is limited. We never feel like we have enough time to get things done.
  4. We want to enjoy life. Most folks don’t want to work 60-hour weeks; we need for our work – and our learning – to happen within the sanity of a 40- to 45-hour work week. Sadly, we don’t all hit the goal of 45-hour maximums, which makes carving out time for learning a constant challenge if it is not prioritized.
  5. Maintaining focus is HARD. New technologies and ideas are like squirrels, tempting us to run off in new directions all the time. We see these squirrels when we consume content on social media – checking out links sent via tweets,  perusing Zite, monitoring our Feed.ly accounts. We can get highly distracted just trying to “keep up.”

Micro-learning is identified as the answer to items 2, 3, and 5 from that list, but I do not believe it is truly “the” answer to any of them. It sounds great on the surface, but the root of the problem goes deeper.

Motivate, Focus, Repeat.

So what is the answer? I think these things are…

  1. Make sure motivation exists. Putting people who have zero desire to be learning into a learning situation is a recipe for flushing money down the drain. Motivation trumps almost everything else. Really great instructional designers can help with motivation, but only to a point. People need to perceive that learning the new skill matters to them in a significant way.
  2. Make sure focused time is available  Get clear on company priorities…and realize you can  only execute on one priority at a time. Without time to focus, people cannot learn. Don’t think you can squeeze a learning experience into five minutes per day.
  3. Repeat to remember. Assume that people will need to have multiple repetitions to truly learn something. Repetition can be effective in short, continuous bursts… but I’ll save that discussion for another blog post.
  4. Make sure there are immediate opportunities to use what’s being learned. Without the immediate opportunity to apply, learning gets lost.This would be a second way you can flush money down a drain.
  5. Make sure someone else – besides the learner – cares about what someone is learning. Someone else, either a manager or co-worker, needs to inquire about what’s being learned. If people never get to talk about or reflect on what they are learning, the learning will be extremely limited and difficult for the person to apply it.

Example

Right now, I am taking a 5-session MOOC (massive open online course) called Smart Growth for Private Businesses. It includes about 5.5 hours of lectures, several quizzes, and four case studies that are each 12-15 pages in length. I started the class about three weeks ago; I’m now three-fourths of the way through it and should have it completed in the next week or so. The lectures are organized into relatively small chunks, which are interspersed with 2-minute quizzes. The first sessions lectures are organized into “bites” of varying lengths that range in length from 2 minutes to 26 minutes. To date, I’ve invested several hours and I think every hour as been hugely valuable.

My completion of this course hits the five ingredients I feel are necessary for learning:

  1. I’m motivated. My company is growing extremely fast; we want to control our growth to maximize the health of our company and its team members. We’re also getting ready to start another strategic planning cycle and I will use the info from the course as we execute this process.
  2. I’m finding time to focus because focus matters. I’ve clarified my priorities… and taking this course is one of those priorities.
  3. I am reviewing the content with myself and others. I have taken notes, I’ve gone back and reviewed sections, etc. I’m repeating to remember… even using the white boards on my walls to write down key concepts I want to retain.
  4. I already mentioned strategic planning we’re preparing to do. I have an immediate need for the content.
  5. Two others in the company are also taking the course. Having someone to talk to is huge in retaining the information and learning from it.

So… that’s not micro-learning as I’ve seen it defined. But I can tell you I am getting excellent results, and I absolutely do not believe I would be getting excellent results if this content was of low or even medium value to me and delivered in small, five-minute chunks each day.

What do you think?

I’d love to hear your thoughts: can micro-learning truly help an employee who is stressed and lacks motivation learn?


Want to revamp your training? Plan out more engaging solutions and curriculums with our Simple Template for Planning Your Training Program.

The Myth of “Micro-Learning”

The Myth of Micro-Learning


There’s a new buzz phrase going around town these days in the L&D and talent development communities: “micro-learning.” An infographic on the modern learner, published by Bersin and Associates” in late 2014, seems to fuel this fire.

Meet the Modern Learner

The biggest take-away many are getting from this infographic is that today’s workers—the modern learners—have only 1% of their workweek to devote to professional development and learning. That equates to 24 minutes per week if you assume a 40-hour work week. Which is a measly 4.8 minutes per day to focus on learning.

The concern I have is that we make an assumption that we can or should winnow down all of our learning initiatives to fit within this 4.8 minutes per day (or 24 minutes per week).

Not All Training Fits the Micro-Learning Model

We can, however, handle reinforcement of training in 4.8 minutes a day. Learning science-based platforms such as Knowledge Guru, qStream, or Axonify can be very useful in delivering micro-reinforcement in this context. For additional ideas on how microlearning can be beneficial for training, check out this article.

Micro-learning is NOT useful when people need to acquire/learn complex skills, processes, or behaviors. Imagine trying to learn any of these behaviors or skills in 4.8 minutes per day:

  • A musical instrument
  • Project management
  • Agile software development and processes
  • Instructional design
  • Any software tool
  • Teamwork skills
  • Sales
  • A product (e.g. launching a new one)

What our industry needs is better clarity on when we need to formally train people, when we need to reinforce knowledge or skills people are building on their own, and when we simply need to keep key principles or practices front and center (e.g. safety and security practices).

The BLP Way

A few years ago, we opted to create a “learning lab” environment in our own organization. We knew we wanted a means of building technical and project management skills. It became apparent that if we wanted innovation to happen, we had to give it time to happen. This sparked the idea of “skill-builders,” which are formal side projects that employees can do on company time. This year, we formalized it to the point where an employee can allocate five full work days to their skill-builder.

Here’s the criteria for doing a skill-builder:

  • The skill-builder needs to link tightly to a competency the company has agreed is important to us. (e.g. We use AfterEffects quite a bit in our work. So, if a graphic designer wants to learn AfterEffects, he or she can craft a skill-builder around it.)
  • BLP needs to make sure the employee has sufficient time to do it; ideally, they will be able to work in 1/2 – full-day “chunks” on the skill-builder as it is too hard to stop/start when you are in learning mode.
  • A formal document needs to be created that describes the project, what skills it will build, and what resources are required, and how it links to BLP business needs.

An Example of the BLP “Skill-Builder”

Here’s an example of what one team member, Jackie Crofts, recently did with her skill-builder: she produced a fabulous AfterEffects video that we will use as a “product tour” of Knowledge Guru. She had only base knowledge of AfterEffects when she started.  More critically, Jackie is a fabulous illustrator, but she had minimal skill in using stock imagery and in doing graphic design work. She is a pure artist, which is GREAT when we are designing games; challenging when we need her to focus on marketing collateral.

 

Let’s not get so excited by this concept of “micro-learning” that we fail to recognize when it is appropriate… and when it is absolutely not appropriate. If we had only allowed Jackie to spend 1% of her workweek building AfterEffects skill, she would never have built the skill she did. Also, note that we did not send Jackie to a formal AfterEffects training course. We provided her with access to Lynda.com tutorials and to a colleague with AfterEffects skills, but she was mostly self-directed with her skill-builder.

So, is “micro-learning” the right answer for reinforcement? Absolutely. Will “micro-learning” help when it comes to actual skill-building? Not really. People still need dedicated time to build their arsenal of knowledge and skill. However, not all of this time needs to be spent in formal training. It DOES need to be time they can devote to learning for more than 4.8 minutes per day or 24 minutes per week. The payoff to organizations who give employees this time will be huge in terms of the innovation and productivity gains over the long-term.


Have training needs of your own? Whether micro-learning is the answer or not, you’ll need a plan. You can start with our Simple Template for Planning Your Training Program.