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Why microlearning is not just about mini training


May 16, 2020




Despite being switched on 24-7, 365 days a week, lack of time has become a universal pain point in our modern workforce. Mythical nine-to-five boundaries around work are rapidly fading from our collective memory, with most of us logging on after walking out of the office to continue work, without even a second thought. Our packed schedules not only exact a heavy toll on our mental and physical wellbeing but also provide significant challenges for incorporating corporate training or compliance training into workflows. According to one recent study, three out of five of us feel overloaded with ‘too much work to do well,’ and one in five reports reaching their ‘limit’ of overwork. The last thing an already time-poor workforce needs is ‘death by PowerPoint.’

Mini Training VS Microlearning

There is an incongruity between ever-increasing demands on an ‘anytime, anywhere’ workforce, and the drive to promote continuous learning. By its very name, microlearning addresses this pain point in delivering a critical corporate online course or certificate program in shorter sharper bursts. Typically, the marketing of microlearning has honed in on the fact that it takes up less of our precious time. With 94 per cent of learners favouring microlearning over traditional training, with convenience cited as the key win, the time-saving factor is an obvious selling point.

By focusing on delivery over content, microlearning has been severely downplayed, and at times, misconceived. The ‘why’ behind microlearning is not about catering to the perceived goldfish-level attention spans of an increasingly millennial workplace; and equally, it’s not about ‘dumbing down’ content or providing ‘get it done and over with’ training. Rather, microlearning taps into cognitive science to establish habits of continuous application, repeatedly exposing learners to short bursts of content (at spaced intervals) that result in more durable knowledge retention. 

Relevance, active engagement, flexibility, and responsiveness

Microlearning is more than just short videos; aside from the diverse suite of assets that complement video content (from games, social learning, and surveys, to assessment and rapid authoring), at the heart of microlearning is an educational approach that humanises corporate training. Everything centers around the learner in terms of relevance, active engagement, flexibility, and responsiveness.

If training is irrelevant, convenience doesn’t matter. Encyclopaedic slideshows reinforce negative connotations associated with corporate learning and human resource development and condition already overburdened learners to approach such activities with a certain weariness (queue the collective eye-roll). By removing the ‘fluff’ and focusing on what really matters, microlearning overturns these assumptions through the precise selection of needs-based content that is actionable and provided just-in-time. 

There is nothing arbitrary about micro lessons. By distilling content from subject matter experts down to the granular level, microlearning provides discrete units of knowledge that can be targeted when it matters most to learners, and when opportunities are provided to apply understandings in real-world scenarios.

With the learner placed front and centre of the future of corporate management training, engagement matters, not just in terms of the enjoyment factor, but also in terms of adult learning efficacy. Microlearning understands that attaching cheap jokes or gimmicks to the same old training has little impact. The rationale is not engagement for engagement’s sake, but engagement for learning. More specifically, active (or interactive) engagement is the aim, whereby the learner becomes personally invested in the training as a valued contributor. As demonstrated in the work of psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, true engagement has been shown to trigger a ‘flow state,’ boosting productivity and priming the brain for learning. Microlearning via platforms such as SC Training (formerly EdApp) Learning Management System (LMS) tap into an engagement toolkit, from gamification to interactive social learning features that include peer-to-peer discussions and self-authoring.

The #1 Microlearning Experience Platform

SC Training (formerly EdApp)’s rapid authoring tool allows L&D leaders and instructional designers to curate elearning content, while also empowering team members to take hands-on roles in peer-to-peer learning. Such learner-centered employee training provides the most instant forms of an engaging learning environment, while also developing critical soft skills such as creative thinking, collaboration, and self-directed learning. In contrast to passive learning strategy, learner-centered training optimizes all four stages of ‘the learning loop’: knowledge acquisition, application, feedback, and reflection. 

When time is of the essence, flexibility also matters. The benefits of mobile microlessons that can be consumed in small pockets of time, anywhere, anytime, and revisited on-demand, speak for themselves. Less obvious, but perhaps more impactful, are the wins self-paced learning provides. While convenience certainly plays into 91% of staff reporting wanting to learn at their own pace, there are clear educational benefits that come with self-paced learning. By controlling when, where and how long learning takes place, an individual is able to take advantage of their own ideal learning window. It turns out that cortisol-fuelled high-pressure environments may not be most conducive to long-term retention of knowledge. A study in the Journal of Memory and Language found that subjects who undertook training programs in self-paced learning environments had higher retention rates than subjects that were forced to adhere to time constraints.

Responsiveness in the form of real-time feedback and progress metrics ensure that the ‘learning loop’ is not left unfinished. The data attached to discrete learning units allow companies a bird’s-eye view of knowledge growth, and the ability to use microlearning platforms such as SC Training (formerly EdApp) as a formative tool to strengthen understanding through feedback and reflection. Far from any ‘set and forget’ training method, learner metrics enable workplaces to target hotspots, and flexibly adapt development directions and goals in the moment of need. 

An outsider to microlearning might be surprised to learn that the elearning development approach is more focused on quality over speed. Shorter bursts of learning over longer periods of time, with spaced repetition, and multiple opportunities for learner engagement, feedback and reflection, offers deep learning in our fast-paced corporate world. Microlearning fits into our demanding schedules without compromising learning outcomes. 

Under the glossy surface of microlearning, the earning objectives are anything but superficial. Microlearning is not about creating the shortest videos possible; rather, it is about empowering learners with a transformative form of training that stands the test of time. 

Microlearning may indeed be shorter and sharper, but it is also smarter.

1. David Maxfield (2019). ‘Overcommitted? 5 Tips to Take Control of Your To-Do List’ Association for Talent Development blog, 21 February 2019. available online, https://www.td.org/insights/overcommitted-5-tips-to-take-control-of-your-to-do-list, retrieved 13 May 2020.
2. Michael Boyette (2012). RLI survey: Bite-size learning is hot at ASTD Conference, but execution is lagging back on the home front, available online, https://rapidlearninginstitute.com/news/rli-survey-bite-size-learning-hot-astd-conference-execution-lagging-back-home-front/, retrieved 22 April 2020.
3. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (1990). Flow: the psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper & Row.
4. Kelly Palmer and David Blake (2018). ‘How to Help Your Employees Learn from Each Other’ Harvard Business Review, 8 November 2018, available online, https://hbr.org/2018/11/how-to-help-your-employees-learn-from-each-other, retrieved 13 May 2020.
5. Towards Maturity’s report (2016) ‘The Learner Voice: Part 3,’ November 2016, available online, https://emeraldworks.com/research-and-reports/workplace-learning/learner-voice-part-3#downloadReportForm, retrieved 13 May 2020.
6. Jonathan G Tullis and Aaron S Benjamin (2011). ‘On the effectiveness of self-paced learning,’ Journal of Memory and Language vol. 64,2: 109-118.


Danielle Jackman Guest Author

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