Microlearning has swept the training and development scene. It's a broad category of interventions that tend to be brief, bite-sized bursts of instruction that are convenient, searchable, and accessible. Essentially, wherever you are, you can learn something new in 5 minutes or less. It's a multifaceted, multipurpose tool that can take the form of videos, assessments, job aids/performance support, games, challenges, quizzes and more.
The business case for microlearning is irrefutable, addressing a range of pressing challenges facing organizations and individuals. For instance:
- The lifespan of American organizations is shrinking, down to about one-third of what it was in the late ‘50s and '60s. Companies have less and less time to get it right which means employees must be brought up to speed more quickly than ever before
- These employees face the compounding challenges of a reduced attention span, increased workload, and minimal time for training
- The workload tends to be dynamic in nature, with technology, tasks and priorities in a constant state of flux, necessitating frequently updating and upskilling
Hence the popularity of microlearning. But, as with any tool, it's important to understand what it can do, what it can't and how to make the most of it. While microlearning can't accomplish the same outcomes as a full-blown traditional workshop, webinar or elearning module, it can actually accomplish more when approached with a RICH mindset.
L&D professionals, leaders and employees alike must understand the appropriate uses and limitations of a 5-minute learning burst. Microlearning lends itself to just-in-time specific instruction. It's ideal for refreshers and updating knowledge or skills. It's the perfect vehicle for filling gaps and supporting contextual application.
It follows that the most effective examples of microlearning begin with clear, focused and realistic goals or outcomes. Becoming a great leader isn't a realistic objective of a bite-sized chunk of learning; but recognize a positive result might be.
One of the most attractive and compelling features of many microlearning assets is their dynamic nature and the way they lend themselves to quick and easy updates. Revisions to a 2-day workshop can be daunting and take days, weeks or months. Whereas, revisions to a 3-minute explainer video, database, or electronic document could take hours or even just minutes. This allows learners to count on microlearning to represent the latest and greatest thinking on the topic.
Microlearning offers a unique and powerful opportunity for meaningful collaboration with learners. This is partially because of its short format and delivery platforms. Involving others in the generation of training bursts blurs the lines between providers and receivers of learning. And technology makes it easy to invite, manage and deploy user-generated content and that enhances relevance, credibility and engagement.
Microlearning elements may be bite-size, but that doesn't mean they have to be isolated, stand-alone, one-off learning assets. Innovative L&D functions are creatively designing cohesive series of bursts that work together to deliver greater outcomes. This doesn't mean taking an 8-hour class and chunking it down to a mind-numbing 96 sequential 5-minute pieces. Rather, it involves taking a comprehensive but fresh look at what learners need as well as when and how they need it. Then offer just that in quick, varied and engaging formats.
Microlearning is best served with a RICH approach
Microlearning has the potential to supplement training efforts in ways that enhance effectiveness and efficiency. But to deliver meaningful outcomes, a RICH approach is required, one that's realistic, iterative, collaborative and holistic. And when this is achieved, less really does become more.