Many of the important things I know took me years to learn. Whether it was expertise in Excel or some ability in facilitation, I wasn’t able to master the skills in a workshop; I had to struggle to learn them over a long period of time. You may have similar stories like this where you learned a valuable work skill by trial and error spanning months and years. Or perhaps your presentation skills have been honed the past few years as more and more opportunities came your way to deliver information to your colleagues.
In the past, training frequently focused on one-off chunks of learning. We’ve improved on that with blended learning which spreads out learning beyond a single workshop. However, that’s still a far cry from the years to achieve mastery that I seem to need.
What is cumulative micro-learning anyway?
We get a hint of the way forward with micro-learning. Micro-learning makes it easy to spread out small chunks of learning over a long period of time. What I’m proposing is that we plan learning interventions with a multi-year time horizon using modules designed to cumulatively add up over four or five years. Let’s call it cumulative micro-learning.
But is this even possible? Sure it is! Many training professionals have the skills to design such a program and technology provides the means to deliver it. The issue of making it happen is more a matter of organizational commitment to the idea than any technical difficulty. Below, I’ll show you two main levers for making this shift happen (one functional in nature and the other more “soft”).
The training department gives employees the permission to learn
Perhaps one of the most underrated functions of the training department is that it gives employees permission to learn. An employee might not be allowed to spend a day watching YouTube videos on a topic they need to master, but they can get permission to attend a day-long event orchestrated by the training department.
The challenge is finding a way to extend this permission to cumulative micro-learning. It all depends on the company culture, but it may be necessary for training to arrange scheduled times for micro-learning—just like you would for a status update meeting—even though theoretically the person could do it any time they were free. It may even be necessary to let employees escape to a training room so that they are free from any pressures (self-imposed or from others) to put learning on hold while they do other work.
The difficulty of getting permission for reflection
It can be difficult to get permission for employees to spend time on micro-learning even when it looks like instructor-led training (e.g. a video or simulation on a particular topic). It’s even more difficult when the learning activity is reflection. The typical busy manager has a hard time accepting that the employee sitting back with their feet up is actually engaged in the reflection module of a well-designed cumulative micro-learning course.
Yet, genuine reflection is a necessary part of long-term learning. The way to build it into a program is through conversations where two or more employees are asked to spend 15 or 20 minutes discussing the topic. This isn’t quite the same as pondering something on your own, but it’s a good substitute and has its own advantages. You can get permission for a scheduled learning conversation and without that permission, it probably won’t happen.
Learning often takes years and is best absorbed in small doses that are designed to be cumulative. We have the opportunity, by the grace of technology, to deliver this kind of learning through well-designed cumulative micro-learning. To do so we need to extend our thinking around blended learning so that we map out a program that last years, not weeks or months. We also have to figure out how to ensure employees have permission to do this kind of on-going learning, even the fuzzier, more reflective parts of learning. All the elements to deliver this kind of learning are in place, so let’s start piloting these kinds of programs and gathering data on how well they work.