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Why you should consider microlearning for employee training

Can microlearning really deliver on its promise of stronger engagement and better knowledge retention? Short, self-directed learning that puts crucial knowledge in the palm of your employees’ hands and promotes more effective behavioral change sounds almost too good to be true. But is it? 

Learning in any context is often a hit-or-miss proposition. Outstanding content, engaging presenters, beautifully designed PowerPoint presentations, and gallons of Starbucks® coffee are still no guarantee your employees will engage with your training sessions or apply critical information when it matters most.

That’s the bad news. The good news is microlearning helps you do something about it. 

What is microlearning?

In a microlearning context, employees control when and how they interact with information. They manage their own learning experiences through self-directed, bite-sized learning modules they can access on the sales floor, at their desks, or on a business trip.   

Consider these scenarios: 

A thriving tech company sends new employees a welcome email that includes a list of one-sentence instructions about how to prepare for their first day.

A health care company creates two-minute videos that present the organization’s vision and cultural values. They play these videos during breaks at new employee orientation and feature them on the internal website as quick resources for all employees. 

A shoe company develops an app with brief click-through product overviews that include pictures, descriptions, and customer conversation starters to help sales associates build product knowledge. 

What do these learning applications have in common? They deliver key information in short, focused bursts employees can access at any time, on any device.  

That’s what sets microlearning apart.  

It’s not a new concept, but it has generated a lot of hype in recent years. Here’s why.

employee working at computer

How microlearning benefits employee training

Nine out of 10 people use their smartphones at work. On average, we check our phones 52 times every day, and we rely on them for many work-related tasks, including email, texting, productivity apps, and more. The problem is we’re also bombarded with distractions everywhere we turn—a staggering 54% of workers say their performance suffers because of it. 

Microlearning helps employees absorb information quickly right where they are. Instead of presenting large blocks of information, microlearning creates interactive assets with specific pieces of knowledge employees can put to use immediately. 

The benefits are clear:

  • Stronger engagement: Constant and diverse demands for our attention make it harder than ever to keep learners engaged. Microlearning uses interactive, compelling formats to present key concepts in less than 10 minutes. Employees come away with a single idea they can put into action immediately.
  • Knowledge retention: Short, targeted learning sessions help employees retain the most important information longer and transfer it to on-the-job scenarios.
  • Problem solving: When you notice gaps in employee knowledge or behavior, microlearning helps you bring everyone up to speed quickly and efficiently.
  • Context-based learning: Multi-device learning assets help employees complete modules and find the information they need quickly and easily during the regular flow of the day.
  • Faster deployment: For many organizations, microlearning can be developed and deployed faster than a lengthy course or training programs. That makes it an effective tool for bringing employees up to speed on new products, services, or organizational policies. 

5 steps to implement a microlearning strategy

With so many benefits, it’s easy to want to jump right into replacing your current training sessions with two-minute videos. But before you do that, there are two things you should know: Short doesn’t necessarily equal effective, and short assets don’t always fall under the umbrella of microlearning. To achieve the benefits above, microlearning content must fit within your larger training context while also retaining the unique value of focused, interactive learning.  

Like any new initiative, a successful microlearning strategy takes planning and careful management. Here are five steps to get you started:

1. Set attainable goals.

Microlearning emphasizes a completely different learning style than traditional training seminars or classes do, and its goals will be different. Look for specific ways to promote behavioral change through brief, targeted content with clear action items. That’s where microlearning will have the greatest impact.

2. Develop unique content.

Don’t try to slice and dice your current training modules into shorter pieces and call them microlearning. It won’t work. Microlearning assets should present complete concepts that your employees can implement immediately. That means you’ll need to develop new, unique content specifically for a microlearning environment. 

3. Determine one objective per asset.

Each microlearning asset—whether a video, infographic, or interactive module—should present one key idea you want the learner to remember. Multiple objectives translate to longer, more complex content, which will cost you the attention of your audience and undermine the primary benefits you’re hoping to achieve. 

4. Weave learning into your daily workflow.

Microlearning is most effective when employees can access the content in the context of their daily work. For this reason, assets should be accessible from any device—both in and out of the office. A learning management system (LMS) that incorporates microlearning is an excellent investment as you develop and deploy content. 

5. Track the results.

Keep a close eye on usage and productivity metrics to gauge effectiveness. Your LMS will help you collect data and pinpoint any friction points or hang-ups in your program. 

Leadership development in 2019

What to look for in a microlearning platform

While you can dabble in microlearning on your own, a microlearning-friendly LMS is your best bet for promoting adoption on an enterprise level. Here’s what to look for:

  • Integration: You’ll save a lot of headaches from data discrepancies and duplications if your LMS integrates with your HRMS. A single data source is also essential for reporting, data analysis, and job-based training requirements.
  • Analytics: Look for a robust analytics function that tracks learner profiles, completion rates, survey responses, performance data, and other KPIs.
  • Assessments: Built-in surveys, goal-setting exercises, and content assessments give you insight into employee experiences with the content. They also show you the greatest opportunities for improvement.
  • Multi-device functionality: Content should be available on all devices your employees use at work. Look for mobile-first learning and user experiences that function equally well on smartphones and desktops.
  • Visual dashboards: User dashboards track employee progress and accomplishments and give managers a quick snapshot of team achievements. Some platforms also use dashboards to gamify learning with leaderboards and achievement badges.
  • Social learning tools: Sharing, commenting, and interacting across learning modules encourages teams to grow together. Your LMS can facilitate peer-to-peer learning activities with tools such as live chat, social streams, likes and comments, and Q&A functions.

Learning strategies of the future will harness the power of microlearning to build an engaged, knowledgeable workforce. The key to successful implementation is to understand how people learn and meet them where they’re at with content that produces quick wins and behavioral changes. 

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