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Why Microlearning Is the New Big Deal

If you’ve been keeping track of what’s au courant in instructional design and performance improvement, you probably know that one of the buzz words these days is “microlearning.” Contrary to first impressions, it is not learning designed for people with short attention spans. What it actually refers to is learning interventions that are tightly focused on one and only one specific, actionable learning objective. So although microlearning is generally short, it’s not really the duration that defines it, it’s the focus. That said, we’re generally referring to interventions of 10 minutes or less—short enough that a learner can complete them in a single sitting, without getting distracted or feeling the need to stop and resume later.

Here are just a few examples of topics well suited to microlearning:

  • How to use time management software to file an expense report
  • How to draw blood from a patient
  • What personal protective equipment to wear when working near high-voltage power lines

Keep it simple.

One of the main benefits of microlearning is that because it has only one learning objective, it’s faster and easier to determine how well it achieves that objective. If it falls short, it’s also faster and easier to identify the problems and make necessary improvements.

Delivery format is flexible. Microlearning can be in the form of a quick and easy video, eLearning, PDF job aid, or even a few minutes of face-to-face training—as long as the result is focused on one specific learning objective. To reiterate: an entire vehicle repair manual would not be microlearning. A five minute video how to install brake pads would be.

Microlearning has big advantages.

Because it’s so tightly focused, microlearning offers a host of significant advantages for learners and trainers alike.

Some of the most significant advantages for learners include:

  1. Provides real-time solutions to real-time problems
  2. Minimal disruption of scheduled work and productivity
  3. Easier to individualize the learning experience
  4. Higher employee engagement (assuming the instructional provides the first three advantages)

Advantages for employers and training developers include:

  1. Faster turnaround on design, development, and implementation
  2. Easier to measure effectiveness and, if ineffective, to improve or replace
  3. Less disruption of employee/learner productivity
  4. Higher completion rates
  5. Short videos are easier to stream and view on portable devices

These benefits are not automatic, however. It’s important that your instructional design includes measures, such as a content management strategy with a clear organizational structure, metatags, and keywords, to ensure that learners can easily find exactly what they need, when they need it.

How To Leverage Microlearning for Your Business Strategy

If you’re beginning to suspect that there might be more to deploying an effective microlearning strategy than tossing a few PDFs into a folder on your file server, then you’d be right. Microlearning works best when, instead of providing learners with a few general-purpose tools, you develop more highly-specialized tools designed for specific purposes.

To that end, here are some final things to think about when developing your microlearning:

  1. Analyze how tightly focused, well-organized, actionable units of learning can help advance specific business objectives.
  2. Analyze how microlearning can supplement rather than replace your existing training initiatives. Where can it fill in gaps or speed time to competency at a specific skill? How can you use it to provide updates or customized supplements to your more comprehensive modules?
  3. Give careful thought to delivery methods. Microlearning does not necessarily have to be self-directed. For example, it may be more efficient and cost-effective to train small groups of employees face-to-face on a topic such as fire safety, while how to file an expense report could be addressed with a single PDF job aid.
  4. Measure for success. You need to know which training interventions are effective so you can weed out or improve those that aren’t. It’s better to have a handful of microlearning interventions that are highly effective than to have dozens that are a waste of time and resources to develop and maintain.
  5. Don’t forget mobile platforms: Because microlearning is so tightly focused, it’s particularly well-suited for mobile platforms such as cellphones and tablets. That said, make sure the development tool you use allows for efficient file sizes and responsive graphic design.

Want to see microlearning in action?

Check out our eLearning course for Cubist!

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Gordon Lewis

So said a Maestro veteran who has worked with Gordon many times. No one disagrees, but several wish they had been the first to capture it…

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