Microlearning - aka “learning that fits” - was arguably the most-discussed topic in workplace learning in 2017. It was heavily featured during the annual Association for Talent Development International Conference and Expo. Hundreds of articles were written about it, including this one, this one and this one. Business stakeholders and L&D professionals alike couldn’t stop asking about it. Microlearning may have been big in 2017, but the conversation is really just getting started.
Here are four reasons why I expect microlearning to be an even more important part of L&D in 2018.
1. Merciless Focus on Results
If I had a nickel for every company that described themselves as “results-focused,” I could trade those nickels for a pile of bitcoin. The constant reality of business disruption is pushing organisations to try new ideas faster and faster. Employees are expected to stay focused on their jobs and therefore have limited time and capacity for formal training. Agility is THE modern differentiator, and all business functions are expected to keep pace and have a measurable impact on the bottom line. Unfortunately, these concepts haven’t historically been strengths for L&D.
Microlearning is an outcome-based approach to workplace learning. It helps organisations specifically address their most pressing issues by transforming critical employee knowledge into meaningful real-world behavior. Rather than defaulting to lengthy courses or generic elearning modules, microlearning practitioners build only the content needed to solve measurable business problems as quickly as possible (more on building microlearning here). That’s why stakeholders who have historically doubted the value of training are so interested in microlearning.
2. Continued Technology Evolution
L&D has long pointed to technology as a big reason for its shortcomings in the results department. The traditional learning management system was designed to deliver courses, track attendance and push out quizzes, but these capabilities have never been sufficient for driving behaviour change. This is especially true in a modern, technology-laden business environment. For L&D to be better, the technology must get better first, right?
Well, guess what! Tech has gotten better. A LOT BETTER! It can no longer be blamed for L&D failure. Rather, learning professionals must reassess the role tech plays within the learning ecosystem. If the existing tools can’t cut it, there are microlearning solutions, including Axonify, that can be used to augment or replace existing systems. The ubiquity of mobile devices, along with the increasing acceptance of BYOD, provides L&D with an awesome opportunity to meet the employee where they are (physically and developmentally) with the support they need. Microlearning can maximize this tech evolution.
3. Resurgence of Learning Science
The science of learning is far from new. People forget. Context matters. Practice is critical. We’ve known these things for a long time. Much of it is common sense, but we’ve still chosen to ignore it in our learning strategies. What we’re left with are bloated courses and the reality of the forgetting curve.
Fortunately, the first two items on this list - results and technology - have flung the door to learning science wide open. Modern technology makes it possible to deliver the right content to the right person at the right time. L&D can retire generic, one-size-fits-all courses in favor of targeted, agile, data-driven solutions. Microlearning makes it easier to apply learning science principles, such as spaced repetition and retrieval practice, by fitting learning activities into the workflow while personalising the pace of progress. This ensures engagement, retention and behaviour change.
Read Will Thalheimer’s explanation of microlearning for more on the connection to learning science.
4. Unavoidable Everyday Behaviour
What do you do when you have a problem at home and you need information? You Google it. Well, what if you need a more detailed explanation of how to do something? You probably watch a YouTube video. An unending supply of information has radically improved our everyday problem solving opportunities. However, our “Google reflexes” are largely inhibited at work, and many of us remain dependent on spoon-fed information to do our jobs. This sustains L&D’s sense of importance, but it also breeds contempt from employees who constantly wonder, “why can’t I just search for the answer when I need it?”
Microlearning can help organisations balance the push/pull of workplace learning. By focusing on “learning that fits,” L&D can provide solutions that are easily accessed at the time of need. Whether it’s a short video, job aid or refresh question, microlearning content personalises the learning experience and puts the employee in greater control of their own development.
Microlearning is a buzzword, but it isn’t a fad. It’s an opportunity for business stakeholders and L&D pros to rethink how they approach learning in the workplace. It’s a fundamental shift from learning as checking the box to learning as an agile business strategy. First, you have to get past the hype, the myths and the noise. Then, once you grasp the basic principles and recognise the true value, you can apply microlearning as the foundation of your learning ecosystem and enable real, meaningful change within your organisation.