Microlearning for Macro Results

When I first heard about microlearning a few years ago, I thought, it’s a fad. How can people really learn in two or three minutes? I was designing two-day programs that were chock full of great stuff. I couldn’t see how to chunk up all those topics and exercises. But I was lucky, I was working with an amazing millennial who saw things differently. And gradually I saw the value of ideas like a moment of need, blended learning and just in time learning. Today, I run workshops on transitioning to digital learning and see how thinking differently helps. 

But the reality of gaining real results from microlearning, like many other ideas, is in the details. It is not the be all and end all. It is not the right answer for everything. It is a tool to have in your pocket to use effectively. Let’s dive into how to do that. 

One piece of digital learning is microlearning. Building learning solutions today should include microlearning. While there should not be hard and fast rules about microlearning, some ground rules help. How long, what format, what modality or tools are best? Honestly, we can be flexible. Here are the guidelines that I follow: 

·       Set one objective
·       Keep it short
·       Focus, focus, focus

The first question most people ask is how long is short? I like to look at it from the learner’s perspective. Given a specific topic, what do I need as a learner to acquire this skill or know this topic? Are there layers of understanding? What helps in the moment of need? Given that, what’s short for one company might be too long for other. Back to guidelines: When forced, I veer to the two- to four-minute range.   

An Example of Microlearning

Let’s look at a “soft skill” most of us know: difficult conversations. There are many occasions where employees need to learn how to discuss something that is not easy to talk about, be that with employees, peers, or family. Over the last several years, this has been a popular topic in companies. Many have turned to the best seller book, Crucial Conversations, and the great two-day class, with nine chapters and exercises. A lot of information. Fitting that into two days is tough. 

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But what about a new manager who is about to have their first coaching session with an employee? Or what about a young employee who needs to know how to talk to a peer? These moments of need cannot wait for a class. Building a skill often has just in time constraints. Those nine skills and exercises can be decomposed into several pieces to answer not just the moment of need, but build a skill.  

Microlearning can be a part of the building blocks to build the skill of difficult conversations. Here is how I break it down:   

·       Create a short video that introduces the key topics. (Moment of need)
·       Add in an article from a trusted source.  
·       Find a video on YouTube on the subject.
·       If you have LinkedIn Learning or Go1, add video course(s)for more formal learning.
·       Put in a link to either the Crucial Conversations book or an abstract of it.
·       Ask a leader to do a short video telling a story.
·       Finally, add in action learning and exercises, each separately.

You can even add in an abridged version of the two-day class. These are the key building blocks that can build the skill and address the need. Use your design skills to create a flow. Look inside and outside the organization for relevant bites that together build the knowledge and skill. This pathway is a blend of Learn, Do and Share. 

Be aware of the flow.  Without a good flow from one piece to another, it is easy to create confusion with fragmented content.   

The Role of Microlearning in a Portfolio

While microlearning is a hot topic, there are still ample use cases for macro or formal learning. Not every building block should be microlearning. You can blend in some formal training, longer videos, or eLearning.

There is but one rule: keep it simple. Today, people are busier than ever. They do not have nor want to take the time to watch a thirty-minute eLearning lesson. Leaders want people to focus on their day-to-day jobs AND learn. We are all busy and regardless of generation, want instant answers and help in the flow of work. Find a way to make it easy for them to get the answers and they will pull learning in. 

Microlearning can answer a quick question. It can lead to a desire to learn more. It can precede more formal training or come after a class as a reminder. All learning, as we know, should be engaging. Even at just a few minutes, people can get bored. Mix it up with video, audio, animations, text, and images.  

How Not to Use Microlearning 

I once took a course from a famous content provider on Articulate 360. It was 36 chapters, about two minutes each, of a “talking head” with a few words displayed over his shoulder occasionally. He really knew his subject but droned on and on in a dull voice. I quit at chapter 12.  

Here is what I would do to redesign that course:  

·       Start with a great introduction that is animated and exciting. It should be slightly longer, say 4 minutes, to get started.
·       Then break it into sections of a journey. Mix in the speaker (very little as he was dull) with other voices and videos of the software.
·       Do one eLearning piece that is longer with step-by-step instructions, screenshots, and a new voice.
·       Provide reference materials to supplement the instructions.   

While I say no rules, all of the design concepts we know still apply. There are exciting new tools, like knowbly™, that make mixing different modalities simple. They enable us to build effective learning quickly and effortlessly, so you can focus on the results and the flow.   

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Other good ideas for effective microlearning include remembering that learners like to learn in a variety of ways. While we may have disproved the theory that people are either auditory, kinesthetic, or visual learners – we now know most of us are all three.  And appealing to all three helps us to learn best. Create a great video that shows the right way to do a skill and follow it with an animation, story of why, and then a blog from an expert. Curate the best content to meet the need. 

Creating in microlearning is fun. It's a new concept that allows us to design great experiences to help people learn the right amount at the right time. And it helps to use tools that enable easy designs. To explore a new, course authoring tool that will help you create eLearning with macro results, schedule a demo with knowbly™ today.