by Alvin Sim
Over the last few days, I spoke with a few learning technology vendors and learning & development professionals as well as reading up on the next generation learning platforms as part of a research for a project. My initial goal was to find out exactly what micro-learning is all about and how it could potentially redefine the future of corporate learning. After days of research and interviews, I’m convinced that micro-learning, if it’s well-implemented and well-supported at all levels in an organization, can bring about a transformation that’s faster, more profound and more embedded in an organization than conventional or tradition adult learning.
1. Macro vs Micro
Firstly, we need to differentiate ‘micro’ from ‘macro’ learning. Micro learning is never about cutting up an existing training video into bite-sized clips before uploading them into a Learning Management System (LMS). It is also not referring to E-learning and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). In essence, micro-learning simply refers to stuff we can quickly read, view or consume in 10 minutes or less. A Tweet, if it’s written with a clear learning objective in mind, could also be a form of microlearning.
Josh Bersin, in his article on the disruption of digital learning, clearly explained the differences between macro and micro learning. Micro learning addresses the learner’s immediate need and it’s usually topic or problem-based.
2. Do Away Conventional Notions of Adult Learning
It was both a shock as well as a revelation for me when a former HR Managing Director advised to tear adult learning theories apart, throw or burn them away. He may sound extreme but I believe there’s wisdom behind those words.
Most adult learning theories we studied before were developed before our present era of “disruption”, “immersive user experience”, “experiential”, “learning stickiness”, “hackathons” and “gamification”. Moreover, if those adult learning models still work today, I suppose HR and Learning partners shouldn’t have any issues getting business units to send employees for workshops or to set aside a budget for professional development, right? Let’s be honest about this: traditional adult learning approaches (such as classroom training and workshops) are costly to design and/or run, hard to justify any returns of investment (a common pain point among training functions), not engaging or fun enough (especially for Gen Y and Z learners) and most importantly, it’s not helping learners to quickly translate learning into workplace results. Some may even require long validation processes before and after each run.
3. High Utilization vs High Transfer of Learning
Max Yoder founded Lessonly in response to LMS that were often built for human resources compliance and disliked by frontline employees for their clunkiness. “We wanted to give employees, teams, and companies access to the essential information they needed to do their jobs,” said Yoder. Indeed, what’s the point with all that spending on an LMS when it’s difficult to use by both learners and administrators? On the other hand, most micro-learning platforms compete with one another in terms of UX/UI. Coupled with gamification elements that make learning stick, the utilization rate for these platforms is high.
Having said that, high utilization does not always equate to a high transfer of learning. How do you quantify behavioral change in employees after they have gone through a micro-learning on organization culture and values? An employee would probably be able to pick up key messages or shared company vocabulary after a micro-learning, but the fluency in exhibiting the company’s desired values is still subjected to individual acceptance and alignment to his or her value system.
4. Micro Learning during Hackathons
A hackathon event can be a rich source of micro learning with learners from different functions or industries to cross-pollinate ideas and solve real-world business scenarios.
DBS bank recently ran a hackathon that inspired its HR team to create an employee-centric mobile app that provides information on-the-go, enables work on-the-go, and connects employees to one another wherever they are.
The HR team worked on the product from Ideation, UX Design, Technical Implementation to Content Management. The team had no prior experience in rolling out a mobile application and so they collaborated closely with the internal technology team to learn coding, information security protection measures, toothbrush tests and more.
5. Selecting a Suitable Micro Learning Platform for Your Organization
Here’s a list of key considerations for selecting micro learning platforms:
- Front-end user experience. What are some gamification elements that can help to drive engagement during learning? How does the platform support social learning? Is the platform built to support learners to Learn-Think-Apply-Share their knowledge?
- Backend ease of management and content creation. What’s the learning curve to upload and share his or her micro-learning? Can the platform support multi-modal learning, self-selected playlists, and learning path creation? Does the platform come with intelligent retrieval practice engine?
- Tracking of engagement data to assess platform utilization, training effectiveness, and cost analysis. Are there Real-Time analytics to measure and support the progress of learners? Can data be visualized for dashboard reporting?
- Business requirement or initiative.
- Support services such as phone support, active online community of users, online tutorials & guides.
In my previous role as a Learning business partner, a key challenge of my work was to encourage businesses to take up E-learning user licenses acquired by my predecessors. It was a huge investment that comes with a 2-year contract which included a consultant from that E-learning vendor to provide on-site support to the learning team and users who had issues accessing E-learning.
However, users found the learning interface dull, not user-friendly and the content to be lengthy, outdated and unexciting. One business unit even took the initiative to engage a learning designing consultancy to create E-learning content based on their business needs but the process of making them fit for uploading into the existing E-learning platform was onerous. As micro learning gets widely accepted and deployed in organizations, I believe future Learning business partners will not have to experience what I went through previously with E-learning. With my earlier example of how a bank leveraged on micro learning in their hackathons to solve business problems, it’s clear to me that micro learning holds the key to new possibilities in corporate learning.