No new technology is without its challenges — including microlearning. A key challenge microlearning faces is convincing stakeholders in corporate learning that microlearning is effective and engaging.
Training has evolved from exclusively instructor-led courses to a mix of eLearning and face-to-face training. Even so, there’s still a mindset that says that learning is separate from working and occurs in scheduled blocks of time learners cover a comprehensive curriculum.
Microlearning must face down this challenge as it brings learning into the flow of work.
It’s already succeeding. In just a few short years, the novel training strategy that emphasizes brevity and narrow focus have won over countless workers, managers and executives. Microlearning has proven itself as both a training solution and knowledge retention or job support tool. This is largely thanks to the many advantages microlearning offers, including measurable effectiveness.
Among the benefits microlearning offers to learners are:
Training designers and developers, as well as training managers, understand the advantages of continuous learning using engaging, up-to-date materials. Microlearning offers advantages for managers and L&D teams as well as for learners. These include:
As stakeholders see the benefits, microlearning is winning them over. Key microlearning challenges of moving learning into the workflow and changing an entrenched approach to eLearning are slowly dissolving as the obvious benefits are seen.
Like any learning technology, microlearning has its advantages — and disadvantages. One disadvantage is that microlearning might not be the most effective way to teach some things.
A complex procedure, especially one where there may be safety considerations, is a poor candidate for microlearning. In this situation, a video, a simulation or an immersive experience might be best for initial training.
However, microlearning then rises to the challenge.
After the initial training is complete, deploying microlearning to refresh the learning and improve retention is an effective and obvious strategy.
If reflective learning or significant, in-depth interactions with peers are major components of learning, microlearning might also disadvantage learners.
In these cases, discussions and simulations might be used to present philosophical ideas and facilitate the relationships among learners that are critical to the course and to the employees’ work performance. Then, a microlearning platform excels at offering additional resources as a performance support. Them the use case grows ten-fold with software that uses spaced repetition to help remind the learning to refresh key points and drill factual elements of a larger course.
Despite these challenges, the key advantage of microlearning — its flexibility — wins out. Whether in a starring role or playing a supporting role, microlearning has much to offer as part of the training cast.
Advantages and disadvantages aside, microlearning is effective. Since it’s a relative newcomer on the learning stage, not a lot of published research on microlearning’s effectiveness or impact exists. What does, though, is promising.
A paper presented at CHI, the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, in May 2019, describes the success of a QuizBot learning system for university students. The chatbot app was significantly more effective than a more conventional flash-card app in helping students recognize and recall information. QuizBot students got scores close to 20 percentage points higher than their flash-card-using peers. The QuizBot students also spent more than twice as much time using the app as their peers spent using flash cards. The increased engagement used a form of gamified learning which the students found appealing, thus usage of the app increased organically.
Often, the first step in creating any sort of knowledge retention strategy, is to look at the engagement response. Are your learners engaging with the training content? Spending more time reviewing training materials usually means learners remember more of the information, which is why training developers care so much about engagement. Most managers — or executives looking for a strong ROI on their training dollars — would be delighted with such a large increase!
A key factor in microlearning’s effectiveness is that it fits seamlessly into the workflow. Ironically, this is a key sticking point in convincing managers to try microlearning. There is still a strong mindset that sees training and working as separate endeavors.
Modern learners do not see learning as separate from working: They learn all the time. They use mobile, on-demand information sources to answer questions when they are shopping, dining and hanging out with friends. In the same way, when they are at work, employees want instant, targeted answers to their questions and solutions to their problems.
A report from O’Reilly media, “The new technologies impacting on-demand learning,” makes this point: “Performance-adjacent learning tools can encompass many workflow types as long as they minimize friction by making it easy to access information and quickly return to the job at hand.” These performance support tools are cost-effective and scalable, the report said, because they do not need to be customized to a specific workflow or technology.
In other words, microlearning makes workers more efficient by keeping them focused on their work. And because it’s so flexible, it saves money that would be spent on dedicated tools and technologies for training. Training that would take workers away from their jobs!
The O’Reilly report highlights an additional microlearning advantage — that microlearning is not linear. Conventional eLearning is linear: Learners go through the course in a specific order. Often, learners are supposed to complete the entire course, even if they only need a small fraction of the information it covers.
Rather than requiring learners to read an entire 25-page document, watch a 30-minute video or click through a 90-minute eLearning course, microlearning consists of small “micro-sized” learning units. Learners can search for and use a specific unit of information in only a few minutes.
Each microlearning unit might be part of a library of short learning nuggets, 3- or 5-minute videos, short documents, and more. Together, the entire library might take a few hours to complete. But learners never have to do that!
Instead, learners jump in and out, using a single lesson or resource when it answers their immediate question. They might go through several related units in a single sitting if they need to learn more. But they get to decide how much content to use and in what order.
By creating content specifically aimed at this type of on-demand, focused use, a microlearning platform meets learners where they are and offers them useful tools. That means it has to have certain features:
A look at microlearning history and trends shows that the greatest challenge microlearning has is convincing managers that training doesn’t have to cover everything in one long annual course. As managers and training developers adjust to the way people learn and use information in other areas of their lives, they will come to appreciate the advantages and effectiveness microlearning offers.