Using Microlearning to Accelerate Productivity

You’re right in the middle of a big project at work, something you need to get done today, but — oh no — you can feel yourself getting hungry. You can’t work like this. You need to eat. So what do you do: get a snack, or go out for a long lunch with co-workers?

Of course you get the snack. If you went out for the long lunch, your project wouldn’t get done. Also, the interruption would interfere with the flow of the work you were doing. After you return from lunch, you’d have to get back into the project all over again, which would take time.

Sometimes you work better if you get exactly what you need when you need it. It’s true of food and it’s also true of learning. That’s why micro-learning — short bursts of information that are easy to follow and understand — is so important in the workplace.

Micro-learning makes small, intensely-focused chunks of learning available to learners whenever they need it. Done well, it’s an effective way to boost learners’ retention and get new information into their hands quickly. And, like a snack, micro-learning boosts productivity by getting information to learners when they need it.

Your employees get learning when they need it

While micro-learning and just-in-time learning are not always the same thing — on that here — the fact of the matter is that when a learner needs to do something, the information is right there at their fingertips in the form of either a video or quick module on their employer’s LMS.

In some cases, this information might not be true learning; if learners don’t have to regularly use the information they’re learning, they may not retain it. In this case, the micro-learning may function as a resource employees use when they need it, like the employee handbooks of old.

In other cases — if the information in the module or video is going be used on a regular basis —  micro-learning supports hands-on learning. Learners access the lesson when they need it, use that information to accomplish their task, and consult the lesson when they complete the task again. Eventually, after a few rounds of this, learners will understand and retain the information.

Short bursts of information are easier to recall

Research shows that humans learn better when they’re given quick, relevant lessons. Think of the last time you sat through a long meeting. How much of the information in that meeting do you actually remember? If you don’t remember much, that doesn’t mean that there was no important information in that meeting, it just means your brain was too overloaded to retain the most important chunks.

This isn’t news. An oft-quoted 2002 BBC report found that shorter training resulted in better understanding and retention than a day-long training.

In other words, when learners get short, intense, relevant bursts of training, they tend to remember it better.

Longer e-learning isn’t always better e-learning

There’s nothing wrong with a long online course — a long course can take a deep dive into information in a way that micro-learning can’t — but sometimes long courses aren’t practical for employees. If they just need one piece of information, they might not want to sit through a long course to get it, for example.

There’s also a time consideration. It may be daunting for an employee to sit long e-learning on their own time, and if they take the course at work, that could cut into their work time. Micro-learning does the trick of getting information to employees without requiring them to take too much time out of their workday, or their private life, to learn.

Learners stay in the flow

Sitting through a long course to get one small information — or searching through a previously-taken course to find the information a learner needs —  has another drawback: it interrupts the flow of a project, and that can seriously cut into productivity.

According to Gloria Mark, a researcher who studies interruption, it takes most workers 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to work after an interruption takes them off-task.

A related interruption however — like stopping to take in related microlearning — is beneficial to productivity because the learner’s mind is still on their task, but they’re thinking about it in a slightly different way.

You can add micro-learning quickly and easily

It takes a long time and a lot of planning to put together a full course. But what if there’s just one new skill  or piece of information you need your employees to know? What if, for example, a policy has changed, and your employees need to learn about the new information immediately?

You don’t have to go through the process of developing a new course to address the policy change. Nor do you have to write a long email about it that may get lost in your employees’ inboxes. You can simply create a video or a module about that skill and send it out to your employees. The LMS will let you track who has seen it, and your employees get the newest information available as quickly as possible.

Employees like micro-learning

Your employees are probably used to micro-learning on their own. If they don’t know how to do something, they’re likely to type a query into Google, and watch a two-minute tutorial on YouTube. It makes sense that they’d also expect this kind of learning to be available at work.

Catering to those learning preferences produces results. Take the example of home decor retailer At Home. The company was unable to pull their associates off their store floors to take online courses so instead, gamified micro-learning was served to employees; associates can take between three and five minutes worth of training each shift. The company saw results; associates chose to do the training. Employee knowledge for critical safety topics increased by an average of 14 percent, and onboarding time has been reduced by 90 percent.

A survey by Software Advice found that learners were 58 percent more likely to use their company’s LMS if it included micro-learning. This is probably the biggest benefit of micro-learning: learners are happy to participate.

The long and short of it (pun intended) is that we live in an attention-limited culture, where focusing on one thing (or one screen) for even a couple of minutes can be considered an accomplishment or at least a learning opportunity, however brief. In our multi-screen, multi-tasking culture, L&D pros should work within the parameters of teaching in very small containers. The goal doesn’t change: we want learners to learn. We just change how we get there.