From academia through corporate, the suspicion that harassment training doesn’t work is widely held by many. This same kind of suspicion troubles diversity training initiatives, too. In recent years, diversity training, like harassment prevention training, has become regarded as a check-the-box, feel-good ritual we do to be good organizational citizens. Although most organizations do some version of these trainings each year, they are too often considered symbolic and benign markers of a season, like leprechauns or Santa Claus.

These attitudes leave reasonable people asking, “What are we missing?”; is it even possible to learn these things?” or worse, “Why bother?”

As an organizational psychologist, my answer is yes, good diversity training is worth your investment — be it in time, money or both. When done correctly, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training can teach and build pro-social skills behaviors and transform the workplace into a more respectful and inclusive one. One great way to do this is by using microlessons.  Microlessons are short, topic-specific lessons given during the course of the work day. Why do they work best? Let me start by asking you two questions:

  1. What is the value of learning any one thing for an hour?
  2. Is it useful to spend five minutes on learning a specific technique that you can apply right away?

Let’s get to the point and start with No. 2. Few of us are truly interested in anything that isn’t immediately useful and even fewer of us have time for training in general. This is why microlessons present the opportunity to make a big impact for little overhead. The best microlessonsare under five minutes and they teach you a very specific technique that you can apply right away to help you build a very specific skill.

Microlessons are designed to be delivered in the flow of work and to be immediately applied. For instance, learning a technique to mitigate situational bias right before a hiring interview will take five minutes, and leaders can put what they’ve learned into practice immediately.

The stuff that we learn in hours-long seminars is great, but it mostly is a way for us to get oriented and familiarize ourselves with new topics and the thinking behind it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very interesting for those of us who are intellectually curious or suspiciously avoid doing anything we are told. It’s also great to take a break from our normal work routines. But as far as practical application goes, knowing concepts and definitions won’t advance your inclusion goals as far as using techniques to confront situational bias. In fact, you’re likely going to forget nearly everything you learned in that seminar within two weeks anyway.

Starting off on a positive note is important to learning, so introduce the big idea in a seminar and get folks together to build camaraderie and support for the learning experience. Then, follow up quickly and get to technique and application as soon as possible. Use microlessons to teach specific techniques and allow people to practice in the flow of work.

Can five minutes of instruction make a real difference? Yes, it can.  After just five minutes of instruction our technique will be clumsy, but with continuous practice, and with the addition of more “micro-instruction,” we get better at things. We develop real skills.

Microlessons give employers the ability to be nimble when it comes to teaching workers the skills needed to become better leaders, collaborators, mentors and problem solvers.  Are you launching a large global project? Deploy microlessons on “embracing interculturalism” monthly before the global team’s review meeting. Is your team getting ready to hire? Start with microlessons on “mitigating bias” the week before the interviews, and have the senior leaders do a refresher on “thinking systemically” as you prepare your organization for growth.

Lastly, delivering many microlessons over the course of a year gives employers the opportunity to switch, modify, or introduce all new lessons altogether based on things happening in the company or in the world at large. For example, following the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020, Emtrain saw demand for its unconscious bias training programs triple in volume.

An organization is a collection of people, and the organization grows when people do. Ensure that your team knows the “what” and the “why” behind things. But most importantly, ensure that they know the “how” of building new skills by using microlessons to teach techniques that they can practice on the job. In doing so, your DEI programs will be well on their way to driving real change, one microlesson at a time.

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