There are all kinds of distractions plaguing each and every one of us. In this election year we have the distraction of an unconventional candidate, in our pockets we have the distraction of a smartphone and in the world around us we have the distraction of unrest, violence and uncertainty. It’s no wonder employees are seemingly more disengaged at work than in any time in history.

This age of disengagement and distraction hasn’t gone unnoticed in the learning industry.  To the contrary, the learning industry has moved to providing distracted employees with shorter learning “bursts” or “chunks” of content. This phenomenon has been dubbed “microlearning.”

Microlearning provides a little bit of training over time so distracted employees are unburdened from sitting in front of a computer for an hour and are relieved from being subjected to hours of lectures. Instead, content is delivered right to their phone in hopes of engaging them for a few moments and then having them return to work. The goal is to become a positive distraction and engage them for a moment and then let them continue with other distractions or, actual work.

The research is clear that microlearning does have a positive impact on certain learning outcomes and can lead to measurable workplace results that help increase both learning and profits. The old paradigm of engaging the learner for hours seems to be dying a rather quick death.

However, we shouldn’t be so fast to throw out the baby with the bath water. Microlearning has its place and is a powerful learning tool. But what happened to careful, thoughtful, time-intense learning? If we really want to engage our employees in solving problems, behaving in an innovative manner and developing creative new products, we really ought to think about giving them the fleeting commodity of time. In my experience, people who are given time are the ones who can become completely engaged in an activity and we know that engagement leads to learning and highly positive outcomes.

Perhaps, in addition to microlearning, we should introduce the idea of deep learning. Deep learning is the act of taking time to engage with content, ideas and concepts over a concentrated period of time. We should give learners the time to wrestle with big issues like new product development and new market exploration in a location free of distractions.

I attend a great deal of conferences and almost every event is filled to the minute with activities. And on every break everyone is checking their smartphone. What if we really thought about engagement and about creating a structure to achieve larger learning goals, like how to think strategically or how to overcome product stagnation. We would probably take an approach that provides the learners with time for reflection and time to connect the dots – time to engage.

It’s not that microlearning is bad. It most certainly is not. It’s that the industry seems to be swinging the pendulum toward an approach that includes nothing but microlearning. In an attempt to move the pendulum toward the middle, we need to balance microlearning with other approaches.

We need learning environments where time is given for deep engagement with content and issues. We need to allow learners to struggle with new ideas, we need to set aside time for reflection and we need to step back to a higher level and try to connect the dots around us. Creating these types of learning environments will lead to engagement and to the learning outcomes we desire.

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