Cutting an earthworm in half will create two earthworms: myth.
Drinking soda and Pop Rocks at the same time causes your stomach to explode: myth.
Saint Patrick was Irish: myth.
It can be hard to differentiate fact from fiction when myths are passed down by the well-intentioned or, worse, the almighty Internet. With that in mind, we’d like you to consider the validity of what you’ve heard about microlearning until now.
Microlearning has only been a buzzword in the training industry for the past few years. In that short amount of time, our business made it a priority to immerse ourselves in microlearning. We began building content differently and deployed microlearning training to over 10,000 learners across various industry segments.
During this period of immersion, we learned that microlearning is not only widely misunderstood, but it is often misused both in term and execution. Accordingly, it is our mission to uncover and dispel five of the most common myths about microlearning.
Myth 1: Any Content Under Five Minutes is Microlearning.
Microlearning (n.): Short bursts of content that ensure knowledge is transferred in a visible, tangible and/or measurable way.
There’s a common delusion that if content is short enough, it can be considered microlearning. While the length of the content is part of what gives microlearning its name, the most critical component of the definition is that the learners will be able to prove that they learned in a visible, tangible and/or measurable way.
Take Bill, for example. Bill wears a bowtie once a year. On that day every year, Bill turns to YouTube and searches for “how to tie a bowtie.” After watching a short, three-minute video, Bill is able to tie his bowtie. There you have it: microlearning in its primary form.
Myth 2: Organizations Can Control Just-in-Time Microlearning.
The bowtie video is an example of a just-in-time (JIT) learning event, in which the learner needs a skill at a specific time, and retention isn’t necessarily a priority. The content can always be retrieved again. This type of learning is occurring during the workday at every organization in the world.
Today’s learners are highly connected, social and tech savvy. They take advantage of all the tools and information provided to them through websites and social networks. Google, YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook, Quora, Lynda.com and Twitter are among the most common sources of information.
Increasingly, learners are turning to these sources to find answers to their JIT problems. We can’t ignore the fact that learners aren’t interested in simply sitting and absorbing the information that learning and development gives them. Instead, they are taking initiative and searching elsewhere for answers on their own.
Rather than forcing learners to conform to an organization’s training method, we must relinquish control and accept their new ways of learning. Learning and development departments don’t have the time or bandwidth to build a JIT solution equal to what learners already have at their disposal. We’ve seen organizations spend countless hours and dollars building and deploying JIT content (and even JIT platforms), only to be disappointed by their low adoption rates. JIT training initiatives are elective, resulting in low completion percentages and causing heartache for success measurement data.
With that being said, there are exceptions. There may be specific JIT microlearning content that needs to be created internally. Examples include company-specific product education, learning how to submit an expense report or providing security-sensitive information.
We observed a perfect example of well-executed, company-specific JIT microlearning at work by following Mary, an outside sales rep, for one day. During this day, she looked at her phone roughly 100 times. Ten of those times were to obtain work information she needed JIT (unrelated to communication).
These JIT events were focused on tasks she needed to execute throughout the day, such as how to place a re-order for a rarely used item, how to key in an equipment maintenance request at a distributor site and how to troubleshoot her receipt scanner. As you can see, Mary found her company-specific JIT microlearning incredibly useful.
If you can relate to these exceptions or Mary’s example, creating JIT microlearning may be worth your time.
Myth 3: Microlearning is a One-Trick Pony.
Where most people get microlearning wrong is simply not knowing when or how to use it effectively. There are two distinctly different ways to use microlearning. The first is for task-oriented solutions (JIT), and the second is to drive behavioral changes (think skill-based training).
There’s an enormous difference (in both creation and implementation) between JIT microlearning and microlearning that creates behavioral change. Creating behavioral change is challenging regardless of how it’s presented. While JIT can stand alone as a video or other content, behavioral change requires much more.
Let’s consider a recent sales team training initiative. The sales team works in a fast-paced, transactional sales environment and was constantly losing deals to competition due to a lack of skills. They were already experts on the products they sell, but they struggled when it came to closing deals and expanding accounts. Because of the nature of their work, every day matters. They needed a solution that wouldn’t take them out of the field and that they could access with ease and regularity.
Knowing this initiative was a skill-based behavioral training initiative, the sales managers decided to use microlearning to develop the capabilities. In addition to using videos to transfer knowledge, they incorporated connection stories, accountability, real-world scenarios and social learning. Their initiative not only saw incredible completion rates and engagement but also helped change behaviors.
This example is precisely where many organizations are missing out on a tremendous opportunity to use microlearning. They can engage and educate their people by building content in short, bite-sized pieces and ensuring that knowledge is transferred. This technique is not the future of learning; it’s the present.
Myth 4: Some Content is Too Complex for Microlearning.
One of the largest supply chain manufacturers in the world set a goal to drive more business by expanding the depth and breadth of its client base. To accomplish this goal, the global field team required knowledge of its capabilities (complex products and service offerings) and the ability to identify opportunities and communicate value to the customer.
Instead of bombarding the field team with one-hour lunch-and-learns or instructor-led product training sessions, the company opted to create a video-based microlearning initiative. The training was driven with support from the CEO and was accessible JIT.
Their content included some of the most complex products in the marketplace and one of the most complicated selling processes we’ve ever seen. If this company’s content can be adapted to microlearning, surely yours can, too. In fact, unique and complicated content is even more of a reason to create digestible chunks of information that learners can actually consume.
Myth 5: Microlearning Is Just a Fad.
Fad (n.): An intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, especially one that is short-lived and without basis in the object’s qualities; a craze.
A recent study from the Rapid Learning Institute found that 94 percent of learners prefer modules under 10 minutes, and 65 percent believe online learning modules contain too much information. Additionally, millennials are now the largest generation in the workforce and have the shortest attention spans of any generation.
All professionals are busier and have less time than ever before. They demand that their time be used wisely. There is one thing we know for sure: Microlearning isn’t just a fad. It’s real, and it’s here to stay.