In the corporate L&D industry, one of the more entrenched and widespread trends concerns the seemingly global turn to “microlearning”. Indeed, the buzzword circulates heavily at industry-specific conferences, webinars, and online magazines, and organizations such as AllenComm have incorporated microlearning techniques into over 80% of our annual projects.
As our CEO Ron Zamir noted in a recent webinar for trainingindustry.com, microlearning is not merely a simplification or condensation of a large curricula into a small curricula. Instead, microlearning is more accurately understood as a 5-10 minute activity that targets one specific learning objective as part of a broader training strategy. Although many corporate training organizations pepper one or two simple microlearning techniques into their training programs, we here at AllenComm take a different approach. Specifically, we don’t believe that microlearning techniques are only appropriate at one stage of the learning experience; instead, our L&D specialists believe that microlearning can produce powerful learning results throughout the entirety of the training lifecycle.
Consider, for example, a brand awareness course AllenComm made for Epsilon, which was recently honored with a Gold Horizon Interactive Award. To begin the course, learners were tasked with watching a brief, motivational video that works to prime the learner for their new role as brand ambassadors. Short videos, however, do not constitute a microlearning strategy – more is needed. So, at AllenComm, we introduced a brief, introductory diagnostic test that asked learners to gauge their confidence on some key course-related topics.
Once learners complete the test, they are presented with a results page that aligns their confidence with the upcoming modules. As a result, learners are not only motivated by the videos; they also begin to see the personal value that the learning modules bring to their professional lives. Finally, learners can engage an interactive infographic that provides a high-level view of the curriculum. By the end of this introductory module, learners are effectively primed to engage different elements of a personalized curricula, all within the span of just a few moments of seat time.
Once learners choose to advance in the curriculum, they must complete a set of eight, six-minute modules. The sequence of each module is specifically defined.
First, learners read up on some basic definitions of particular brand topics (e.g., product offerings, company identity, company culture), and then they must complete a set of interactive tutorials on how to operationalize those particular topics (e.g., how to communicate the value proposition of particular products) into their day-to-day lives. Learners must also complete a “mini-assessment” at the end of each module in order to gauge their comprehension of key learning goals. As an example of one kind of microlearning module, these WBTs (web-based training) are short and to-the-point. More importantly, each module targets a specific learning objective within structured and easy-to-access training experiences that work in conjunction with a broader training strategy.
Once learners complete each of the eight microlearning modules, they must bookend the course with a summative assessment. One of the key challenges animating microlearning is reinforcing training principles so that learners can retain the knowledge and behaviors within the context of their job performance. This means that L&D specialists must integrate formative assessments throughout their training.
Another best practice, however, provides learners with a gamified summative assessment that will encourage learners to test their skills as well as return to the assessment at different times to improve their test scores. With the Epsilon course, AllenComm designed such an assessment. Not only was the assessment quick to complete, but more importantly, the course encourages learners to “try again” at their leisure to improve their score. As a result, the key reinforcement activity at the end of the course is not a “one-and-done” experience; instead, it is an experience that learners are motivated to return to long after the formal training is complete. This microlearning technique, therefore, is one that chunks a course into a targeted experience, one that can be engaged again and again.
Ultimately, this brief survey of Allen’s portfolio reminds us of two important dimensions of contemporary corporate training and development innovations. First, microlearning is an integral training technique for delivering sound instructional strategies and courseware to learners. Second, microlearning is not simply a technique that designers should simply tack-on to the conclusion of a training unit; instead, one important innovation moving forward should involve designers learning how to leverage the instructional value of microlearning throughout the learning lifecycle. Doing so, we contend, will produce empirical training results and help to actualize an organization’s business opportunities.