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Travels in the Microlearning Landscape

One of the most rewarding parts of my job here at Allen is traveling across the country meeting with clients like HP, Purina and CVS. Talking to our partners is exciting, and it’s the highlight of my year to see the learning and development programs in action. When I’m in the office, I still like to travel internally, roving around the office talking to our 130 practitioners about what they are seeing and hearing. It’s interesting to see how each company’s learners are changing the way they consume, share and learn, and how the company’s technology has to shift to keep up.

One of these major shifts has been the resurgence of microlearning, and the way many companies perceive it. Microlearning has been revived because of its potential to address the way people learn now. But we are also seeing some misconceptions around the design and use of microlearning.

As a trend, microlearning has become much like YouTube or “rapid elearning,” frequently replacing longer foundational curriculum design. However, microlearning is much more than a trend, and should be treated with as much thought in the instructional design as any other course.

  • Too often we field requests to take 10 hours of learning and break it into 10-15 minute chunks or even smaller, more numerous components. Organizations believe this is more engaging, but our observation has been that any linear training where one module must be completed to get to the next can be hard on learners, no matter the length.
  • Microlearning does not replace the marketing of your training. A learning activity should not replace good communication and promotion of your program before it is launched.
  • While microlearning can be a good place to start, its overall length does not enable enough contextual training to replace onboarding or new employee training, unless it’s supported with other activities.
  • Lastly, and most importantly, although microlearning can be inexpensive in scale, production value can often drive costs and planning time up. It’s not surprising that being concise, engaging and to the point can take more care and time to design than longer forms of training.

While all of these misconceptions help us understand microlearning better, it’s sometimes easier to define what something isn’t rather than exactly what it is. However there is no doubt that learners are becoming accustomed to consuming new information in short, more accessible pieces of knowledge. From Google to YouTube to Twitter to Lynda, our learners are being empowered by technology to look for fast answers to complex questions.

Even more than the content itself, these platforms are structured and formatted in a way that allows us to access the information differently. For our clients, AllenComm has developed and launched new educational formats (typically 5 minutes or less) that support competency-based training from onboarding to mastery and reinforcement type. In the next several weeks, we’ll be talking more about microlearning design—in webinars, blogs, social media and in conversations. As we move through the new microlearning landscape, we have the opportunity to shape the future of training and development. What does impactful microlearning look like to you and your organization?