Microlearning in Business: What Is Microlearning & Why Care About It?

By Darryl Wee, Jade White | April 14, 2020

Key Takeaways:

  • Microlearning is an effective development tool, which more organizations could benefit from using. 
  • Tips to maximize the effects of microlearning are below.
  • Microlearning is most impactful when the content is focused on one principle at a time. 

In April of 2020, the much hyped Quibi (short for “quick bites”) accelerated their planned launch date during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The service is backed by some of the biggest names in media, and capitalizes on studies that show people have shrinking attention spans and therefore want to consume content in smaller portions. A “cut to the chase” theory, if you will. While ultimately history will judge if Quibi is a hit for entertainment consumption, the trend to Quibi-ize learning (just-in-time/bite-sized modules for core knowledge and skill building ) is growing in many regions and industries around the globe.

As we experienced during COVID-19, people still wanted to learn and develop but the traditional delivery mechanisms were not always available for them (in-person sessions, coaching, live webinars, extended e-learnings, etc.). And for those who could access a library of content, many reported that they seemed even busier because they had to simultaneously balance the needs of the office and home. Therefore finding large blocks of uninterrupted time was a challenge.

The combination of technology advances and the virtual nature now part of every person’s life, has accelerated a trend towards on-demand, bite-sized microlearning. Organizations that want to enhance their ability to engage and develop their workforce, even during the worst of times, should look include microlearning in their L&D platform.

Maximizing the Effectiveness of Virtual Learning

Before diving into more detail about microlearning, here are some important tips to maximize the effectiveness of your overall virtual learning platform:

  1. Be clear about your outcomes. Using digital delivery (or any blended approach) is a great way to accelerate knowledge acquisition. However, skills development is a little harder to manage. Start with an understanding of what you want to achieve and then determine what approach will help you achieve the best results. For clients looking to focus on a specific topic, we may recommend microlearning sessions (4–5 minutes) which are best delivered/consumed on mobile phones or tablets. For others who require more complex concepts, 30 minutes may be required on a bigger screen or another medium all together. The best solution depends on what you are trying to achieve.
  2. Don’t be consumed by the platform. We have seen clients pick the platform first, without considering whether it supports the rollout and how people within the organization learn. Instead use an Outside-In approach. Start with a clear understanding of what you want people to know and do. Next, identify how your associates want to learn and then start looking for a platform that best supports that process.
  3. You still need to be engaged in managing the process. The platform may be able to efficiently provide the content, however the organization/sponsor cannot abdicate the responsibility for the success to just the system alone. In all our successful engagements using virtual delivery systems, we have found it necessary to still have leaders actively supporting the objectives, and actively monitoring learning and encouraging adoption. In addition, development professionals need to be actively using the feedback and reporting the platform offers to be able to make necessary adjustments and be sure the objectives are being met.
  4. One size does not fit all. Consultants may come to you with best practices and what has worked in the past, however be aware that your organization is different from the others. Be prepared to custom create a solution and adjust content or approaches depending on feedback from participants and your measurement strategy. To achieve your unique objectives, you need to be comfortable the proposed process and content are something that works for your organization, not something that looks or sounds good theoretically but fails in practice. Virtual platforms, when designed appropriately, can be incredibly flexible to making adjustments in order to maximize intended results.

Microlearning Tips & Best Practices

In short, microlearning is about One Module=One Concept or Skill. This sounds simple enough, but it can be tempting to squeeze in one more thing! Effective microlearning modules are 5 minutes or less and focus on delivering a specific message about how to do something, provide a timely reminder of strategic imperatives, or explain a core concept.

Offers delivery in formats familiar to Millennials and Gen-Z learners: Microlearning is popular amongst learners, as it provides bite-sized content that they need now, on a mobile device they likely have in hand at all times. E-learning of yesterday required sitting at a desk, or staring at a laptop in a somewhat fixed setting, scrolling through modules to find the one thing needed right now. For a client in Asia, RBL partnered with Gnowbe to develop a series of modules for emerging leaders. This platform led to both a rapid design cycle, and scalability for large groups of people to review bite-sized content on their mobile devices.

Provide helpful refreshers: Since the modules are 5 minutes or less, learners can revisit the lesson for a quick reminder. Some companies even embed microlearning modules into Frequently Asked Questions documents, to provide quick tips for things like recording ratings into the a new talent management system or helping direct reports identify their top five priorities for annual goals.

Stand-alone or together: Pure microlearning modules are entirely self-contained. By focusing on one concept or skill, they are intended to deliver that message completely. However, they can also be created as a series of related content. At RBL, we developed an overview module for our Leadership and HR Competency Models. We then have microlearning modules for each stand-alone competency. Learners can review them all, or only the ones that are most aligned to their development goals. We used this approach for the rollout of the HR competencies at a major athletic apparel organization. The microlearning approach allowed them to hit their population of over 1,200 HR professionals at the same time (at roll-out), while also offering quick reference tools on-demand.

Overall Blended Learning Strategy: Microlearning can be a powerful tool in your overall blended learning strategy. In-person (face-to-face or virtual) sessions are best for introducing complex concepts, problem-solving and networking. There is no doubt about that. However, those sessions can be made far more efficient and deliver sustainable learning when supported by microlearning modules, either as pre-work or post-work. Microlearning can even be used in session for table-group and breakout challenges to provide learning aids for participants.

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Conclusion:

While no one ever actively seeks out a crisis—or the heavy human toll this and other crises inflict—it can provide us an opportunity to accelerate the speed of change and the adoption of new behaviours. We suspect that post COVID-19 the expectations around learning and development will be significantly more virtual and digital. Face-to-face still has significant value, but it will be supplemented by the other mediums which are now being more widely utilized and accepted. The trend toward more microlearning and mobile delivery preferences will continue for the foreseeable future. The time is now to capitalize on the shift because when things get back to a “new normal” expectations around development will forever be changed.

RBL has been actively experimenting with clients for over five years in blended, micro- and other virtual learning processes. Please reach out if you’re exploring how to use these modes to help maintain or implement development cadences.

Darryl Wee

Darryl is the managing director of The RBL Group in Asia. He has more than 20 years of experience in business consulting, human resources and leading organizational change.

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Jade White

Jade is a Principal with The RBL Group and has over 25 years in the strategic HR, talent management and leadership development fields.

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The RBL Group

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