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Microlearning: Short Bursts of Training to Supercharge Behavioral Change
tiempo de lectura
April 18, 2023
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Microlearning solves a pressing workplace problem: employees don't have time to train.
A LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report highlights the top reason employees don't commit to learning:
🕒 They don't have time to develop the skills they need.
That's where microlearning comes in:
A training method used by Google, Walmart, NextWorth, and many more corporate giants to supercharge employee development without eating into busy work schedules.
🔬 What is microlearning?
In microlearning, a learner commits to short bursts of training that take just 10 to 15 minutes each day. Also known as nano learning, micro training, or bite-sized training, the idea is that the learner will receive engaging course content delivered in such a way that it reinforces or adds to their knowledge.
These micro-units might be offered as an email series, a video, an infographic, or an app nudge to complete a game or quiz. The one thing they have in common?
After all, we can all spare 10 minutes a day to train, can't we?
❓ Why is microlearning effective?
"Many experts believe that microlearning is an ideal way to learn new skills or information because it is more engaging and efficient than traditional methods like lectures or textbooks."
- Geralde Vincent-Bancroft, Founder of Speak Fast Languages
Microlearning is gaining pace as a corporate training trend, with 460 peer-reviewed studies on the topic. Let's dive deeper into why microlearning is fast becoming the preferred way to train employees.
🧠 Microlearning supports the way the human brain processes information
Two separate psychology studies help to explain why microlearning is so effective.
- Millers's Law - popularized by George A Miller in 1956. His study considered the capacity of human short-term memory and concluded that the average number of objects we hold there is 7 plus or minus 2. As our short-term memory function is limited, microlearning can be used to consolidate these objects, keep them there for longer, and eventually move them into our long-term memory, allowing us to recall them more easily.
- Hermann Ebbinghaus's Forgetting Curve - Ebbinghaus introduced the relationship between spacing and memory. Specifically, when you space out your learning sessions, you'll find it easier to recall the information you're trying to remember and are less likely to forget it down the line.
The Ebbinghaus forgetting curve illustrates that when people learn large amounts of information, they remember the bulk of it immediately, but this knowledge retention drops steeply by the following day. Expect to recall only 21% of the info a month later.
But when you weave spaced repetition into your training sessions, as with microlearning, you'll retain the knowledge for longer.
📊 What are the main benefits of microlearning?
Going beyond science, what are the real-life wins for both employees taking the training and the companies investing in it?
🍴 Microlearning is easy to digest
"Micro-learning makes digesting knowledge quicker and easier, giving the learner the confidence to utilise the learning in their daily tasks."
- Emma Carter, Client Relationship Manager
Providing training in these bite-sized flashes of content feels manageable to learners. This is similar to the popularity of Twitter, which relies on content brevity for easy scanning rather than overwhelming social media users with walls of text.
🤯 Microlearning prevents burnout
The pressure to succeed by squeezing extra working hours into the day and pushing beyond our mental and physical boundaries can lead to burnout. The World Health Organization categorizes burnout as an occupational phenomenon with three characteristics:
- Exhaustion and depleted energy;
- Being mentally distant from your job, along with feeling pessimistic or cynical about your role;
- Reduced professional efficacy.
When burnout is present or imminent, a learner is unlikely to respond or feel motivated by a formal training program. But short bursts of interactive content are excellent at raising engagement levels even when attention spans are short, thus lowering the opportunity for burnout to set in.
📩 Microlearning reaches employees where they already are
As the perfect asynchronous solution, learners don't need to sign up and attend a physical classroom or virtual training environment — microlearning fits in with their day. These sessions can be delivered to mobile devices and consumed on-demand and on the move. Companies can also send them to messaging channels like Slack, where the average user will be signed in for 9 hours of the day and actively using the app for 90 minutes.
🚪 Microlearning is a gateway to further learning
Micro units drop tidbits of knowledge for the learner to consume at their own pace. And this can leave them wanting to delve deeper into the subject.
Dora Gao from the Product Management Team of Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning explains,
"The beauty of microlearning is that it can be consumed even when the learner only has a small amount of time to allot to it. But we've also found that microlearning is a gateway to people wanting to learn more."
💵 Microlearning is cost-effective
While the cost of training isn't eliminated when you switch to microlearning, it is reduced. In his book "3 Minute Learning", Chief Learning Architect Ray Jimenez reports that content development time is reduced by 300% and costs are lowered to 30 to 50% when you choose this training method.
📈 Microlearning is scalable
It's easy to roll out your microlearning program to additional users as your organization grows. Unlike a traditional program, where you might need to host further courses or pay for extra trainers to accommodate attendees, microlearning scalability occurs at the click of a button.
⏱️ When does microlearning make sense?
Microlearning is an ideal training format in the following situations:
1. Reinforcing knowledge over time
Microlearning allows you to reintroduce a concept your audience is already familiar with. By repeating this block of content and expanding on it in various ways, this behavior ensures the information stays fresh and is easy to recall.
2. Struggling with a specific task or concept
Microlearning breaks down a challenge into manageable chunks and delivers it as part of a more effective learning technique. If your employees have struggled with a task, this simplification helps them to understand it more easily and retain the information.
3. Introducing new topics or software programs incrementally
New knowledge can be overwhelming if delivered too rapidly. But frequent microlearning sessions provide employees with a gentle introduction to a new concept, allowing them to assimilate it into their daily work gradually.
4. Implementing company-wide initiatives
As a scalable training solution, microlearning is a quick way to deliver new information across your entire organization. Microlearning can be quickly delivered to employees in different time zones and countries, making it easy to progress your learning program on autopilot.
⛔ What are the limitations of microlearning?
Admittedly, microlearning isn't suitable for every type of course deliverable. The below scenarios demonstrate when an alternative method of training may be a better fit. Remember, though, that microlearning is also an excellent support tool that can serve as a backup to your core training programs.
Core training can't be condensed into a micro-unit
Some course topics are too large, complex, or nuanced to be covered in one or more micro-units. A deeper training session with real-time discussion could be a better alternative here.
Learning clashes with other activities
Microlearning puts the end-user in the driving seat of their own training. This can be positive as it gives the learner the power to choose when they're most open to receiving new information and interacting with your course content.
But this same point can also be problematic, for example, if your learner attempts to engage with their micro-unit when they're distracted by cooking dinner, chatting to their kids, or taking a phone call. Fragmented learning occurs when your user is engrossed in another task.
Short doesn't mean engagement is guaranteed
Engagement is often linked with microlearning, with Hubspot reporting,
"Mobile microlearning produces 4 times higher engagement rates and 50% better knowledge retention than traditional e-learning tools."
But microlearning course creators should understand that brevity of content doesn't automatically translate to guaranteed engagement. It's critical to provide rich multimedia content with plenty of interactive elements such as quizzes and gamification to absorb the user.
Luis von Ahn, founder of bite-sized language learning company DuoLingo, explains,
"Learning is like going to the gym. It has to be fun to make you want to go and work out every day."
Doesn't replace on-the-job training
The problem? Not all course content is suited to fun user interfaces and interactive quizzes. If there's an element of hands-on training required, for example, teaching a medical student how to perform a procedure on a patient, microlearning wouldn't be your primary teaching method. But you can use it to reinforce the learning from practical training.
🏢 Microlearning examples in practice
The popularity of microlearning has been gaining pace in the corporate world. Here are 3 examples of companies who've successfully used this method to solve a variety of training challenges.
Google's Whisper Courses
Learning and development specialists at Google adopted the concept of microlearning into a series of whisper courses delivered by email. Each email message contained a simple suggestion or whisper for a manager to try in their 1:1s and team meetings and enhance psychological safety on their team.
The whisper program was hailed a success and is now also being used to offer suggestions to managers on their leadership behavior.
Walmart's Safety Program
Walmart needed to improve its safety culture to reduce the risk of accidents and injuries in the workplace. Due to the size of their organization, even a 5% reduction in safety incidents would save millions of dollars. By adopting a microlearning and gamification program, Walmart supported employees by boosting their knowledge of safety practices.
They now boast a 91% voluntary participation rate in their training and a 54% reduction in recorded safety incidents.
NextWorth’s Recycling Trade-In
This electronics recycling company was experiencing challenges with inconsistent customer service as their employees didn't have the necessary knowledge to conduct accurate product trade-ins. Short training videos on the NextWorth user interface reduced this variance amongst retail partners by 50%.
➡️ Still eager to read about how other companies are using microlearning? Then, check out 11 additional microlearning examples.
📈 Best practices for your microlearning strategy
"Creating engaging microlearning starts with acknowledging that there's a disconnect between the quality of the content learners consume in everyday life and most of the learning content they consume at work."
- Joel Phillips, Senior Account Executive, SAP Litmos
If you're sold on incorporating microlearning into your training program, follow these top best practices to get the most out it.
- Focus on a single learning objective - entertainment and animation are great, and they may improve engagement in your program. But remember, the point of developing microlearning content is to enhance learning. Incorporate a single learning objective into each unit to ensure success.
- Use it in tandem with additional training - remember your microlearning strategy doesn't necessarily need to replace other learning styles but can be used to support them.
- Repurpose your existing course content - if you have a mature library of training materials, it's worth condensing suitable modules into micro-units. Example: split a longer module into a series of bite-sized chunks.
- Prioritize accessibility - work with a designer who will format and optimize your micro units according to accessibility best practices. Your content must also be accessible across a range of devices.
- Use microlearning modules in onboarding - this is a less daunting way for new hires to get to grips with your systems and presents a fun range of multimedia to support their training.
⚙️ Microlearning platform and useful tools
So, how do you set up a microlearning platform? It's surprisingly straightforward with these no-code tools.
Zavvy's microlearning platform uses science-backed methods to drive behavioral change in just 5 minutes each day. Learning is made accessible by sending out micro-course content via Slack, or Microsoft Teams, so you're reaching your employees where they're already spending their time. Setting up your first course in Zavvy takes just a few minutes – embed existing content using the drag and drop editor, then add engaging formats on top in just one click.
If you're focused on delivering video content and are happy to create your own microlearning course, Loom is a great option. Creating a mobile learning experience with Loom is as simple as downloading either the desktop app or browser extension and recording your screen, yourself, or both. Remember: 52% of students prefer video content lasting 3 to 6 minutes.
YouTube is a natural home for your microlearning video content. Tutorials and how-to videos are some of the most popular content on YouTube, with "how to" searches increasing year over year. Use this to your advantage by uploading your microlearning modules here and including descriptive titles and tags, so employees can easily find what they need. Better yet, send Slack notifications or similar to nudge them to participate in your video microlearning course.
Interactive quizzes are one of the most effective pieces of content in micro-courses. They're excellent for learner engagement and subject matter retention. Create a simple yet professional-looking Typeform mini-course, using the drag and drop tool.
Here's an example of a course we created on prioritization:
Or check out the quiz builder based on templates and a variety of question paths to customize your learning experience.
➡️ Case study: Microlearning at Freeletics' leadership program
Using Zavvy, you can supercharge behavioral change across your entire organization, including your leadership teams. Our manager training cultivates greater leaders by offering guidance at the optimal time through a series of nudges, reminders, and tips.
Zavvy's learning experience team worked with Freeletics, the app-based AI coach, to create an effective manager training routine for the company's people leaders. The biggest challenge faced by Freeletics was the lack of time its people managers had to engage in regular training. Traditional training methods were deprioritized in favor of daily business activities. For those employees who did find the time to attend workshops, knowledge was quickly lost without repetition or being put into practice.
We overcame these challenges by creating a blended learning program with microlearning as a central focus. People managers and employees received weekly notifications to engage in small challenges and lessons focused on continuous, ongoing behavioral change.
Although the program was inspired by Google's whisper emails, Zavvy prefers to send Slack notifications rather than delivering training to an inbox – a decision that has tripled engagement.
➡️ Read the full case study: Creating a training routine for leaders at Freeletics
Contact us today to arrange a live demo and see how easy it is to launch a microlearning course tailored to your needs.
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