LEARN|September 15, 2020
By: D.C. Alves M.Ed., Chief Leadership Officer, ExuLAB
When it comes to the L /D (Learning and Development) space, there are many fads and trends that come and go. Because L/D is often viewed as the "fix it" center of organizations, all problems in the organization suddenly become and default to a "training issue". This is wildly untrue and unfair and, as a result, causes a reactionary posture that can lead to poor decision-making, design and solutions. The learning function of the organization is its life-giving center and the learning ecosystem must be a thoughtful and intentional curation of correct methods and solutions that precisely align with the behaviors and values that live within the key results and business objectives an organization is working to achieve.
What does this all have to do with microlearning or its cousin, nanolearning? Well, microlearning has been mis-used, misunderstood and mis-implemented as a result of the pressure on and reactionary posture of the learning function. I have personally seen microlearning viewed and utilized as a panacea to cure- well- everything wrong in training! I have seen organizations invest heavily in solutions that promise quick fixes in minutes. Learning leaders jump at the chance to throw the problem into microlearning- it's short, it scales, it saves time, produces impressive engagement data (unfortunately often exaggerated and skewed) and it checks the box. But does it?
Microlearning has often been implemented inaccurately because the design principle undergirding it is not understood. Microlearning is not about truncating learning into mini-modules, micro-mini videos or audio snippets etc. And it is not about speed or scale. These are means to enable microlearning and can be part of a microlearning strategy but they are not microlearning. And simply putting something into such a micro format does not constitute microlearning.
Microlearning first begins with diagnosis.
Mircolearning is about working to critically identify a problem or breakdown and cause that exists in an organization and distilling that problem down even more to the core essential element you will endeavor to solve or change through training. The learner is at the center of the design at all times. Then distilling even further if necessary. Not every problem or training need is a fit for microlearning. See, microlearning is not about the format, length or speed, it is about clearly identifying the problem through diagnosis and distillation and then focusing with laser precision on cure which may involve micro format delivery.
Let me give you an example of successful microlearning in action at an e-commerce company.
A new team of 25 was onboarded virtually at an e-commerce start-up. Throughout onboarding, one of the key messages of the company was speed. In fact, it was one of their corporate values. Speed was embedded everywhere and the team received this message loud and clear. One of the main jobs of this new team was to increase sales and adoption of their proprietary fee-based service. There was pressure to make sales increase on a weekly basis. The team's role was to work with the customers that would call in either as a new customer or a customer who wanted to speak live with a rep to get more information before buying. The company began to notice a severe decline in sales per call from each member of the team. They figured they were just new to the job and decided to take a wait and see approach. While sales continued to slide, the company was considering termination. L/D consult stepped in and recommended identifying what the real core problem was first. They worked to identify the course that the calls were taking. They noticed that the team would rush through the call and rush the customer off the phone to get to another call. L/D further distilled the issue to see why there was such a rush. They met with the team and they expressed how stressed they were on each call and that it was taking a toll on them to rush the call and the customer. They were upset because they did not want to do this to their customer- they liked their customers and didn't want to rush them. Distilling the problem further, L/D noticed that this rushing was coming from their onboarding training. This team was fulfilling the company's value of speed. Their behavior was a direct result of the onboarding and the corporate value of speed that was drilled into them. This behavior turned into a belief and then this became the driver of each call. And the customers could feel it, were off put and consequently abandoned the company. L/D worked with corporate to recommend a reframe of the corporate value of speed and then a realignment of the business objective. They then designed a microlearning experience that focused like a laser beam on reframing this belief with tools and skills to support a very successful customer call experience- the learner was at the center of their design at all times. The micorlearning experience made use of mini-videos, mini audio clips, mini modules, 1 question quizzes, 10 minute virtual check-ins and vision cards (for more information on vision cards contact ExuLAB directly at firstname.lastname@example.org). The microlearning experience addressed and focussed like a laser beam on just this one core problem that was carefully identified and distilled. After the microlearning experience, sales skyrocketed. Customers were happy and the team felt a sense of pride, belonging and accomplishment.
We can see that getting microlearning right can have tremendous results and be an important species in your learning ecosystem. It requires critical identification of a problem and a focussed laser like approach to solve just that core problem through robust multi-faceted learning design that puts the learner in the center of the design that then can scale, be mobile, live and in flow of work through micro-videos, mini-modules, AR etc. Microlearning has real potential in the L/D space but we must take caution to preserve its true intent, design and nature for it to be successful.