Microlearning Technology

Why It’s Just Learning…not MicroLearning

If you’ve seen me speak or worked with me and my team over the past few years, you already know my opinion of “Microlearning”. I’m not a fan of the concept. In my opinion, one shoe does not fit every learner or every topic. In fact, cramming a “learning moment” into 2 minutes and 2 seconds is doing a huge disservice to our learners and to the companies who invest in technology to deliver on this latest fad.

In the early 2000s, I was speaking at conferences and calming down the L&D masses who were convinced that eLearning was going to take away the jobs and completely change the roles of the training professionals. They felt that eLearning was going to rule over all, and that the skills of an ID or facilitator were going to go the way of the dinosaur. I told them that they might need to upskill and learn to design or program eLearning, but that their expertise and skills as instructional designers or facilitators were not going to fade away.

eLearning is a part of my card training “deck”. I like to provide my customers with various options based on the performance gap they are trying to close. If training really is the issue (because we all know that sometimes it isn’t), then we look at the skills the learner needs to master. We come up with learning objectives that take into account the change we need to observe, and THEN we decide the most appropriate format; we pull the correct “card” and develop. Will the gap be closed with a one page job aid? An instructor-lead training course? An eLearning multimedia course? A web session conducted over WebEx? A video with a discussion afterward?

Notice that there is NO time stamp on any of these opportunities because I let the CONTENT drive the format. I’m not going to automatically try to cram the learning into a two minute format because that might not be the BEST way for the learner to close the gap and change their behavior!

Organizations that begin the process by dictating the time or method before proper analysis is done scare me. “Thomas, you have to build a ten minute presentation on our method for working with customers on the telephone”. What if the method has 10 steps? Can I tell a story? Can I make it immersive and interactive or is it yet ANOTHER PowerPoint deck with a quiz at the end? Why is 10 minutes the magic number?

If we can figure out a way to deliver the content in 2 minutes, great! Maybe it’s ten 2 minute courses! Great! Then again, maybe its a 20 minute eLearning course with multimedia and interactions! I say this: let the content drive the format and duration.

Microlearning is a way for companies to cheat their employees out of a behavior changing experience by offering them bare bones education and calling it “micro”. It’s not “micro”, it’s “lazy”, check the box thinking that does nothing to really improve performance.

Now, if I can simmer the content down to make a huge impact in just 2 minutes, and I have the technical skills to produce the project and deliver it to learners just in time, then that’s not microlearning; it’s just “eLearning.” We don’t need a new “category” just because someone figured out how to get rid of the fluff and deliver in less than 2 minutes. Sure, you can teach someone to save a MS Word doc or define a print area in MS Excel in a quick, two minute video. But, how effective is your new coaching strategy going to be if the educational pieces are only 2 minute videos? What about practice and role-play? What about job aids and reinforcement coaching?

If you’ve jumped onto the “micro” bandwagon, my plea is to consider it as a option. Don’t try to reverse engineer the content into a format that plays for two minutes. You are doing your learner and your content a disservice.