In the past few years, the focus on the time required to learn new skills has gathered unprecedented momentum. This has led to new terms like microlearning and Microskills® and how learning in the digital age has had to evolve to this new reality where learners are mobile, starved of time and on a constant lookout for newer ways to stay engaged.
We had mentioned how a new approach to learning, such as microlearning was paving the way for innovation in digital learning and making learning more effective. So how does microlearning, a form of learning that we can experience in short bursts of time that are as little as 2 minutes, differ from traditional learning?
- Simplicity: If you think of simplicity purely in terms of time to complete, then microlearning scores over traditional learning in that it requires less time and hence lesser effort on behalf of a learner to complete. To put this in context, think of learning a new language such as Japanese (megalearning) versus learning two to three basic Japanese sentences that can come in handy in your next trip to Japan (microlearning). Learning a couple of sentences in a new language is far simpler to complete than mastering an entirely new language. The other problem with megalearning in such a situation can be how exactly would you define learning a new language? Hence, in addition to requiring lesser investment of time, microlearning can also be easier to measure than megalearning.
- Context: We’re all likely to want to learn something just before we need it. A sales person selling a new water purifier system will be more keen to learn how to pitch the product just before a customer walks in the store versus learning irrespective of his context or situation. Again, given its microscopic dimension in comparison to megalearning (such as a two-day training program), microlearning fits in well in such an instance where the two minute window before the customer interacts with the sales person can be just enough time to learn the best way to talk about water purification. Rather than thinking about content first and then having to retrofit it in various contexts, microlearning makes context central to the learning objective.
- Retention: As an extension to point 1, what’s simpler to learn is also easier to retain. If you learnt basic introductory sentences in Japanese, you’re much more likely to retain those sentences in your memory than if you’re tasked with learning a more elaborate set of sentences and grammar structures in Japanese.
- Psychology: We mentioned earlier how time is possibly the biggest investment helping or hindering our learning experience and outcome. Higher retention rates in microlearning also imply you are more likely to apply them on the job. Taking the same sales person’s example, knowing what questions to ask a customer who is looking to buy a water purification solution for the first time is easier to retain and apply than a course on probing skills where such a minute objective is part of a larger concept to learn. Besides higher application of learning, the fact that microlearning is short helps nudge a learner to invest his or her time to actually learn the material. Like we mentioned, we’re all predisposed to defer learning new things given our perceived lack of time. However, unlike traditional learning, microlearning objectives seem like ‘harmless’ investments of time and psychologically encourage the learner to initiate and complete the learning.
- Digital Agility: Given that microlearning was born as a result of the current digital transformation we find ourselves in, it means microlearning content also inherently has higher digital agility. By agility here, we mean microlearning is suited for all kinds of digital experiences – from notebooks and tablets to mobile and virtual / augmented devices. Traditional learning, by virtue of its legacy is not built only for a digital experience. While that does not mean that we cannot have traditional learning also experienced in digital formats, the degree of flexibility in creating holistic and memorable digital experiences from traditional learning is far less when compared to microlearning. One example of this flexibility is in personalization. While a traditional learning program on customer service can be extremely beneficial for a team of 200 customer service reps, the ability to personalize which of these reps require more training (and content) in body language over those who require support in building rapport is extremely limited and harder to pull off using traditional learning methods. Contrast this, say gamified microlearning and you can start with a set of short modules or Microskills® on customer service for all 200 reps and over time see how they fare to identify skills gaps across various Microskills®. This can enable an organization to hone in on specific areas where a rep requires more support and thereby create Microskills® that are specific for that rep. Building more content for a rep on only body language enables him or her to focus more deeply on a gap they need to address to improve performance, which helps organizations to better track the effectiveness of learning.
While these five points are not exhaustive, they are indicative of the fundamental differences between microlearning and traditional learning or mega learning. While both forms of learning serve a different requirement of the employee, there’s a greater sense of realization among organizations, learning & development executives and employees that learning designed to fit short time bursts are likely to provide a more scalable, sustainable and engaging learning experience.