The power of microlearning

During the pandemic there has been some stagnation in L&D practice, here Stuart Affleck argues that microlearning may be the answer

The pandemic has changed the way that many people work and for some there have been benefits to this – reduced travel costs and time spent commuting, greater flexibility and better work-life balance. Not only that, but recent data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), taken across Q4 of 2021, measured output per hour worked at 2.3% above the levels recorded prior to the pandemic.

However, there are challenges around hybrid working with which employers will continue to grapple. With increased working from home comes fewer opportunities for staff to learn through osmosis; chatting to a senior team member over one’s desk, overhearing conversations in the office, bumping into somebody in the hallway – all these learning opportunities are lost (or at least far rarer) in a virtual setting.

This means that companies need to invest more in their L&D programmes to compensate for this, but it’s not yet clear if this has been happening. There are some encouraging reports – the Association for Talent Development (ATD) surveyed 388 talent development professionals and found that 83% of organisations currently use a Learning Management System (LMS).  In addition, most respondents (73%) reported that their LMS use had risen in the past two years, rather than fallen, which the ATD says indicates that “LMS use is rising rather than remaining stagnant”.

With increased working from home comes fewer opportunities for staff to learn through osmosis

However, it is not just about the quantity of training being offered to staff, organisations need to look at the quality of training being delivered, and if it has been adapted in light of the pandemic   

It can take time to recognise when something is no longer fit for purpose. A business hit by the pandemic may review its offering to staff and say “we have an L&D programme in place, the same one that has worked for years, so nothing needs to change”. This fails to take into account how the pandemic has affected the way people work and how they digest content.

Where might businesses be going wrong?

Advertising specialist WARC did research last year showing that digital consumption of content rose by over 30% over the course of the pandemic, significantly changing consumer habits.  

People are even more used to digesting content online than they were pre-pandemic. And interestingly in the same research, WARC reports that Tik-Tok has been a major winner during the pandemic – a social media platform known for providing users with snappy, easily digestible, short-form videos.   

People are being exposed to more attention-grabbing digital content than ever before and this is bound to have an affect on peoples’ attention spans, and the techniques that need to be employed to engage them. In an age dominated by social media and short-form content, training being delivered via lengthy, text-heavy PowerPoints, and external trainers delivering two-three-hour lectures – while not completely obsolete – have much less of a place than they used to. L&D professionals should turn to microlearning, which is far better suited to the modern age.

What is microlearning?

Microlearning is all about emphasising smaller, bite-sized chunks of content in a training programme, and then delivering that information to staff in different and creative ways (this could be through quizzes, games, interactive films etc.).  

A recent empirical study on microlearning collected a number of interesting findings (taken from a mix of leading companies, scientists and universities); for example, not only does the average employee only have about 24 minutes per week to devote to formal learning, but 42% of companies say that e-learning has led to an increase in revenue. And by using spaced repetition, learners can recall 80% of what was learnt after 60 days.  

Microlearning is also about making sure information is easy to access for training delegates. Ultimately this is all with the aim of making sure those being taught don’t experience information overload.

So often, training that is delivered is too long, communicated through abstract concepts or walls of text, and while there might be a 20-minute to half-an-hour session built into the end of a training session to do group work, or some kind of activity to help embed the lessons, it’s just not enough.

Technology has come far enough now that there are many tech solutions on the market to help engage staff. Training portals or hubs, where training materials can be hosted, and training delegates can take part in fun games, quizzes or activities, can be really effective ways of keeping staff engaged long after a training session has taken place. Many of these portals have taken lessons from platforms like Facebook and have made an effort to become social media platforms in their own right, creating a ‘virtual community’ amongst participants.  

For something like D&I, which can take a lot of time for individuals to understand fully and feel confident speaking about, a tool like microlearning is invaluable. It breaks things down into manageable chunks and makes people think, ‘this is easy, I can do this’, rather than being something overwhelming that is forgotten overnight. The Conscious Inclusion Hub is a resource designed to help with this, it focuses on providing individuals with bite-sized pieces of content to help reinforce key D&I themes and behaviours introduced during training sessions. Within the Hub, something that has worked well has been anchoring these pieces of content to real-life scenarios (often tailored to that individual’s business). In something as complex as D&I, making the content relatable as well as digestible is so important. Microlearning has the power to transform CPD and L&D.   

In a world that’s been through nearly two years of a pandemic, completely flipping many peoples’ work and personal habits upside-down, there’s really no excuse for businesses not to be more creative about how they engage with their staff. There will be many companies out there that are perfectly content with their longstanding training programmes, but they really need to look into them and ask themselves whether staff could be getting more out of them.

Stuart Affleck is director at Brook Graham from Pinsent Masons Vario 

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