5 Microlearning Mistakes to Avoid
Today’s trend is to develop short microlearning assets, typically 5–7 minutes in length, that allow employees to jump in and out of a training program as their work schedules allow and their just-in-time performance needs demand. While some consider microlearning a fad, most instructional designers agree that it is supported by the tested theory that our brains process small packets of information better than, say, long and boring lectures.
In that regard, it is no surprise that microlearning has taken the training and development world by storm. It can be effective and convenient; however, we designers have noticed some have jumped on this bandwagon without the proper tools to ensure success. Here are just a few mistakes we have noticed and caution our stakeholders to avoid.
Some are so excited to roll out microlearning assets that they simply start churning out content in mini-videos or interactions without first conducting analysis to make sure they are addressing real—and not just perceived—performance gaps. Some assert that analysis takes too much time. However, the danger here is that you may end up creating a library of assets that provide little-to-no value to your learners or your organization. Another risk is that the content in those assets might miss the mark. If the goal of your training is to boost performance, then don’t neglect this critical step of finding out what needs to be improved and how.
Another mistake is to publish a microlearning asset on its own, or perhaps a library of videos, without opportunities for reinforcement, practice and feedback. These three components are critical for learning transfer. Without reinforcement, learners will forget most of what they just learned. Without practice, they won’t know to apply it. And without feedback, they could apply it incorrectly anyway.
Microlearning can be effective, but it also needs to address these adult learning needs to ensure skills and information are applied correctly on the job. Generally, that requires partnering a microlearning asset with other learning assets, such as try-it simulations, group discussions and interactive case studies.
If your asset is 20 minutes long, it is not a microlearning asset. There is some debate regarding the average attention span of adult learners, but it generally falls between five and 15 minutes at a time. Personally, I aim for five to seven minutes. After a break, adult learners can tune back in as long as the assets grab their attention, are relevant to their jobs, help them build confidence and/or provide satisfaction. If these bolded terms sound familiar, it is because they come from Keller’s ARCS Model of Motivation—and they apply to microlearning assets just like any other learning deliverable.
Remember, if the purpose of microlearning is to attract laser focus on a micro-skill, you need to avoid including too many topics or details. As you fine-tune the content, think about what learners need to know to master the learning objective versus what is supplementary information. Any “nice-to-have” content can be plugged into other assets that are part of the larger program (e.g., practice exercises, group discussions and case studies).
One of the most compelling aspects of microlearning is that the same asset can be used for initial training, refresher training and on-the-job performance support. Remember this as you package and promote your microlearning assets; let the learners know this training platform or library is available 24/7 and is designed to meet their just-in-time performance needs. Involving management in this effort is crucial to the success of your platform or library. As employees reach out to their supervisors for support, managers can refer them to the learning library to find answers, as well.
Evaluating learning assets is not only your chance to improve your training, but it is also your chance to shine a light on L&D in your organization. Use LMS and other data—such as Google Analytics and Vimeo—to identify which assets are performing well and improving operational performance. Share that information with superiors so they, too, can recognize the results of your efforts. Also identify which assets are not being used, and why, and update or replace them with deliverables that provide more value to your organization. As your organization evolves, so do your learning needs, and data collected via your learning management system (LMS) and other channels is a great way to discover those mysteries. To learn more about this, read our interview with Chris Longstreet of Choice Hotels International, “3 Major Benefits of Using Learning Data.”
We recently partnered with a sales training consultancy to deliver a microlearning program, where the organization’s founder teaches client-facing sales and presentation skills online. Following are some microlearning tips used on the project to ensure we avoid the pitfalls mentioned above:
If your organization plans to offer microlearning to its employees, consider the above strategies for avoiding these common mistakes—and share some of your own in the comments. We’d love to hear from you.