Learning & Development

The Strengths of Microlearning Today

A Microsoft report showed that the human attention span has shrunk from twelve seconds in 2000 to eight seconds in 2013 to one second, which is shorter than the average goldfish. The Microsoft generated a lot of buzz in the marketing world, as it recommended marketing tactics evolve to engage today’s distracted consumer. For the learning community, the results are old news. Learning professionals have been battling shortened attention spans for decades. Increasingly time-strapped employees with short attention spans, competing demands, and long to-do lists simply don’t have time for long, time-consuming learning and development activities. Which is why many learning pros have turned to learning’s newest trend, microlearning, to engage and educate learners.

Microlearning is learning content broken down into short, targeted, bite-sized chunks with the purpose of engaging learners and reinforcing knowledge retention. Sessions range anywhere from two to fifteen minutes, though most industry thought leaders argue true microlearning is around four minutes. These mini-lessons delivered in media-rich formats, such as videos, scenarios, white-board animation and kinetic text, and the learner walks away with tangible, actionable knowledge on a specific subject.

Like any new trend, it’s important to understand why microlearning was created, how it has risen in popularity and its potential impact on learning and development.

A Micro-History of Microlearning

The first conference focused on microlearning was held in Austria in 2005. Early microlearning discussions were more theory than practice, coming out of university research at places like MIT.

In 2009, a paper from Futurethink stated, “In the future, the majority of learning will be in shorter timeframes, such as ‘micro modules’ or ‘micro learning.’” By 2010, the topic appeared in leading learning industry publications like Chief Learning Officer, and by 2013 it was a recognized trend in workforce learning.

The Strengths of Microlearning Today

Ten plus years after that first conference, we have faster internet speeds, better mobile coverage, and pervasive, smaller, faster and more powerful devices. The same technology advances that may contribute to shorter attention spans and more complex work lives have accelerated the adoption of microlearning as a recognized best practice in the workforce learning playbook.

Now that it’s gone from theory to practice, we are seeing benefits beyond engaging distracted workers and improving knowledge retention, including:

Higher employee productivity: Less time spent in the classroom or on long online courses means more time to devote to important projects. In comparison to lecture-style training, microlearning cuts directly to the chase. According to a report by Software Advice, microlearning creates 50% more engagement.

Lower development costs: In his book on eLearning, learning architect Ray Jimenez, states that by creating microlearning courses, learning developers can reduce development costs by 50% and increase development by 300%. Shorter courses require fewer resources, which significantly lowers the time and money spent creating training content.

Quicker response: Agility is the key to success in today’s fast-paced business world. Training is developed, delivered and consumed at the point of need, not four months later. This allows for on-the-go learning as small-sized modules and mobile-friendly designs allow learners to take training with them wherever and whenever they might need it.

Personalization: Learners can assemble a personal learning program made up a series of highly targeted, short modules. Not to mention, microlearning is 50% more interactive and engaging to learners. This can help improve the learning experience for your workforce.

Due to the short period of this training structure, microlearning enables learners to grasp and retain the critical training points quickly.

Are you incorporating microlearning in your learning strategy? What benefits are you seeing? How has it changed the dynamics of training at your organization?

To help you get started, check out our whitepaper “The Skinny on Microlearning” for some great advice on how to implement a microlearning strategy today!


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