Microlearning: best practices for corporations

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For the past few years, learning and development professionals have been talking about microlearning so much that it has taken an official seat–alongside badging, gamification, and MOOCs–in the E-Learning Buzzword Hall of Fame.

Though it may be trendy right now, microlearning is not a newly invented approach. It is a realization of how the human brain is wired to learn, and it is considered to be one of the best instructional approaches for new age learners.

So what is microlearning? Why has it recently become so popular in the corporate world in particular? And how are we harnessing its power at General Assembly?

What is microlearning?

Simply put, microlearning is a way of teaching content. In microlearning, content is divided into small chunks that are requested by and taught to learners on an as-needed basis. Microlearning can theoretically happen in person, but it is much more practical online, where a large library of content can be accessed.

People are talking about microlearning because it caters to the particular expectations of today’s learners:

– Its brevity appeals to our shortening attention spans.

– Its compatibility with technology enhances its power in our digital world.

– Its learner-centric nature makes sense because we have unlimited information at our fingertips–we can decide for ourselves what we want to learn.

Why is microlearning so popular in corporate settings?

Through collaboration with our corporate partners–companies such as L’Oréal and Lloyds Banking Group–we’ve conducted user research with 10,000 professionals about their preferences and habits regarding learning.  

The data we collected has illuminated that each of the key features of microlearning–its brevity, its technological compatibility, and its self-directedness–that make it popular on consumer sites like YouTube, edX, and Khan Academy, also make it particularly useful in corporate settings.

We are going to investigate each of these features in detail to show how microlearning can be a valuable tool for learning and development professionals.

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BREVITY

The modern learner is overwhelmed, distracted, and impatient: people unlock their smartphones up to 9 times every hour and most learners won’t watch videos longer than 4 minutes

Through our research, we have found that, in corporate settings, microlearning is more accommodating to employees’ schedules than traditional formats like day-long workshops, while achieving similar results.

At General Assembly, we judge every online module we create by a “value for time spent” metric, which ensures our online content is teaching concepts efficiently. We’re proud that, after thousands of ratings, the content on our e-learning platforms rates above 4 out of 5 stars for “value for time spent.”

Furthermore, providing microlearning experiences that users enjoy results in heightened engagement. Our online products boast an engagement rate 8 times higher than that of traditional content libraries. High engagement is a must-have for L&D professionals fed up with providing resources that employees do not actually use.

The brevity of microlearning has enabled workers to integrate L&D opportunities into their workflow and will encourage ‘lifelong learning.’

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TECHNOLOGICAL COMPATIBILITY

Microlearning has become increasingly popular recently because technological developments have allowed the format to reach its full potential. Technology has increased accessibility of microlearning, enabled mixed-format microlearning experiences, and optimized content through data.  

Microlearning powered by today’s technology is accessible. Employees can access online lessons whenever they have time, wherever they are–whether in the 5 minutes before boarding a plane or after a meeting to better grasp a new concept. A user on one of our  learning platforms shared: “I can do lessons whenever I want to…it’s addicting.” This is a great benefit of online microlearning not afforded by traditional, in-person training: meeting the needs of a workforce on-the-go.

Technology has also created the opportunity to seamlessly integrate a variety of media formats. Lessons across our products run about 15-minutes but are further broken down into segments that combine different media–including video, assessments, interactions, and study guides–to provide a new microlearning experience approximately every 3 minutes.

We decided on the 3-minute threshold due to another benefit empowered by technology–data collection. The data we gathered from our extensive user testing revealed to us that 3 minutes is the ideal duration of a microlearning experience designed for a corporate audience. Our online learning platforms continuously track engagement and drop-off rates, which will allow us to continue to optimize this number if our audience’s behaviors change.

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LEARNER-CENTRICITY

Modern learners want to learn exactly what is relevant to them at that very moment: think of every time you reach for your phone to look something up on Wikipedia. Microlearning experiences achieve at most two objectives. When faced with the rapid pace of today’s workplace, this hyperfocus on specific objectives help professionals solve self-identified skills gaps in a compartmentalized, targeted way that they appreciate.

Microlearning enables the just-in-time learning that most employees crave in professional training. Due to their limited scope, microlearning experiences are able to precisely address a particular learner’s needs. And by providing your employees with a library of content available for self-selection, learners will choose the content that is most useful to them. Microlearning is well suited for spaced repetition and distributed practice, a popular instructional strategy for workplace learning.

Currently, 60% of employees learn what they need for their jobs through online courses

We leave space for users on our online platforms to share how they will use their new knowledge. An example from one user: “Looking forward to applying what I learned in my next comms strategy for introducing an app.” By taking ownership of the learning experience, learners are more likely to retain and apply their learning to their daily work.

Microlearning at General Assembly

A screenshot from General Assembly’s online learning platform Digital Foundations.

At General Assembly, we have incorporated a variety of microlearning moments into our online platforms to create a robust and diverse learning experience.

For example, the Essentials of Digital Marketing–a digital marketing e-learning platform–has incorporated a feature called “Headlines”–a 3-minute news recap that showcases trending digital marketing campaigns and tactics. Each episode is designed to help keep participants up-to-date with examples of digital marketing best (and worst!) practices in action.

Another General Assembly e-learning platform, Digital Foundations, covers digital basics in 5 topics including data and analytics and user experience. In Digital Foundations we relied on microlearning principles to draw in our audience: Each topic area is introduced by a short video interviewing a leading practitioner in that topic. In the interview introducing data and analytics, for instance, L’Oréal’s VP of Consumer Marketing Intelligence shares his insights about overcoming the challenges presented by data and how he used analytics to effect change in his organization.

At General Assembly, we strive for our microlearning experiences to focus on storytelling through a fun, conversational tone. The goal is for learners to not even realize they’re learning. Check out an episode of Headlines or a Digital Foundations Interview to see for yourself.

WATCH AN EPISODE OF HEADLINES