Technology is giving rise to a new form of workplace learning that allows participants to learn at their own pace in their preferred place.
A lot of corporate training sessions run for a day or two, and participants can feel overwhelmed by the amount of information conveyed. Upon returning to work, participants will likely be swamped with tasks and an inbox brimming with unanswered emails, and much of their newly-found knowledge will be forgotten. These training sessions are sometimes treated as a ‘tick and flick’ exercise.
But that’s not really an effective way to grow and develop your people. And we know from previous research, a lack of development opportunities is driving a lot of Australian workers out the door. So should we be looking for alternative learning options?
Little by little
Micro-learning – an alternative method to traditional training – breaks down large amounts of information into three to seven-minute lessons that can be accessed at a learner’s convenience over several weeks.
The idea is that these ‘mini lessons’ are quick enough to complete in-between meetings or during a commute as the content is usually accessed via a smartphone. It typically comprises a range of media, such as videos, podcasts, quizzes, short articles or gamified challenges.
Algorithms will assess where learners are having difficulty and will send push notifications and extra learning materials until the knowledge is cemented.
“Bringing people in for a three-day workshop can be incredibly expensive, especially if they are being brought in nationally or internationally. We also know that it has a limited impact,” says Arun Pradhan, a Melbourne-based learning performance and innovation strategist.
He points to studies that have found that the most effective way to retain knowledge is by spacing out learning sessions over a period of time, rather than intensively ‘cramming.’ This is known as ‘spaced learning’ or ‘spaced repetition’. If you think back to your university cramming days, you’ll know this to be true.
There are plenty of corporate training platforms out there to choose from, but EdApp is considered one of the first AI-powered platforms to hit the market; it processes tens of thousands of lessons each day.
Interestingly, around 30 per cent of the micro-learning courses on this platform are for soft-skills, with the most popular topics including leadership, negotiation and effective listening, according to EdApp’s CEO and founder Darren Winterford.
This is unsurprising, given that the increasing focus on the importance of soft skills in the modern workplace. A 2017 study from Boston College, Harvard University and the University of Michigan found that soft skills training boosts productivity and retention by 12 per cent and delivers a 250 per cent return on investment. Moreover, the employers surveyed reported that these skills are as much in demand as technical know-how.
Winterford says one reason microlearning is proving popular is because it’s more cost-effective than traditional training and e-learning programs. Once a course has been uploaded, it is straightforward to update and distribute time and time again.
It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution
However, micro-learning may not be appropriate in every circumstance.
“If the learning is knowledge-based, I think micro-learning can be really effective,” says Pradhan. “But if it’s a mindset change or a complex skill that requires practice, micro-learning does have a role to play, but a more limited one.”
Pradhan says that listening to other peoples’ stories in a face-to-face setting is invaluable, as is expert feedback that helps learners overcome areas where they are struggling.
Melbourne-based mindset coach Clare Desira believes face-to-face discussions will always remain an invaluable component of learning.
“Human behaviour is so wonderfully complex. We learn most from talking about real-life examples and developing an appreciation for the different responses and experiences people have had,” she says.
Pradhan also believes that some people may not be willing to share their vulnerabilities in a digital environment, and would prefer the immediacy of a group session.
Both Pradhan and Desira agree that a blend of micro-learning and traditional training may be the most effective approach.
“I think that carving out time and space for behavior change is important, and that following up with microlearning, or using it to get a handle of the basics beforehand, could work really well,” says Desira.
Winterford also acknowledges that some forms of learning may be too complex to distil into a seven-minute video.
“We don’t profess that micro-learning is the be-all and end-all, or that it will totally replace face-to-face learning,” he says. “Turning really complex topics such as the nuances of coding into bite-sized pieces of information could be challenging. That said, in the automotive industry we have seen Mercedes Benz use micro-learning for complex mechanical training very successfully.”
Pradhan also warns against what he considers a “crude application” of micro-learning.
“Some people think it’s enough to take an existing course, chop it into small parts and then release it into the organisation. Micro-learning is about understanding where people are likely to face common challenges, and then using it as a tool to help them get beyond those friction points.”