Training Sticks Better If You Add Microlearning

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Apr 10, 2017

We live in a day and age where most things we could possibly need to know are just a few key strokes away. This has already had a major impact in the way we learn and process information. People are beginning to realize that traditional teaching methods are not as effective as alternatives. Microlearning in particular has been adopted in many offices, but how do you know if this is something that will work for your employees?

Microlearning and your attention span

According to research by Dianne Dukette and David Cornish, your mind’s ability to focus on a single task lasts about 20 minutes. After 20 minutes are up, your mind will wander for a few minutes before you decide whether or not to refocus on your original task. This isn’t such a problem for those things we really enjoy doing, like watching movies or reading a good book, but when it comes to education, this can be a real hurdle, and it probably explains why those hour-long meetings aren’t going over so well at the office.

If you’ve run into problems with retention and focus when using traditional employee onboarding methods, you may want to consider using microlearning. Julie Clow, Google’s former manager of learning and organizational development, defined microlearning as “discrete chunks of information or skill-based knowledge that can be delivered in short bursts of time.”

This method capitalizes on the human brain’s limited capacity to focus on a single task by implementing lessons that range from 3 to 10 minutes in duration. By narrowing your focus and shortening the time span, you’re playing to your learners’ strengths. This method increased comprehension and retention among participants in a physician training session, who were delivered micro nuggets at intervals after the conclusion of the in-depth program.

How microlearning works

How does it manage to increase retention and comprehension? This can be most easily explained by George A. Miller’s information processing theory. Miller’s work explains that the human brain’s short term memory is capable of managing five to nine “chunks” of information. A chunk refers to any meaningful unit of information, and they can build and rely on the learner’s previous knowledge. When these chunks represent meaningful and relevant information, they’re more likely to become a part of a learner’s long-term memory.

By narrowing your course’s focus and duration, you’re empowering your learners to better comprehend and retain the lesson. This is because you’re only offering as much information in one session as they can handle and process.

In a traditional, hour-long course, we typically hope that our learners will retain some of what was most interesting or relevant to them, but realistically, we know that they’ll forget much of what was said. With microlearning, you can feel more confident that your learners will actually retain the lesson.

How to get started

To get started, we suggest that you break what would be a traditional one-hour lesson into smaller, more digestible units. Get creative with how you distribute this information, and check out what microlearning techniques others have used.

You may want to consider making your lessons available online so that your learners can complete them in their downtime and at their own pace, and maybe even use them again as a reference down the road. Don’t be afraid to try new and different things. According to Chief Learning Officer, even the bathrooms at Google headquarters are stocked with microlearning worksheets.

However you do it, we’re confident that microlearning will enhance the learning environment at your office. Let us know in the comments if you’ve tried microlearning before and what you did that worked.