Microlearning: What is it, and why should it be used?

What is the best way to help an employee learn professional skills? Is it through sitting in a classroom with a lecturing “trainer?” How about having employees sit through an hour-long slide show with a speaker describing all the new trends with statistics to back it up?

While both of these present their own unique set of advantages or disadvantages, neither of them are convenient, focus on the LEARNER, or provide a means to actually practice newly learned skills. Instead, these methods can easily turn off and bore learners to the point of learning little.  So what is the best way to help an employee learn professional skills?

The answer is through microlearnings. Microlearning is a learning-industry term used to describe quick, short, and to-the-point learning techniques used in professional or educational settings. These come in the form of online modules designed to focus on a specific subject and give the learner exactly what he or she needs at that point in time to progress.

At Catalyst Learning, Mia Matthews, Manager of Learning Development and Instructional Designer, is the primary architect behind Catalyst Learning’s new microlearnings. She has been in this line of work for over a decade and explains the not-so-new but still growing emphasis on moving towards eLearning methods:

“Microlearning is not necessarily a new concept. In my past roles, almost all learnings were 3 to 5 minute modules.This approach to learning is becoming very popular. One of the reasons is that it provides a lot of flexibility in picking and choosing what you learn.”

Mia furthers her point by giving an example of using Microsoft Excel, and maybe only needing to learn how to do one specific function. Rather than go online and find a long tutorial that goes over every similar function, it would be much better and easier to a consumer if he or she could find a learning for the one specific function needed at that time.

Why do microlearnings work? What is it about this method that improves upon traditional training presentations?

Microlearnings are learner-centric. This simply means they focus on the learners’ perspective and improving the performance of an employee rather than focusing on the information being provided. Learner-centric modules provide opportunities for employees to practice and apply what they’ve learned immediately. This performance-based model is prevalent in microlearning designs and gives employers immediate, measurable results.

“What’s happening is that the metrics and data [companies are searching for] and the demand for results are becoming more prevalent in organizations. They’re finding that these big [training] events that provide a ton of information are not proving to be effective. A lot of times, those are about the information being presented and the expertise of the instructor giving the information. It’s not connecting with the learner and what they’re doing on the job. Now, you’re seeing organizations realize it’s about the learners themselves and what is going to be applicable for them on the job.”

Another benefit that makes microlearnings a popular means for training in organizations is the convenience. This comes into play with the media used, i.e. computers, tablets, phones, the ability to learn at a moment’s notice, and the accessibility to any and all employees throughout an organization. An important benefit is the fact that an employer can identify an area where an employee needs improvement. That employee can then complete a performance- based microlearning, work through practice scenarios and immediately start applying what he or she has learned in their daily responsibilities. There is no need to wait until there are enough employees with this same need, and then hire an expert to spend an entire day lecturing employees on this skill. Microlearnings do not present the monetary commitment from paying a training expert or the logistical burden and compensation of getting large numbers of associates at the same place and same time for training. This is a large expense for modern decentralized U.S. health systems.

As a result, there is a shift in the manner in which organizations are training employees. Mia explains this shift:

“…It’s not that classroom training will go away or that it has no place in the workplace learning world. What ends up happening is that the opportunities for having that expert work with learners in a classroom situation may just become more practice based where the expert is guiding but the learner is more actively engaged…It’s not that classroom-based training is going away. There will always be information that needs to be learned. There are just changes in how that information is learned.”

Mia is applying all of this to the design of Catalyst Learning’s newest product: CLiMB. CLiMB is a library of online microlearnings that provide actionable training for frontline healthcare employees on key concepts such as basic professionalism, communication skills, managing stress and providing exceptional customer service. You can learn about this by visiting our CLiMB product page.