Microlearning has grown in popularity over the last few years. When talking about it, there aren’t many questions about what it is—it’s small, focused bursts of learning that can be consumed on-demand. However, the problem with continuous emphasis on this approach is that there is no standardization around duration. Some people say its 60 seconds or less, and others believe it to be four to six minutes long. Herein lies the problem, though: People are too caught up in form versus function.
The Benefits of Microlearning
What is fueling trainers’ interest in using small, bite-sized pieces of content? First, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of 2015 U.S. Census Bureau data, Millennials have taken over the Baby Boomer generation as the largest cohort of American workers. This is relevant to microlearning because one of the top professional qualities of Generation X is their ability to memorize large quantities of information. Millennials, on the other hand, are known for their dependence on others to learn.
Additionally, trainers are keen on using microcontent because of limited time. According to a recent Bersin by Deloitte report, today’s modern learner only has 4.8 minutes per day available to dedicate to professional learning and development (L&D). In this regard, microlearning is not as disruptive as a full day of training or a week of onboarding. It’s also useful because of the increased prevalence of mobile devices in the workplace, as it can be leveraged in a variety of formats and on-demand.
Microlearning plays into the learning qualities of today’s workforce because it is more consumable than information-heavy content such as loaded PowerPoints and long-form video. However, it’s important to remember the goal of learning, which is to create and disseminate training that gives people what they need to do their jobs. That means putting aside rules and heuristics to focus less on a defined length of something and more on one’s audience.
In fact, over the last few years, there has been a shift in how long people are willing to commit to something like video. New research from TechSmith shows that compared to 2013, the preference for shorter length videos (i.e., those less than six minutes) has gone down, while the acceptance of videos over seven minutes has gone up. What’s interesting, though, is that 27 percent of people viewing instructional videos are stopping after one to two minutes.
How to Create Engaging Content
So if learners are more willing to engage for longer periods of time, what needs to be done to ensure they don’t stop? First, understand who the target learner is. One of the most frequent complaints about training content is that it isn’t the right information. Some of the work is in figuring out the right size of something, but first and foremost it should be about having the right content. Is it relevant, useful, and actionable? These are important questions to ask.
Second, keep things ever-changing. Integrate interactive elements such as animated visuals and quizzes into training videos. The latter are especially important because they can help reinforce material, and also identify the places where more support is needed. Or it may even be simpler than that. Videos with a clickable table of contents make the content customizable. If learners already knows something, they can quickly pass it or skip it altogether. In instances where they need more detail, they also know exactly where to look.
When given a choice between microcontent and a multi-page document, your learners are going to gravitate toward whichever is easier to consume and understand. While there is an infatuation with all things “small,” in reality, there are some things that do require more. It’s in these instances that trainers are at liberty to define what micro means. If you can convey information in a meaningful way in less than a minute, that’s great. If it would be more helpful to create an intermediary version, don’t be afraid to do that, too. This is especially helpful when you have multiple audience segments to satisfy—everyone should feel included.
In conclusion, define microlearning as it suits your organizational training. There is a time and place for the approach, but there are also situations where alternatives may be required. Until as an industry we can agree on what it is and what it isn’t, note that content should be just long enough to enforce a positive, behavioral change—a win-win for you and your employees.
Matt Pierce is customer support manager at TechSmith Corp., a software company that provides practical business and academic products that can change how people communicate and collaborate. A graduate of Indiana University’s School of Education’s Department of Instructional Systems Technology, Pierce has 10 years of experience working in learning and development with a focus on visual instruction. He has directly managed the training and user assistance teams for TechSmith, and also has run its visual communication Web show, The Forge, interviewing guests from around the world discussing the use of visuals, video, and technology in education, training, marketing, and more. Teach him something @piercemr.