Here's Why Microlearning Didn't Work for Me


Microlearning is a hot trend in corporate training, cheap and easy to incorporate into the workday. But as one new hire discovered, it's not the universal choice for developing skills and competence.

Time for On-the-Job Training

I was thrilled when I got my first real position in the marketing department of a mid-level corporation. Armed with a BS in Communications and a resume that boasted an internship at another respectable firm, I was ready to make my mark. Sure, my new position required me to learn some new platforms and processes, but I was confident I'd get them down in no time. With all the device-friendly microlearning tools out there, I could master the new material on my phone during lunch or on my commute, right? Well, in my case, wrong.

Naturally, all employers seek methods of training for their employees that are efficient and easy to incorporate into the workday. From this perspective, microlearning seems like a no-brainer solution—necessary information delivered to individual workers neatly and electronically in small, digestible bursts. It's economical, both financially and time-wise. However, not all training is best delivered in small parcels.

As a new hire, I had a lot to learn. Fragments of information did not come together to provide a comprehensive training program that would equip me to excel at my job. Fortunately, while my company was eager to experiment with what microlearning had to offer, my bosses remained open to deeper learning options as well. If five minute videos had been my only recourse for on-the-job training, I would have felt like I'd been fed to the wolves.

New Skills Sign

What Can You Learn in Five Minutes a Day?

Well, you can probably learn a lot in five minutes a day, or 4.8 minutes, which is the amount of time the research says most workers have to focus on learning each workday. For me, short videos and game-like micro training functioned perfectly well to tell me how to find information, apprise me of a change in policy or protocol, or provide supplemental data. They did very little to develop the deep knowledge and skills I needed to be productive and successful in my position.

In five to fifteen minutes, micro training could tell me something about a sales technique, but could not teach it. Could I master playing the mandolin in less than five minutes a day? Nope, nor could I master the multi-tiered concepts that are so critical to my career performance. The thing I learned the quickest from my micro training attempts is what it can't do for me, such as:

  • Provide the practice and exposure that leads to fluency
  • Support long-term retention of material
  • Provide feedback
  • Integrate my learning with that of my coworkers

I don't deny that the five minute training module can work to reinforce an idea, or introduce a new one, but for me, these one-and-done events were inadequate to help me develop real muscle and agility in my skill set. As an eager novice, I required more guidance than a brief individual tutorial could deliver.

Stacked Stones

Connect the Dots

On the website for the Association of Talent Development, Sharon Boller writes, ''New brain science and learning research tells us people learn AND remember better when learning is spaced over time and key skills and content are repeated multiple times.'' This research does not exclude small-bite learning opportunities, but cautions against relying on them to build skills. It is essential to integrate lessons that relate to a single subject, and repeat them, not simply stack them.

In my experience, trying to learn the complexities of a new marketing platform in small fragments was difficult at best. To truly be the best I could be at my job, I needed a combination of practical experience and study. I also needed opportunities for feedback and discussion with mentors and peers.

Time to Learn

As I said, I was fortunate to land a position with a company that embraces more than one kind of professional learning. My supervisor encouraged me to submit a proposal that allowed me to devote some of my work hours to learning a new software program that was relevant to our business goals. I was able to dive deep into the material, with stretches longer than five minutes to develop mastery. As a result, I am now an expert, able to teach my co-workers the ins and outs of a useful company tool.

I look forward to expanding my horizons and accelerating my career advancement with regular professional development. Microlearning will no doubt play a part, but to really broaden my knowledge, I will look to more comprehensive learning tools.

By Irene Cooper
February 2017
opinion microlearning

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