People who buy and manage employee training have told me that they want to limit the time employees spend training. The cost of employee time away from the job effectively adds to the cost of the training and may be disruptive. If the training is vital, they want to minimize the time away from the job. E-learning helps meet the need to minimize the job disruption since employees have more flexibility to fit the training into their busy schedule. The time allotted for training may just be a needed 20-minute break from their work or it may come about from use of unexpected down time. A regular regimen of small training modules can meet these learning requirements while keeping the work-flow uninterrupted.
The idea of using a series of microlearning modules is meeting with success. These modules represent an educational approach or strategy that offers the right amount of information to help learners achieve a specific, actionable objective or outcome. They target 2 to 20 minutes of learning, often daily, depending on the source. It’s highly focused learning made up of bite size educational components and exercises.
The potential benefits of these learning modules include:
- Quick refresher training
- Just-in-time training
- Instructor-free training
- Increased retention
- Improved engagement
Searching the internet for microlearning will provide much more information. (see https://www.td.org/talent-development-glossary-terms/what-is-microlearning or https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microlearning for example) This form of learning has significant advantages and is effective for some educational topics, such as learning how to format a needed document, learning definitions of terms, or even the steps needed to build up a car dealership, but less well suited for some complex ones, like building conversational skills.
When trainers present new information, it’s necessary to break it down into digestible parts. When teaching a counseling topic called Motivational Interviewing (MI), there are a series of concepts listed in Figure 1 that the learner must master. Some of the topics include expressing empathy, developing discrepancy, rolling with resistant and supporting self-efficacy. Other topics cover different types of talk, a series of types of statements and traps. Since each counseling session will be different, the concepts need to be well understood, and original thinking about varying situations will be required. While each topic can be covered as a microlearning topic, the concepts need to be blended, as any MI application is a combination of all of them. For the ideal training, the topics could be taught as small modules, but practice applying the concepts in combination would need to be provided.
Addressing Complex Topics with Microlearning Modules
Motivational interviewing provides an example of teaching a complex topic where microlearning could be used to learn about the components but that would not provide the necessary understanding needed to know when to use any one of them. Like other training where practice is required, the entire skill-building process can be thought of as a combination of instructional work (perhaps as a lecture or a combination of online microlearning module and skill-building practice with a virtual role-player, as shown in Figure 2. A clinical MI session will often last just shy of an hour, and it’s difficult to meet the practice requirements in 2 to 20 minutes.
SIMmersion’s MI training is broken into instructional work and skill-building practice. The instructional components are broken into small independent modules, so learners can choose and read about one or more topics in any order. These short modules are suitable for microlearning. The practice component represents a realistic clinical session where the desirable interview statements depend on the ongoing session history. The session is much too long and complex to be presented in a microlearning format.
Bite-size learning or microlearning modules meet important training needs for many topics where small amounts of information can be presented at one time. Other training topics, especially those requiring skill-building practice, are not well suited to 2-to-20-minute training sessions. Motivational interviewing provides an example of a topic where microlearning can be used to provide an understanding of components but cannot be used to gain a real understanding of the topic or build required skills. The value of using the microlearning approach training depends on the learning requirements of the topic.