Ever sit and watch a fish tank? It can be pretty relaxing. The fish however, don’t look relaxed at all. They dart around erratically from spot to spot, stopping momentarily before they shoot off somewhere else, on a constant quest for who knows what. It looks a lot like we do when we’re jumping around Facebook, hopping over to Instagram, then on to Snapchat, before swiping right and left looking for Mr. or Miss right now, and then consuming news in 140 character snippets.
Sustained attention. We don’t seem to have a lot of it. In 2015, a Microsoft study showed that attention spans have shrunk from twelve seconds in 2000 to eight seconds in 2013 to one second, which is shorter than the average goldfish. Has technology, combined with busy lives, and easy, 24-hour access to media, made us all poster children for attention-deficit disorder?
The Microsoft report generated a lot of buzz in the marketing world, as it recommended marketing tactics evolve to engage today’s distracted consumer. For the learning community, the results are old news. Learning professionals have been battling shortened attention spans for decades. Increasingly time-strapped employees with short attention spans, competing demands, and long to-do lists simply don’t have time for long, time-consuming learning and development activities. Which is why many learning pros have turned to learning’s newest trend, microlearning, to engage and educate learners.
Microlearning is essentially learning content broken down into short, targeted, bite-sized chunks with the purpose of engaging learners and reinforcing knowledge retention. Sessions range anywhere from two to fifteen minutes, though most industry thought leaders argue true microlearning is around four minutes. These mini-lessons delivered in media-rich formats, such as videos, scenarios, white-board animation and kinetic text, and the learner walks away with tangible, actionable knowledge on a specific subject.
Like any hot, new trend, it’s important to understand why microlearning was created, how it has risen in popularity and its potential impact on learning and development.
A micro-history of microlearning
The first conference focused on microlearning was held in Austria in 2005. Early microlearning discussions were more theory than practice, coming out of university research at places like MIT, with titles like “Microlearning: A New Pedagogical Challenge” by Theo Hug (which I admit I haven’t read, but it sounds impressive, doesn’t it?).
In 2009, a paper from Futurethink stated, “In the future, the majority of learning will be in shorter timeframes, such as ‘micro modules’ or ‘micro learning.’” By 2010, the topic appeared in leading learning industry publications like Chief Learning Officer, and by 2013 it was a recognized trend in workforce learning.
The skinny on microlearning today
Ten plus years after that first conference, we have faster internet speeds, better mobile coverage, and pervasive, smaller, faster and more powerful devices. The same technology advances that may contribute to shorter attention spans and more complex work lives have accelerated the adoption of microlearning as a recognized best practice in the workforce learning playbook.
Now that it’s gone from theory to practice, we are seeing benefits beyond engaging distracted workers and improving knowledge retention, including:
- Higher employee productivity: Less time spent in the classroom or on long online courses means more time to devote to important projects
- Lower development costs: Shorter courses require fewer resources, which significantly lowers the time and money spent creating training content
- Quicker response: Agility is the key to success in today’s fast-paced business world. Training is developed, delivered and consumed at the point of need, not four months later
- Personalization: Learners can assemble a personal learning program made up a series of highly targeted, short modules
- Reduced cyber-stalking: No more time spent on Facebook stalking old high school flames…
OK, that last one was just to see if you are still reading! But there is some truth to it. If you give your employees a menu of very short, relevant and engaging modules that help them be better at their jobs (and reward them in some way for participating), they’ll choose completing a brief module over taking a five minute Facebook break that inevitably turns into 45 minutes spent watching cat videos and recipe hacks.
Are you incorporating microlearning in your learning strategy? What benefits are you seeing? How has it changed the dynamics of training at your organization?
If you’re looking for more information on microlearning, check out our whitepaper, “The Skinny on Microlearning” for some great advice on how to implement a microlearning strategy today!