The landscape of tools at a training manager's disposal is growing and evolving as technology rapidly develops. The Millennial generation is entering the workforce as baby boomers and even Gen Xers age and retire.
The e-learning and safety training communities are discussing "microlearning," a fairly new concept that is allegedly a more efficient and simplistic way to train employees, improve workplace safety, and better accommodate a changing workforce.
What is Microlearning?
One microlearning session aims to teach one particular lesson, in a brief amount of time. In a sense, it is similar to a Google search: a quick answer to a specific question.
As described in the name, microlearning is much shorter than traditional training, with sessions typically ranging between 2 and 5 minutes. A microlearning training course that runs longer than 5 minutes risks violating the core concept of focusing on one specific learning objective.
Microlearning may take various forms, but course developers typically design courses in rich media formats, with video designed for easy access via smartphones being the most common. Courses include learner interaction, such as a brief quiz or follow-up discussion with an instructor, and provide reference documents and other outside items as additional resources.
How Can Microlearning Be Implemented for Safety Training?
Most formats of microlearning are easily accessible via smartphones, tablets, and desktop computers. Organizations can deliver courses at precise moments, or in an on-demand format.
Microlearning's single-concept approach allows it to complement traditional training offered for stand-alone topics or as part of a series. For example, a two-day personal protective equipment training session cannot be condensed into 5 minutes. However, this training topic could be broken down into multiple microlearning sessions on hearing protection, footwear, and so forth.
Part of the appeal of microlearning is that it can be administered just-in-time and just enough. Imagine a team of construction workers whose tasks for the day requires the use of a ladder. Managers could send a microlearning training session containing ladder safety tips to the workers' smartphones before they climb the ladder. The session would be brief enough to avoid interrupting the work schedule but thorough enough to provide a refresher on safe practices to avoid injuries.
If offered on-demand to workers, microlearning can foster learner autonomy. For example, it would be unnecessary to administer a session on operating a forklift every time one is used. Yet if a worker hasn’t used a forklift for some time, a 2 to 5 minute microlearning session accessed via their smartphone provides a perfect refresher. Employees can seek training on their own to meet their current needs.
How is Microlearning More Effective than Traditional Training?
At the time of publication, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has not issued an official statement on microlearning. However, it should be noted that OSHA's official "Resource for Development and Delivery of Training to Workers" states that organizations should take into account different employee demographics and learning styles when selecting a training delivery method.
Traditional learning is often an intensive, one-time event that covers multiple concepts at once. Yet the psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus found that without repetition, more than half of new information is forgotten one hour after receiving it and 80 percent is lost after one month.
Microlearning combats this by making learning an ongoing process. Refresher training that is less time consuming can be re-administered more frequently for better retention. Additionally, by focusing on one concept at a time, learners are not overwhelmed attempting to retain multiple topics. Microlearning’s varied formats and accessibility makes it learner-centric, meaning it is more flexible to meet individual learning styles. Traditional training treats learning as a "one size fits all," which has been found ineffective.
Some organizations have already incorporated microlearning with superb results. As reported by the Fortune article "Corporate Training Gets an Upgrade for the Facebook Generation," Walmart developed an app for warehouse workers in 2016 that contained three-minute instructional videos on how to do basic tasks in a safe manner, followed by a brief test. After a six-month trial period, the number of injuries in the warehouses fell by nearly half. Fortune also has explored PayPal's creation of a private Facebook group for employees to help each other troubleshoot and watch live videos of short classes. The number of workers to complete at least two training courses every six months doubled, while PayPal was able to reduce its training expenses by nearly 25 percent.
How Does Microlearning Fit in with Millennials?
The growing trend and interest in microlearning is no doubt in part due to the growing number of Millennials entering the workforce. The concept of microlearning seems designed for this generation. Growing up in the "Age of the Internet," millennials are exposed to a constant flow of information, which has affected their ability to learn.
A 2015 Microsoft study discovered the average person’s attention span is 8 seconds. Microlearning's condensed length provides minimal distractions for training. Additionally, microlearning's use of video supports Millennial viewing and learning habits. A 2016 GlobalWebIndex survey found that 90 percent of Millennials visit YouTube monthly. Combined with the ability to be easily administered via smartphones and desktops, digital natives will easily adapt to microlearning.
Why Does Microlearning Matter for the Future?
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that Millennials will comprise roughly 45 percent of the workforce by 2024. This means organizations will soon be pressured to make unprecedented accommodations for employees who grew up with rapid change, instantaneous exchange of information, and exposure to six newspapers' worth of data every day. Microlearning delivers training in a manner that keeps tech-savvy Millennials engaged and through media with which they are comfortable.