If Your Training Doesn’t Stick, You Need Microlearning

It’s a story old as time…

There is a need to roll out companywide sensitivity training, food safety training, or sexual harassment training, everyone must participate and it must stick. Being the good L&D person you are, you put together a training program.

  1. You design the program with engaging interactions.
  2. You create a powerpoint that will not put people to sleep.
  3. You’ve double checked your information with the subject matter expert.
  4. You’ve created a piece of communication to send out to everyone explaining the “What’s in it for me”.
  5. You’ve trained your trainers.
  6. You’ve set the rollout dates.
  7. You’ve set your goal of 100% compliance or attendance.

The training goes off without a hitch, you had planned for both eLearning delivery and live delivery to be sure everyone has participated.

Celebrations ensue. 

Then the call comes.

“It” has happened again. All eyes look to you, the training failed. You are shocked and amazed. People went through the training. It was comprehensive. It was complete. It was fun. Sigh.

Why didn’t the training stick?

There are several reasons why training doesn’t stick. Let’s assume the training was well designed and met organizational and learning goals. From here it’s safe to say that even if we look at training with a 360-degree view, there are three main culprits that prevent learning connectivity.

  1. Lack of feedback loop.
  2. Lack of training reinforcement.
  3. Lack of supporting culture.

This is where microlearning can have your back.

Microlearning is an important tool in your toolbox to reinforce and support employees before and after training. It can be used to provide ongoing coaching and to drop learning reinforcement tools and support.

Further, microlearning can be used as a performance support tool. By putting microlearning in motion to support your larger initiatives we create an embedded process which requires people to pull information stored in their long-term memories, put it to use, then put the information back. As we know from “Make it Stick” by Peter Brown, each time we create this pull, use and store loop with information, the stronger the learning connections become.

Using microlearning to support behavior change

Issues as sensitive as sexual harassment and diversity are driven by culture and behavior change. This type of change doesn’t occur after one, two or even several training events. Organizations can continue to close down shop for a “day of training”, but be aware – while this looks good on the nightly news, it will do nothing to solve the overall problems. Upskilling and behavior change only comes through consistent reinforcement, delivered in small bites, and supported by the culture surrounding each colleague.

Then there’s identifying behavior, how someone acts under certain circumstances or pressure, is a sticky-wicket. How do you help people behave in a culturally sensitive manner? Not only do you have to instruct them on, say, proper communication techniques, but you must instill in them the importance of why they need to be culturally aware in their conversations in the first place.

Microlearning as your training disruptor.

Those who have attended my conference sessions or have listened to my various interviews will know I am a huge proponent of using microlearning as a performance support tool. What is lesser known is microlearning can also be used as performance support to scaffold learning after a training event takes place. This provides help with critical feedback loops and learning reinforcement. Microlearning will take training that is stuck in the mud and disrupt the training process…in a good way.

Disruption in the way that people will love the fact that you are thinking of them. They will thank you for not taking them away from their day-to-day duties. They will appreciate you making the learning more interesting and relevant and not putting them in classes that are a general time suck. They know, and you know, the odds are against them remembering anything.

Real-life, in the wild, microlearning examples:

Example one:

A healthcare sales team needed to be informed of a new product hitting the market. It was critical the salesperson is competent and confident with the product from A-Z.

Traditional approach: The organization conducted several multi-day training events to display the product and how it works. The several subject matter experts (SME) explained the product use and had the sales people role play using product spec sheets.

Result: The organization had to conduct refresher training prior to official rollout due to knowledge loss.

Microlearning approach: Learning Rebels worked with this organization to create one recorded webinar and computer-based simulation, hosted in conjunction with L&D and the SME. The salesperson has the choice to attend the live webinar or review the recording. Twice per week until product rollout, the salespeople were provided with a variety of short videos, articles, downloadable product aids and knowledge checks through an automated mobile delivery system that tracked use.

Result: When it came time for official rollout confidence and competence levels exceeded goals and expectations.

Example two:

Online retailer wanted their training team to improve their eLearning design skills

Traditional approach: The organization requested a multi-day certification program.

Microlearning approach: The organization agreed to a one-day live program to level set knowledge and practice through real-life examples. Participants then received microlearning assignments for four weeks after the live session with performance support tools to complete a project in a collaborative project sharing site.

Result: Participants were still using a collaborative approach to design-thinking and using performance support tools, when surveyed six months later. Management reports that innovative approaches are seen in current elearning designs, making their overall elearning more effective.

What does this tell us?

  1. People need customized bite-sized training, delivered at regular intervals for the training to be embedded.
  2. Bite-sized training that reflects the participant’s real-world experiences and culture will be more effective than hours spent in a classroom.
  3. Provide leaders with a detailed microlearning plan which is specifically designed to reinforce training covered in foundational training. This includes recommending management accountabilities for incorporating the tools into the employees day to day activities.
  4. For larger organizations, it may be necessary to design a comprehensive microlearning process for each specific audience. Different audiences will require different end-uses and behaviors for select training. It is important to target the learning accordingly to avoid the “sheep-dip” approach to training. Key is to define the behaviors wanted and the behaviors you want to change. Then design microlearning reinforcement to produce the appropriate results.
  5. Be sure microlearning is addressing the behaviors needed behind the skills. An organization focused on promoting a learning culture should be designing learning to enable and promote learning behaviors. If you want people to challenge the status quo at all levels, you must teach employees how to do so and then consistently reinforce the lessons.

Let’s wrap this up.

By using microlearning as part of learning reinforcement you will have a more productive workforce exceeding the expectations of your business. We know training will “stick” if it is seen as relevant by employees. Now it’s time to ensure training is consistently reinforced using microlearning tools and be sure all training is supported by the organizational culture.

Most business leaders want their people to succeed. They want to see their people grow. They understand that developing new skills and behaviors not only help the business but help people be more successful in life. It’s time to think beyond the status-quo walls of the classroom and embrace the small but mighty – microlearning.

Shannon Tipton

Shannon Tipton

As Owner of Learning Rebels, Shannon Tipton is a skilled learning strategist, content developer and International speaker. Shannon has over 20 years of leadership experience developing successful learning strategies and infrastructures for training departments within organizations in North America, Europe and Korea.

Shannon works with people and organizations to develop learning solutions that brings actual business results. Recognized as bringing real-world expertise into the learning field, Shannon integrates technologies and social learning tools to strengthen workplace alignment, enhance collaboration and increase learning connectivity.

As author of “Disruptive Learning” Shannon frequently speaking at conferences across North America and Europe and ranks as one of the top 100 L&D influencers on Twitter (@stipton).

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