Is Micro-learning the only way to get through to the millennial workforce?

17th August 2018

As featured in Training Journal

Workplaces are changing to accommodate younger generations who work differently to their predecessors. Microlearning – a learning strategy divided into small sections for a bigger impact – is the latest example of this.

It’s an emerging workplace learning trend tailored to the shorter attention span of millennials who are set to make up over one third of the workforce by 2020, according to the workforce experts Manpower Group.

Growing up surrounded by technology has set millennials apart from the generations before them.  It’s widely reported that the human attention span is now less than that of a goldfish and it’s not just employers who are adjusting to this – even NBA commissioner Adam Silver has expressed interest in shortening the length of basketball games to be better suited to the ‘increasingly short attention spans’ of younger viewers.

It all comes down to the interrelationship between attention and engagement and nowhere does this matter more than the workplace. An agile business depends on a well trained workforce, therefore workplace training must be delivered in a way that ensures training subjects can digest and retain what they are being taught.

Things can change rapidly in the modern working environment; Information and strategic direction can quickly shift in reaction to market changes or wider influences. As businesses become faster at reacting, workers with dwindling attention spans are finding it harder to keep pace with changes happening around them and this is where microlearning comes into play.

The definition(s) of microlearning

There are two distinct schools of microlearning and depending on who in the industry you ask, you are likely to get one of two explanations of how microlearning works. Some envision microlearning as self-directed, unstructured learning that takes place informally, using an online resource such as a TED Talk.

The alternative view is one of a planned-out programme of bitesize modules that form individual parts of a structured learning journey.

Either way, each microlearning experience must be concise, following a clear topic or idea without digressing away from the core theme of the subject into broader areas of knowledge around the subject. However, learning activities should be broad with a variety of formats such as videos. quizzes and games to promote engagement.

Microlearning is particularly effective for employers that want to instil certain skills and behaviours in their workers. From learning languages and mastering topics that will require repetition to learning a new software application, understanding business processes and procedures or applying best practices, businesses can find plenty of value in microlearning.

Ultimately, microlearning allows skill and knowledge gaps to be closed quickly and can be rolled out quickly due to minimal production costs and less opportunity for blockage from finance departments signing off training budgets.

However, microlearning isn’t an all-encompassing one-size-fits-all solution that will solve every skill and knowledge gap in the business. Businesses should consider microlearning as part of a wider approach.

Maximising on microlearning  

When implemented as part of a wider learning programme, microlearning works as a booster to the learning process. As businesses witness microlearning continuing to grow in popularity and becoming more commonplace, they must consider the ways in which it can integrate with existing training methods.

In the best-case scenarios it’s likely that organisations will opt for extended learning journeys that support on the job development over time.

Microlearning will be an essential part of the extended learning journey and that journey should take place through a blended learning programme that combines group learning and self-directed learning through a blend of face-to-face classroom-based activities and individual learning activities.

It’s important to bear in mind that we all have different preferences about how we learn and good training should cater to all needs. Any solution that involves microlearning will have the best chance of success when there is a reliable support network in place that trainees can easily access.

Line managers must also be empowered with supporting the development journeys of the people reporting to them. Progress must also be assessed against pre-defined objectives.

While microlearning is generally touted as a tailored training option for millennials and the generations that will follow them to take over the workforce, it can only be truly effective when integrated as part of a broader, longer-term training solution.

By adopting microlearning as part of a blended learning programme, businesses can instil valuable skills, knowledge and behaviours in workers from every generation, not just millennials and the generations that follow.