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“Microlearning” Versus Traditional Training

“Microlearning” means undertaking training modules (usually self-directed) in very short but frequent bursts, versus the longer but less frequent classes associated with traditional training.

The idea has taken off among online training providers because it’s perfectly suited to their style of delivering education. They argue that “microlearning” is the perfect answer to a number of realities of today’s world:

  •  Employees have less time than ever;
  • Attention spans seem to be decreasing; and
  • The employee skills gap seems to be increasing.

Certainly, traditional training is resource intensive. It takes employees out of action for long periods of time (ranging from hours to days or weeks) and requires enormous support from in-house trainers or training services.

Microlearning, by contrast, deconstructs the traditional learning process, favoring incremental but continuous improvement:

  • Trainees focus on only small nuggets of information at a time;
  • Modules can typically be consumed in under 10 minutes; and
  • Materials are usually available online or through other self-directed methods.

Or, as online learning provider Grovo says in their report, How microlearning transforms organizations, “There’s always time for small wins.”

However, microlearning has its own special considerations to be effective.

For one, it must be ongoing, regular and consistent. It also relies on employees forming a learning habit and having the discipline to manage their own learning experience, a challenge that traditional training doesn’t typically face.

Further, microlearning programs must be designed carefully.

For example, repetition is still important in mastering information and skills, but if you’re only going to cover an entire curriculum in 10-minute bursts here and there, how do you balance (1) the repetition needed for mastery with (2) the breadth and depth of information needed to cover the full curriculum? Balance is key.

The truth is, there’s room for both in most organizations. Some subject matter will be suitable for microlearning formats, particularly skills-based training, while businesses may wish to rely on traditional training for particularly intensive or in-depth subject matter.


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