Use Microlearning When Learning Reinforcement Is Critical
Gabriel is the training manager of a large pharmaceutical company. Recently, his company organized an intensive one-week classroom training program for its sales staff. Gabriel believed that learners would be able to retain the information provided in the instructor-led program and apply it to their work. However, to his dismay, he found that most of the learners had difficulty recalling key product-related information when conversing with physicians.
Chris is the technical training manager of a multinational petroleum company. Last month, the organization trained its staff on how to handle a complex piece of drilling equipment using a one-hour video-based e-learning course. The course was well received, and Chris was sure that learners would be able to follow the best practices of operating the equipment. However, it turned out that employees needed on-the-job support, and the absence of an expert on the field delayed troubleshooting and fixing problems they encountered during the operation.
Gabriel and Chris are not the only L&D professionals facing such situations. The inability to retain information is a problem endemic in corporate training. In fact, the forgetting curve shows that people forget 50 to 80 percent of what they learn after one day and 97 to 98 percent after a month. The problem is particularly severe in cases where training programs are intensive and/or learning content is complex, such as training on new processes.
Companies train their staff on their re-engineered processes when they implement organization-wide software in highly intensive workshops. The complex nature of the learning content, coupled with the intensity of the training, results in the quick evaporation of the acquired knowledge.
While constant practice is one way to ensure learning sticks, companies can also use microlearning to reinforce the knowledge and skills gained in a classroom and/or online learning sessions. Microlearning refers to the delivery of learning content in the form of stand-alone modules, each about 10 minutes in duration, addressing one learning objective comprehensively.
How does microlearning facilitate the effective retention of learning?
Cognitive load is reduced with bite-sized modules.
Cognitive load is the amount of intellectual effort used by the learner’s working memory to process information. It is inversely related to the ability of the learner to retain information; the greater the cognitive load, the greater the chances of the learner forgetting it.
Lengthy training programs result in considerable cognitive load. However, when the content is broken down into bite-sized chunks, learners can digest the information easily. In her workbook “Understanding Occupational & Organizational Psychology,” Lynne Millward states that information can be comprehended effectively when it is presented in pieces. Online “coursels” are well-suited for the human brain, which is more efficient at handling morsels of information than mountains of data.
Microlearning “doses” at various intervals help reverse the forgetting curve.
You can improve learning retention levels considerably by spacing out information over time and repeating the information at the right intervals of time through bite-sized modules.
Studies by cognitive scientists at the UCLA Bjork Learning and Forgetting Lab show that the time intervals must be longer as learners move further from training to obtain the best results. It is advisable to deliver learning bursts after two days, 14 days and 60 days to maximize retention.
Having established that microlearning is a great way to reinforce knowledge, let’s look at a few media formats that can be used very effectively to reinforce learning with microlearning..
One organization in the manufacturing sector developed bite-sized e-books containing the steps to use Workday, based on employee roles, after a classroom program on the human resources information system. The initiative went a long way in helping learners retain the knowledge acquired in the instructor-led program.
Videos are an ideal medium to make sure that learning sticks. In his book “Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School,” John Medina states that when people hear information, they’re likely to remember only 10 percent of it three days later. However, supporting the information with a relevant image helps around 65 percent of people retain the information even after three days. Bite-sized learning videos are ideal to reinforce classroom learning or online sessions.
Infographics are a simple and effective way to quickly communicate information. One automotive organization has created a series of infographics to reinforce a blended learning program on industrial safety. One infographic explains why workers need to use safety gear, another lists protective equipment, and a third contains the dos and don’ts of using the equipment. This initiative proved to be a great success.
Gabriel transferred the onus of remembering the information the one-week classroom training program shared to the sales staff. It would have been better if the sales staff were supported with some videos, infographics or microlearning modules that they could refer to on the go.
In the case of Chris, a one-hour e-learning course was just too long for employees to absorb. While it seemed effective, the training was lacking on-the-job support. They still had to rely on guidance from a specialist, who could not be there all the time. Instead, if the key aspects of the e-learning course were emphasized through bite-sized modules that employees could access on their mobile devices, they could have saved valuable time when fixing the equipment.
Proper retention of information plays a vital role in enhancing performance at the workplace. Microlearning modules are great way to reinforce learning.
Dr. Ayesha Habeeb Omer is the COO and co-founder of CommLab India, a global online learning solutions provider. She has 19 years of experience in university teaching, training and e-learning.