Today’s workforce is on information overload.  Advances in technology and the ubiquity of mobile devices create more distractions, leaving us with less time, shorter attention spans and longer “to-do” lists. Add in Millennials—now more than half of today’s U.S. labor force—who thrive as multitaskers and consume information at a rapid pace. Together, these factors contribute to a fundamental shift where organizations are rethinking and reinventing their approaches to training.

More and more companies are implementing blended approaches, which include a mix of learning delivery methods, to appeal to today’s multigenerational workforce. One method that has been gaining attention in recent years is microlearning, an approach that delivers short, condensed training sessions that are easy to digest and provide learners with usable value, such as the ability to complete a specific task.  Employees can view and review micro-lessons anywhere, anytime via a mobile device or a computer.

Although it’s been referred to in a variety of ways—unbundled, bite-sized, single-concept, micro—the underlying principle is the same: By delivering relevant, usable information to employees in small chunks, an organization can increase the likelihood that employees will use and retain the information.

Microlearning breaks down complex subjects and presents them in their smallest usable parts.  For example, spending a week or two teaching employees how to design a database from the ground up is complex.  Providing a series of five-minute lessons on smaller steps employees can use today, such as organizing data, creating tables and setting primary keys, makes the material easier to digest, easier to remember and easier
to customize.

Mobile devices are contributing considerably to this change, noted in recent reports:

According to an April Pew study, nearly two-thirds of Americans own smart phones and, for many, these devices are the main way they access the internet.

Mary Meeker’s 2015 Internet Trends reports that the average American adult spends 5.6 hours a day on the internet, and 51 percent of that time via smart phone or tablet.

Another factor that’s driving change in corporate training is the new Millennial majority. This generation is remarkably different from its forebears.  Because Millennials have been immersed in technology from an early age, they are accustomed to software updates and continuous learning, and are seasoned multitaskers and collaborators. They value less structure and more flexibility, and prefer an unstructured flow of information.

Microlearning is particularly well-suited for Millennials, but it can benefit employees of any age or learning preference. When incorporated into a mix of learning delivery options, it can provide a number of advantages:

Relevance: With microlearning, training is delivered in a format that’s familiar and comfortable to a majority of today’s workers.  It provides “just-in-time” learning—employees get the information they need, when and where they need it, so they can quickly learn a new skill or solve an issue.  Video plays a prominent role, too, which can increase engagement.

Knowledge retention: According to the “forgetting curve,” a concept presented by Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1885, people lose half their memory of newly learned knowledge in a matter of days or weeks unless they consciously review the learned material. Reviewing information in the first 24 hours after learning it can help reduce the amount of knowledge lost.

Minimal effect on productivity: Standard training sessions can range in length from an hour to a week, and can impact productivity. Short sessions, on the other hand, are often less than five minutes in length, and take place during the “natural” breaks in an employee’s day.

Cost and convenience: Microlearning requires no travel and little employee downtime.

Despite its many plusses, microlearning is not a cure-all for training pain points. However, when implemented as part of a blend of training delivery methods—which includes instructor-led, web-based, video and other options—it can enable organizations to increase employee engagement, to keep pace with technology advances, and to ultimately meet business goals.