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Link Macrolearning With Microlearning for Better Learning Transfer


Fri Apr 30 2021

Link Macrolearning With Microlearning for Better Learning Transfer

Many learning and development trends remind me of late-night infomercials. The commercials start with the “old way” of doing things, which often ends in disaster. However, if the new product is used, everything turns out perfectly, including a happy, smiling family who praises you for your wise choice.

When a new learning and development innovation is created, it often seems like another infomercial. Discard the old way of training and switch to a new mode. When microlearning came out, some practitioners claimed that all training should be microlearning. The same arguments have been made with informal learning, game-based learning, and social learning. All these innovations have a place in the learning and development toolbox, but no innovation alone should replace the toolbox.


The real power is when you link the innovations. For example, I am building a yearlong program to train government human resources managers to become transformational leaders. At the core of the program is a four-day macrolearning session that will give the participants a thorough grounding in design thinking, servant leadership, and digital transformation principles. There will be a mixture of lectures, group activities, peer-to-peer coaching, and simulations, as Ina Weinbauer-Heidel advises in What Makes Training Really Work (2018). I use concrete problem solving to help participants learn abstract principles to digitally transform their human resources departments.

No matter how well-designed the macrolearning component is, I still must contend with the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve. Without reinforcement of the concepts they were supposed to learn in a four-day course, participants will quickly forget them within days. If I use microlearning at spaced intervals, the participants will be reminded of the concepts and can strengthen the recall of the critical lessons.

No doubt, macrolearning is necessary to lay the foundations of the skills. Then, with the foundations in place, microlearning can reinforce and build on the foundations.

For my project management communication training, I invented the understanding triad. This method has three components: know-what, know-how, and know-why. Know-what is the beginning step in determining how familiar a person is with the concepts you will use. You may have to educate the person about basic concepts and terms before you can begin the know-how.

Usually the know-why or the purpose of design thinking would be introduced at the beginning of the training. However, I have found that the participants need some know-what before they understand the know-why, so I introduce a little know-why at the beginning of the training then reinforce the learning with more know-why at the end of the training.


When I pick training tools out of my toolbox, I look for how each tool fits in with the understanding triad. Each tool has its strengths, and combining the tools in an optimum way helps me achieve better learning transfer, especially when linking macrolearning with microlearning.

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