Soft Skills Young Workers
ATD Blog

The Modern Learner Is Asking You to Go Micro

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Influences like mobile devices, social connectedness, and time scarcity have made modern learners consider how they are learning in their personal lives. What’s more, people are asking how those same approaches could be used in their workplace learning too. As a result, modern learners and modern organizations are asking for shorter-form content.

Think about it. Whenever you need some piece of information that you don’t know, you can look it up on the Internet. We don’t think it can be overstated how powerful it is that cell phones and tablets give us access to every website on the Internet at any time and location. We don’t have to remember phone numbers, addresses, or other facts we once needed to memorize to function in society. We also don’t have to take classes to learn how to fix our leaky faucets, bake a better cake, or a host of other things we learn from content on the Internet every day.

This begs the question: How can learning professionals be enabled to think differently about how they support employees at work? And, is there short-form content that we can provide just-in-time when they want it? Indeed, are there ways to make their jobs easier by giving them the information and learning they need just when they need it?

Let's look at mobile devices

Thanks to mobile phones, we’re able to get nearly any information we need anytime we need it. Case in point: Google Maps. Don’t know where you’re going? No problem. Your phone can give you turn-by-turn directions to new locations so you don’t get lost. But people also use Google Maps for routes they know well. It’s not that they don’t know the way; it’s that there are multiple equally good routes, and they are checking to see if one is faster than the other due to an accident or traffic congestion. Before they drive away, they can even call or text their family to tell when they expect to be home, knowing that the Google Maps estimate is going to be accurate within minutes.

This is a perfect example of performance support. No doubt, the idea of performance support has been around for decades, but the power of personal computers and mobile devices has enabled learning professionals to think very differently about how performance support can enable employees to be supported at work.


What about social connectedness?

If you regularly go to a physical office, you have the value of talking to, and learning from, the people around you. But regardless of whether you go into a brick-and-mortar building surrounded by other people or not, you are connected virtually to many networks and thousands of people.

Everyone is connected in lots of ways: work networks by email, Microsoft Teams, Yammer, or something else; professional networks on LinkedIn and Twitter; personal networks on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. The list goes on. All that social connectedness has enabled people to supercharge their informal learning, particularly learning from content posted by other people.

In many ways, people are asking how they can harness the power of informal learning at work—maybe we make it a little more formal, or maybe we keep it informal and offer more content or encourage people to participate more. Regardless of the form it takes, it’s clear that informal learning and learning from each other is driving everyone’s interest in microlearning.


Crunched for time

In our teaching and speaking across the nation, we often ask, “Do you have too much time?” No one raises a hand. Sometimes people will laugh or someone may call out “Yeah right!” but not one hand goes up. It’s because everyone knows the same truth: we’re all very busy.

Because people are so busy, when they need help with a task in their personal lives, they expect to find the knowledge they need right away so they can get on with their day. We have gotten used to being surrounded by instructional and informational content in our everyday lives, and having it available to help us right at the moment we want it.

Of course, people now bring that expectation to work, expecting to be surrounded by learning and support materials that enable them to make better use of their time. It really is all about getting the learning and support they need as quickly as possible, integrating that learning into the flow of their work, and using that to get on with their day as efficiently as possible. Of the three factors, this is the one that most causes learners (and organizational leaders) to demand microlearning at work.

Be part of the evolution

People are seeing the power of short-form learning in their personal lives, so it’s natural to want that same format and accessibility in the workplace too. A confluence of factors is creating a situation where people are recognizing more than ever before the power of microlearning. While microlearning isn’t a magic bullet for all learning needs, it is critical for the learning professional to include microlearning for targeted learning needs. The modern learner is demanding we go micro, and we need to listen to them about how to meet their needs.

Editor’s note: This post is adapted from Chapter 2 of Designing Microlearning (ATD, 2019).

About the Author

Carla Torgerson has more than 15 years of experience as an instructional designer and instructional strategist. Always interested in the latest learning trends, she has authored numerous blogs and articles on a variety of topics, including eLearning, mobile learning, and microlearning. She also developed MILE, the MIcroLEarning Design Model© and is the author of The Microlearning Guide to Microlearning and Designing Microlearning (with Sue Iannone).

Carla has consulted with numerous Fortune 500 clients including McDonald’s, Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, Adobe, Express, Kellogg’s, University of Phoenix, Fidelity, Cargill, Medtronic, Merck, and Best Western. She has designed solutions ranging from $15,000 to more than $2 million.

Carla currently leads Learning Experience Strategy at TorranceLearning, diving in deep with some of our biggest and most complex client projects. TorranceLearning helps organizations connect learning strategy to design, development, data and ultimately performance. In addition to strategic consulting and design, Carla is the product manager for TorranceLearning’s Eleventure® course series and the ID Ways of Working (WoW!) professional development community.

Carla has a Master of Education (MEd) focused on technology-based education. She also has a Master of Business Administration (MBA), which helps her to see training through a business lens. She loves to travel and explore the country with her awesome husband, Tom, and their very curious eight-year-old son, John.

Connect with Carla on LinkedIn for insights and announcements:

About the Author

Sue Iannone, CPLP, has 25 years of learning-leadership experience in the commercial pharmaceutical and biotech space. Since 2016 she has been the Vice President and a partner of Bull City Blue, an end-to-end learning agency created to address the needs of training and talent development organizations within the life science industry.

Under Sue’s leadership, Bull City Blue has served a multitude of organizations to solve their complex learning and performance problems of local and global scale. Sue has helped learning leaders build strategic business plans for training teams, develop product launch learning processes and tools, create learning solutions for sales meetings, overhaul new hire learning pathways, and create training to meet countless other business needs. Sue has worked with several Fortune 500 organizations in the life sciences including AbbVie, Biogen, Philips, Sanofi, Merck, and Celgene.

 Prior to joining Bull City Blue, Sue served as the Director of Inflammation & Immunology Commercial Training at Celgene and as Vice President for the Board of Directors of the Life Sciences Trainers and Educators Network (LTEN). Having worked for small, medium, and large biotech companies in her career, Sue has led the design and development of numerous learning initiatives—including more than 20 product launches. She has also led multiple performance-consulting initiatives designed to increase the effectiveness of the learning organizations in which she served.

Sue’s deep understanding of the life sciences training space informs the articles and workshops she’s crafted for both national entities such as ATD and The eLearning Guild, as well as industry-specific organizations like LTEN. Always interested in helping others succeed, Sue mentors life science learning leaders who are tackling challenging workplace problems and coaches aspiring learning leaders to identify knowledge, skills, and experiences to strengthen their career path. She also coaches CPLP candidates as they prepare for their certification.

Sue holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and is a Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP) since 2007—this unique combination makes her well suited to serve the learning needs of her life science clients.

 Sue lives in New Jersey with her two children, Kyle and Sophia. You can find her leading Sophia’s Girl Scout troop activities and advocating for Kyle’s autism-related needs. Her penchant for baking delicious cookies and cakes combined with her love of fixing things around the house has earned her the nickname ‘Martha MacGyver’ from her friends.

Connect with Sue on LinkedIn for insights and announcements.

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I am in the midst of exploring micro learning options as an alternative to overcome halting training temporary given situation in Asia now. In an instance of system related 3 half days of ILT sessions, I proposed live online training as an alternative. Trainer indicated preference to ILT in view of hands on practice of the case study examples. Wondering if ILT is the absolute and only learning option to perform such system related practice? Appreciate sharing of experiences. Thank you.
Depending on the program you are using to deliver the live online training, you can have the participants complete the case studies within the program so the instructor can see what they are doing in real-time. Webex is a pretty good program for this, if you have access to it.
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Timely read for me as we are starting to investigate how this can be applied in the workplace. I have just started a course and in the orientation day we were asked about the best way you learn so the teachers can blend with this. When I think about my interests, guitar eg I am looking up video tutorials for my favourite songs and watching then. I dont need to wait at all to learn.
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I would love to shorten my classes and even the eLearning classes I am currently building. The issue though for me is what do I leave out? I also am in in public sector and my participants want to take classes to fulfill a professional development requirement, so even though they may want shorter classes, they register for the lengthy ones instead.
Hi Farah, it can be overwhelming to think about the content that is most important versus the content that is best left out. One way to think about it is this: what is at the core of what the learner needs to be able to do? If the content doesn't address this, then leave it out. If it's integral to be able to do the job, then shortening the class may not be the way to go. Good luck!
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