A resource from the leaders in simulation training.

Greetings once again, Troubleshooters! It’s that day of the week again—welcome back to Troubleshooting Thursdays. Last week we began our series on hot topics in manufacturing training. If you’re a Director of Training or a manufacturing executive, you’ll want to read Part 1, Learning Management Systems.

There are a lot of impressive new tools and technologies being developed for manufacturing training at the moment. In this series, we’re going to be exploring intriguing training trends such as collaborative learning; gamification; virtual, augmented, and mixed reality; simulation-based learning; and more—all of which are relevant for manufacturing training.

Today we’re looking at whether you should be using microlearning for your training.

Microlearning—little by little does the trick

Microlearning is an instructional approach involving small units of learning. It can be applied to education, training, or skills development, across all sectors. It focuses on short-term learning strategies in a digital environment—computer-based microlearning activities that can be incorporated into the daily routine of the learner.

Essentially, microlearning uses multiple, small moments of learning to build up skills or knowledge. Microlearning can be presented as a series of short learning activities that build upon one another (“chained”) to gradually teach concepts, or as an activity that is repeated multiple times in order to solidify a skill.

It’s all about the brain

Behind all the buzz about microlearning is…brain science! There are several research-backed theories that support using microlearning in your instructional design.

The spacing effect

Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850–1909) is the father of the famous “forgetting curve.” He did a lot of research on how long people retain newly learned information. If you want your staff to remember what you teach them long-term, and not just pass a test, this is important! Ebbinghaus’s spaced learning theory says that progressive doses of new knowledge decay from memory very quickly. Knowledge retention is vastly improved when the same amount of study is spaced out over specifically timed intervals rather than taught closer together or all at once.

Retrieval practice

Ebbinghaus also found that frequent, repeated practice helped people retain more over time with each repetition. Once information is learned, the forgetting process is slowed down if we are required to recall the information again. This has since been confirmed by many scientific studies. Basically, the more we repeat and use information, the more embedded it becomes in long-term memory.

When we learn, the new information is processed by our working memory, which can only hold a small amount of information at once. Successful learning happens when that information is transferred from working memory into long-term memory. However, learning is solidified even more by the act of retrieving that information from long-term memory, bringing it back into working memory, and then re-coding it in long-term memory, strengthening the neural connections in long-term memory.

Cognitive load theory

This theory holds that the human brain can only process so much new material at once, depending on its complexity. The more complex the material, the worse the “cognitive overload.” Learning can be slowed or even stopped when working memory is overloaded, such as when we are trying to process too much new information at once. Particularly if the material is difficult, lightening the cognitive load, for example by delivering it in smaller units, will improve learning. 

An effective learning strategy

Microlearning is a strategy for reducing cognitive load. When information is delivered in small chunks, it requires less effort to learn and people are more likely to do it successfully. But, in order for microlearning to be truly effective, it must be combined with spaced repetition and retrieval practice. Many microlearning platforms use algorithms that put all three theories into practice: they deliver small modules or units of information, optimally spaced over time, and revisit the learned material periodically to keep it alive in long-term memory.

What does microlearning in the workplace look like?

Microlearning in the corporate environment covers a range of possibilities. It can be deployed on a company-wide platform and delivered as mini-lessons to individuals at their computers as they come to a certain place in the workflow. Or, it can be delivered on-the-go via workers’ mobile devices in the form of games and quizzes. The instructor or a third party can create custom content, or use stock content available from content libraries (e.g., for general skills such as customer service, sales, or behavioral soft skills). Adaptive algorithms can personalize content for the user, and analytics can interpret the data that is then relayed to admins. Employers can set the parameters for what content staff need to know, and how long they should retain it. Some microlearning platforms also enable peer-to-peer knowledge creation and sharing.

Here’s a list of the 10 best microlearning platforms so you can see which one best fits your needs.

Too Long; Didn’t Read!

We may have lost you already! Did you know:

Even if you found the above a little surprising, it probably resonated with you on some level. After all, we all get information in snippets these days: emails, texts, and tweets. Microlearning aligns with the natural attention span of most humans; short bursts (3 to 7 minutes) of learning is about all we can handle. Not only that, it meshes better with the way daily work is conducted: a recent study found that the average employee only works about 11 minutes before being interrupted, and in that time, performs several short tasks that take 3 minutes each.

Should you go the microlearning route?

Many organizations have already discovered microlearning: an ATD survey found that 38% of organizations are already using it and another 41% intend to start. Virtually all (92%) of those who are already using it intend to leverage it further.

Experts claim that microlearning can reduce a company’s development costs by 50% and increase the speed of development by 300% when properly designed. Not only that, employee engagement is better: 58% of employees say they would be more likely to use their company’s LMS if material were broken down into multiple, shorter lessons.

So there you go, Troubleshooters! That’s all for this week. Tune in again next Thursday for more in our series on marketing training trends.

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