One real problem that companies are facing is the overwhelming amount of instruction that employees need to take on board and put into practice. Whether it is for greater legislative compliance or improved customer service, there is always something new that needs to be learnt.

The employee’s experience

Employees end up feeling overwhelmed with the amount of information they need to remember, processes to get right, or words to say in all the unique situations they might be faced with in their day-to-day job.

The pressure to learn usually begins with many weeks of intense training during induction, detailed descriptions of new processes and way too many facts to remember. The training does not stop at induction. As soon as a law changes or a new company policy is established, there is more to digest.

As an Instructional Designer, it is important to understand why employees might roll their eyes each time there is another course to complete or more information to incorporate into their job. It is not uncommon to see employees completely shut off from new training or get angry about the fact that everyone is trying to tell them what to do.

A time for something different

In some cases, the life of the business depends on the correct application of these instructions, and it is here that companies are forced to explore new, more palatable ways for employees to put the knowledge into practice.

Some companies are supplementing or completely doing away with their usual dense, word heavy, courses that take so much time to build and implement. Especially for large companies, where time sensitive training needs to be put into practice by thousands of employees, more effective training methods are really taking off. We could learn a lot from what they are doing.

One of these methods is micro learning. Micro learning is a buzz phrase meaning “bite size chunks of knowledge passed to learners in the most fun and relevant ways possible”. There are many ways of running micro learning in the work place and as with any learning method, micro learning can end up being a success or flop. That said, the technique has the potential to make corporate learning fun again and help employees become engaged in their own learning process.

Deciding on whether to use micro learning

When an Instructional Designer is asked to train an audience it easy to fall into the trap of designing training like all the other training that has gone before it. The company’s learning management system is usually thought to be the best way of tracking learning completion and guaranteeing that all the relevant information is passed to the learners.

It takes someone brave to break out of the mould and try something new. For example, before Google, all the search engines had their home page completely covered with news, links, articles etc. It was overwhelming. Google was the first to remove all the extra stuff and replace it with a simple yet powerful search field, nothing else. Having just one thing on the page was revolutionary but it worked. Micro learning is a bit like this. Remove all the unnecessary bits and leave the essence.

Once you have convinced your stakeholders that micro learning is the way to go, here are 3 easy steps to help you set up your own micro learning:

1. Designing the learning material

The first step is to flip the learning on its head i.e. start with the main points and worry about the detail later. In micro learning you only offer the main points.

For example, you are designing training for a new business process. Forget about the background, the official position, the context, and the detailed instruction. Reduce the whole topic down to, say, 10 key points, the ones that will make all the difference to the business. It sounds simple, but it’s way too easy to start adding explanations, context and images. Before you know it you have a 1 hour course again. Keep the brakes on and keep it essential.

As a tip, think flash cards. What could you fit on a flash card that is easy to remember? Make sure the sentences or questions are short and memorable. Don’t try and fit a paragraph onto the flash card. Having a clearly defined list of learning objectives will help you identify which questions are the most important.

You can always provide supplementary material like knowledge base articles, instruction guides, check lists and other communications to explain the detail. This can then be used as a reference when it is needed the most. If there are too many more than 20 points, you are starting to move out of the realm of micro learning.

2. Make the micro learning palatable and memorable

This step is possibly the most critical. Take your 10 key points and write and re-write them, making them as easy to remember as possible. You might need to get a subject matter expert on board to help get the concepts right. The time spent doing this will be well worth it.

Next, turn your points into question and answer format. Try not to make the questions or answers ambiguous. Use a variety of question formats: like multiple choice, match the right answer, fill in the gap, true and false, place in the correct order etc. The question format may change depending on the delivery method you use, so be prepared to make changes again once you have decided.

Test the questions on some typical learners and note where they are not understanding. Change words and simplify again before finalising the material.

3. Decide on a method of delivering your micro learning

There are a lot of fun ways to deliver micro learning. Adding in a timed element brings an aspect of fun and competition. However, micro learning really comes into its own when it is incorporated into a reward and recognition context for employees. Let’s go through the main approaches.

3a. The low-tech approach using your own resources

The simplest and most technology-free way of delivering micro learning is to use people to deliver the learning. It is very old school, however it has its benefits. Use either printed cards or a presentation tool like MS PowerPoint to display the questions and answers; a stop watch to time each question; and a recording sheet to keep track of the results. Run through your 10 questions at a weekly meeting. Promote the week’s winners on your intranet. Get creative with ways to motivate people!

Give the facilitator a cheat sheet and an explanation for the answers, so they can give correct responses when the audience ask for more details. Also provide them with links to all the supplementary material so the audience can look it up when they are back at their work setting.

3b. The low-tech approach using third party tools

The next level of micro learning is with platforms like Kahoot or Quizizz. These platforms are so cheap and easy to set up that it has taken off like wild fire, especially with the recent increase in the virtualized workplace. One popular use for these tools is trivia games at weekly meetings. The participants log in with a pin number and then it’s a race to see who can answer the trivia questions the fastest.

Instead of trivia, import the work related questions you prepared earlier. Either set up dedicated learning time or running the game at weekly meetings. Promote the challenge throughout the department, with newsletters and updates. Put up team leaderboards to keep people interested in the learning.

3c. The high-tech approach using hosted software platforms

Probably the most comprehensive type of micro learning delivery mechanisms are tools like Centrical’s GameOn or EdAp. These tools take gamification of learning to the next level. GameOn incorporates performance targets, collaborative learning activities, missions, reward points and badges, leaderboards, races etc. It could be running in the background of their computer so learners could be aware of the leaderboard, be enticed with new competitions and be encouraged to take on a new topic. EdAp is different in that it is more focused games on mobile phones and turning mundane tasks into games.

Both tools bring the learning right to the coal face, so it is always available and is as relevant as possible. With these tools, it is possible to completely turn around learning, workplace behaviours and performance targets. They make learning fun and less of a chore i.e., learners don’t have to take an hour out of their day to complete a text heavy course. Learning is done in short bursts, at convenient times.

Take bite-sized learning, gamification and immediate feedback, and combine this with the employee’s performance targets, and you are likely to see a major shift in your workplace learning. Life is too short for boring learning. It should be every Instructional Designer’s mission to make learning into something fun.