Barriers to Creating Effective Microlearning

By Carla Torgerson and Sue Iannone

As we’ve discussed in previous articles, microlearning techniques can be extremely useful for a range of training applications.  These include preparing learners for live training events, post-event reinforcement, stand-alone training programs, or performance support.

But, microlearning isn’t devoid of challenges.  The Association for Talent Development (ATD) did some research on the key barriers that prevent organizations from embracing microlearning.  In this article, we’ll look at four of the most common ones.  If a Learning and Development (L&D) team adopts microlearning approaches without a plan to deal with the issues below, then it will get push-back.  Furthermore, programs are more likely to fail, and people could easily get the impression that microlearning doesn’t work.  So, without further ado, let’s take a look at those common barriers.

Barrier 1 – Learners are not held accountable

Learning programs will have no impact if the intended learners don’t actually use them.  For learners, the top priority is doing their primary jobs.  Participating in learning programs will always take a back seat to that.  As a result, it can be tough to get learners to engage with informal or non-mandatory learning programs.

So, how to get around this barrier?  Well, the company could make it mandatory to participate and then track utilization.  That generally gets people moving.  There are, however, other ways to drive participation.

One way is to make the training as relevant as possible to the learner’s number one priority: His or her day-to-day job.  “Just in time” learning or workflow learning are prime examples of this.  Those types of learning resources are specifically designed to help the learner do a part of their job, right when they need it.

Other techniques for driving participation include:

  • Enage with the learners’ managers so that they will help hold learners accountable (e.g., by asking learners questions about the program(s) in one-on-one meetings or staff meetings, etc.)
  • Send e-mail reminders to learners about the program in question, using messaging that puts learners’ priorities first and makes it relevant to their jobs (i.e., “Got 5 minutes? Here are 5 tips to help make your next sales call a smashing success! Click here.”)
  • Use incentives, like contests or drawings to drive participation (i.e., “Everyone who completes the module by next Friday gets entered to win a …!”)

Barrier 2 – Not easy enough for learners to access microlearning from anywhere

Microlearning must be easily accessible to learners when and where they need it.  If you want to deliver your microlearning solution to mobile devices and your LMS is not mobile-friendly, then you might need to find another means of delivering the program.

Don’t try to deliver a program using a platform that isn’t suited to it.  Find work-aounds if needed.  For example, could the content be e-mailed to learners?  Everyone has access to e-mail on their phones.  Alternatively, could a portal be created through which learners could access the material using mobile devices?  Or, for the case in question, is mobile absolutely necessary?  Could learners actually grasp the material just as effectively from their desks using the LMS?  If so, then resetting management expectations may be required.

Barrier 3 – Fitting microlearning into employees’ day

This barrier is very closely related to Barrier #1 above.  If the microlearning resource is viewed by learners as relevant and useful—and it serves their work priorities—then they’re more likely to make time for it.  The key is to design learning that actually helps learners do their jobs, and then communicate those benefits in ways that help the learners answer “What’s in it for me?”

Barrier 4 – Inability to tie learning to performance

We’ve heard this barrier before. The challenge of quantifying the links between learning and performance is not just related to microlearning.  It’s the primary challenge facing all of L&D in general.

But with microlearning it can actually be easier to measure the link between learning and performance than it is with longer-form approaches.  Changes in performance can be much more easily linked to a 5-minute, highly-focused microlearning module than to an hour-long e-course.  For example, if you measure an improvement in metrics related to X, and you had just delivered microlearning specific to X, then it’s easier to make the connection.

What’s Next?

Keep checking back with us for more articles on microlearning.  In our next installment, we’ll cover some key pitfalls to avoid when developing microlearning resources.

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