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Microlearning: Guide to using e-learning miracle to achieve your training goals

Microlearning is a hot topic in e-learning. Many view it as a silver bullet, a miracle approach that makes the learning experience irresistible forever. Researchers, employers, e-learning agencies – all consider microlearning to be the future of the industry. If it’s true, what will happen to the traditional approach to training? Will it disappear? Will it change? Raivis Freimanis and Maija Dobele offered answers to these questions during the SMART HR Academy, and in this blog, we want to share with you their thoughts on micro and macro learning.

The mobile revolution has transformed the world. Once smartphones appeared, employers realized that the way their companies function has changed. Not only business models and products but also working habits have moved to a different format. Employees could now browse the web, exchange memes and text their friends at any time during the day. But this was one of the many challenges faced by corporations. Aside from the effect on corporate culture, the mobile revolution has also changed the approach to the employee learning process.

Microlearning was introduced by e-learning professionals to adapt to all these striking changes. Today microlearning is a huge trend. It has grown so much that it was named the major trend in e-learning industry in 2018. However, not many such tendencies are known to linger for long. The fashion industry has taught us that trends change quickly and only a few are capable of becoming permanent. What fate awaits microlearning? Raivis Freimanis, the Co-founder of INTEA, and Maija Dobele, an expert in the HR field, gave a talk on this topic during SMART HR Academy on July 25. Their key insight was that microlearning, though able to change the way learning is perceived, will never function properly without a more fundamental approach – macrolearning.

The concepts of micro- and macro- learning

Microlearning appeared when training managers realized that our learning habits have moved towards a shorter and faster format. Learners were not capable to watch a 30-min video or to devote 8 hours to a single course anymore without checking their phones. This gave rise to the idea of dividing courses into small, easy-to-consume pieces and delivering them over an extended period of time. That’s what we now understand as microlearning. For its novelty, the topic attracted a number of researchers, who have proven that this way learners are more likely to stay concentrated during the training, thus absorbing information more efficiently.

The antipode of microlearning is the traditional, well-established approach – macrolearning. That is the method of education employed at schools, universities, or language courses.

So, the fundamental difference between micro and macro learning lies in the way information is presented. Macrolearning is about building a course and completing it over a period of time without distractions. It can be 3 days, 3 weeks or even 3 years, but the content is always bundled and scheduled so as to present the employee with one whole section, according to the subject or level. Microlearning, on the other hand, is never presented all at once. It’s about continuous learning that takes a small fraction of your time and can be combined with other tasks, such as devoting 20 minutes of your work day to watch a video on how to build a conversation with a client.

To better understand the concept, one may compare the two learning methods to something as simple as… Pizza!

Macrolearning can be pictured as a traditional pizza served in a fancy restaurant that is expected to be eaten during the evening. If you can’t finish, leave it and go. Microlearning more resembles a take-away pizza. Already sliced for your convenience, you can choose to eat 2 pieces today and 2 pieces tomorrow, just whenever you want to.

Microlearning: success or failure

Learning via microlearning sounds more exciting than sitting through a long course, doesn’t it? But what Raivis Freimanis and Maija Dobele discussed during their speech are the cases when macrolearning can be more beneficial to the learner.⠀⠀

To illustrate this situation one can imagine a company that has just released a new product, say a parfume, and wants to make sure everyone in the Sales department is ready to sell it. They want to create training that will provide every employee with the knowledge necessary to successfully sell the product. The training manager searches the Internet for effective ways to deliver training and decides to try the most frequently mentioned approach – microlearning. When the time comes to assess the results, the manager notices that sales of the new parfume skyrocketed for the employees who have been practicing sales for years but were very poor for the inexperienced ones. Why? Because microlearning works best when a person already has the necessary skill and enough experience into which they can quickly incorporate new information. For a person new to the field, though, this small piece of content doesn’t make much sense as they don’t know how to use it properly. We now have arrived to the major conclusion:⠀⠀

In order to get the basic foundational knowledge and to understand the main concepts, one needs macrolearning. It’s like learning a new language: memorizing 10 new words a day won’t help you learn English when you don’t know the basic grammar. And to learn the fundamentals you need to take an intensive course to capture all the tricky situations, e.g. understanding the difference between the usage of Past and Present Perfect tense through practice and mistakes.

Versus or together?

Though in the case illustrated above we emphasize the importance of macrolearning, it doesn’t imply you cannot use the two techniques together. There is nothing wrong about going to an Italian restaurant on Friday and call pizza delivery service on Saturday. You can and should have both.

It’s about finding the right balance in your training. Microlearning is enough to make constant progress and to develop in your position, but it will never take you to the next level. You need to make another leap through macrolearning. If a salesperson wants to become the Head of Sales, he probably needs to take an immersive 3-week course in management. Later on, further strategy adjustments or release of new products could be more effectively taught through microlearning.

Macrolearning is about fundamental knowledge and your experience. The more experienced your employees become, the more micro and less macro learning they need.

Microlearning is an effective learning method, which performs best when learners already have some basic knowledge of the subject. However, don’t forget that when you aim to teach your employees some skill or knowledge in an area completely new for them, microlearning will probably fail due to the lack of foundation to build upon. In such cases, macrolearning is the solution, as it is the only way known to teach people concepts and give them a deep understanding of the subject. So, don’t be afraid to seem “out of trend” in the eyes of your employees and invest in macrolearning at the initial stages. Gradually move towards microlearning, and you will see the result!
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