Micro-Learning Is Bigger Than You Think…And Not Just For Learning

I was recently drawn into a discussion on LinkedIn while trolling one of my groups to comment on a topic “How long should micro-Learning be?” Great question and timely since micro-learning (ML) seems to be receiving a lot of press lately. My answer was simply, “It should be long enough!”  Hey now…that’s better than the stock performance consultant response of “It depends!” But it does depend…it depends on whether you are looking through a training lens or a performance lens.

A colleague of mine, Alfred Remmits, accurately referenced following a design concept that embraces Conrad Gottfredson’s Five Moments of Need. In particular, I feel the most performance-centric of those five moments is Moment #3 – APPLY. That moment typically manifests in a live workflow, and the performer (who will be forever a learner) is stuck…trying to remember whatever preceding learning gained in moments #1 or #2 is appropriate to apply to actual work. What’s on the line is business risk and urgency to PERFORM effectively and efficiently.

The question then should be less about duration and more about “What is the best asset to use at that moment?” When your hair is on fire, logging into the LMS to review a 20-minute Fire Safety course is not a viable option. That said, I read other comments suggesting that ML could be up to 20-minutes in duration. Other comments ranged from as short as 20-seconds and many points across a range topping out at 20-minutes; hence, my answers of “Long Enough!” and “It depends!”

This is starting to remind me of the 70:20:10 framework when the ratio turns out to be 85:12:3 and heads begin to explode; heaven help us if it’s 95:5:0…or worse 100:0:0 because a checklist was sufficient to close the gap. And there it is…CLOSE THE GAP…that’s what we’re chasing isn’t it? Close the performance gap! I could give a rip what we call it; I want whatever asset is most appropriate for THAT moment of need. There’s still plenty of room for formal learning if and when it’s needed to satisfy some check-the-box compliance gate. But I digress…where was I…

“Long Enough” & “It Depends”

Long enough to be accessible at the moment of need…long enough to be business relevant…long enough to be effective. Call it a module, chunk, object, nugget, burst…it matters not. Heck, it might not even be content at all; the asset might be an instant message collaboration with a SME or a mentor. And “It depends!” upon the attributes of the Moment of Need…if it’s Moment #2, and I’m after a deeper dive into MS Excel on Pivot Tables…20-seconds won’t work, but 20-minutes might be perfect.

Whatever “the asset” is…or its duration…or its access method…it should be “intentionally designed” to satisfy the task of sustaining measurable performance at the moment of need. It quite simply becomes a design decision as to how long…what media…what medium…what venues…are best based upon the actual context of the work at hand in that moment…which I lovingly refer to as the Point-of-Work.

Our design and development and delivery decisions should be driven by the attributes found at the Point-of-Work. Our decisions should embrace Intentional Design which requires looking through a performance lens at the “actual workflow” and identifies the following:

  • What people/roles are involved with the work?
  • What are the workflow processes at the task-level where things break down…and WHY (root cause)?
  • What is the nature of the content being consumed at the Point-of-Work…and where is it located?
  • What systems and technology are accessed and are available…both enterprise systems and Performer devices (desktop to mobile)?
  • How is successful performance measured? (So we can validate asset effectiveness)

What the article I’m referencing and comments I’ve read make clear illustrations of the gyrations we are heading into now with this “new” micro-learning approach. It will be easy to become distracted, so don’t get all raked up in a pile over what we call it…or how long it should be. It’s about what the approach can facilitate at the moment of need to get the DO done.

Look at the moment of need through a performance lens…not a training lens. It is the “work” that needs doing that should drive:

  • …the intentionality of your design decisions
  • …your choice of development tools
  • …and accommodate the technology involved to affect delivery.

Whatever the asset turns out to be, it should be long enough and good enough to get the task accomplished.

In reality, micro-whatever isn’t new, L&D is finally figuring out what performance support radicals like yours truly have been spewing about for years. Methinks that finally arriving at ground zero…the post-training Point-of-Work…in a live workflow…at a moment of need…that we quickly see what asset(s)…media…mode…venue(s) work best to get the “DO” done; and lo and behold, “it ain’t trainin'” assets.

And no…we don’t abandon Training, because we are now in a position to re-use all the micro-assets as extended blend that can be embedded right into the Training we still do…albeit in smaller chunks…embedding the exact same micro-assets used at the Point-of-Work, and using the same technology to access it all. Why not stuff all of the 70:20:10 into what’s left of the 10?

Let’s bring Point-of-Work into the classroom. If your heart is set on building an hour of eLearning, let it be comprised of a business-relevant boatload of micro-assets embedded into experiential scenario-based exercises where Learners will access the micro-assets via the technology they will use on the job and then apply it as they will be expected to do so as Performers…right after they are hurled through the window of opportunity upon new hire orientation graduation.

I’m so pleased to see all the excitement around micro-learning, and I have to say…it looks like micro-learning could be the cheese in which we hide the performance support pill. We just don’t tell anybody and we never have to define it. Okay…this micro-rant is now…long enough! 

Gary G. Wise
Senior Manager Learning & Development – Stores Performance
Macy’s Inc.
gary.wise@macys.com
@gdogwise