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Mar 14, 2017 Carla Torgerson

Where Does Microlearning Fit in my Learning Ecosystem?

We're excited to have Carla Torgerson join the InSync BYTE series ranks as a guest presenter. As a preface to her upcoming April 4, 2017, Carla provides insight into microlearning's role in larger blended learning ecosystems. Attend her BYTE "Embracing Microlearning in Your Learning Ecosystem" to learn more. 

Mircolearning Learning Ecosystems

Microlearning is the use of short pieces of learning content, generally no more than five minutes long. We all have experiences in our personal lives of learning with micro-content. It usually happens in one of two ways.

The first is all those times you look up something on your computer or phone to learn a little bit about something you’re interested in -- for example, maybe I want to know a little more about Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, or what really happened to Mariah Carey’s New Year’s Eve performance.

The second is all those times you use your phone to help with something in the moment – like when you get lost and pull out your Google map, or you’re on vacation and use Yelp to help you find a nearby restaurant that meets your requirements for price and user reviews. To us learning designers, we’d call that first example training and the second one performance support. 

When we design microlearning for the workplace, I believe we need to focus on three key moments. The first is the learner’s moment of need (which is explained in depth by Dr. Conrad Gottfredson and Bob Mosher’s work on the Five Moments of Need. The second is the learner’s moment of curiosity, and finally the third is the organization’s moment of need.

Let’s take a look at an example… Let’s say I am your financial planner. It’s my job to help you plan for your retirement, and as a part of that process I will buy and sell mutual funds, stocks, bonds, and other financial instruments for you. I will also develop a plan for how aggressive to be with those investments and keep you apprised of how your portfolio is doing and if you’re on track to meet your goals.*

The Organization’s Moment of Need

The organization has a need for me to be compliant with all the laws and rules surrounding my licensure and my work. There are lots of them, mostly dictated by FINRA and the SEC. For example, by law, I must have annual training on how to spot if a senior citizen is being taken advantage of by a family member or in a financial scam. I also have to take anti-money laundering training. I have to take this sort of annual compliance training on a host of topics. Most likely, I hate it because it feels like a waste of time, but I know there’s a good reason to do it, mostly that I have to do it by law. This is what we call the dreaded COMPLIANCE TRAINING.

My Moment of Need

I also have a moment of need, every time I want to be able to do something that I can’t already do, or if I need help doing something I can’t remember. Continuing with our financial planner example, there is training I can take on how to use my company’s proprietary software that I use to enter all of your income and expenses, your assets and liabilities, and your retirement goals to enable me to have a clear picture of your financial situation and help me to create a long-term plan for you to reach your retirement goals. There are also performance support materials where I can download a template and an infographic showing me how to create a client’s financial plan so I can create a plan that looks professional, includes all the required information, and is on brand-standard with my company. This is what we call TRAINING and PERFORMANCE SUPPORT. (Again, this is where Bob and Con’s Five Moments of Need come in.)

My Moment of Curiosity

Finally I also have moments of curiosity that are related to my job. In our financial planner example, I want to know more about something – it’s not something I need for my job right now, but it will likely make me a more well-rounded financial planner, or I’ll sound smarter with my clients. I’m not just watching crazy cat videos on the internet. I’m doing something purposeful, but I don’t have a specific need right now. For example, I read the Wall Street Journal every day, and may even use Google to dig deeper into a story that catches my attention. I’ll also read corporate market reports that come out weekly, monthly, and quarterly. This is what we call INFORMAL LEARNING.

All three of these are cases where microlearning can fit in. I know of an organization that took a 30 minute required compliance training and broke it into three pieces that were five minutes each. Learners had to take all three pieces, but they could each be taken when the learner had time. This makes that dreaded compliance training so much more palatable to our busy workers.

Or let’s say I want to learn really quickly how to do something very specific in that financial planning software. Give me just a short piece of training to get me there rather than making me watch a full hour eLearning.

The informal learning is the hardest because you don’t know when I’m going to have that moment of curiosity. And you want me to come to you before I Google it. Ultimately, I need to remember that your materials exist when I have that moment of curiosity. This is a hot area right now, and one in which a number of groups are working (for example, Degreed, Tribridge Content Sphere, NovoEd just to name a few). Right now, most of this informal learning is left to chance – and the learner’s ability to Google and find what they need. But if we could curate and create just the right content, and use big data to enable us to present you with just the right content, we could provide something very powerful.

As you think about using microlearning in your learning ecosystem, ask which moment you could address first. Compliance training is often the best low-hanging fruit, but you may have another place you want to start. Then think about what the learner really needs in those few minutes of content, and use that to guide your content development!

Interested In More?

*I used to work as an instructional designer in the financial services industry, so I know this use case well, but I’d like to add a special thanks to Matt Osendorf, who helped me with the details of this example from his perspective in the field. Matt, you are my favorite financial planner ever and you take great care of me and my family too! 


Published by Carla Torgerson March 14, 2017