• International Workplace
  • 30 January 2018

The myths surrounding microlearning – and a few facts

‘Microlearning’ is not new – people were learning in bite-sized chunks before the term was coined – but now it has a label, it is a ‘thing’, and many people have been left confused by the facts and fads surrounding the term.

From Ted Talks to infomercials, from tweets to nutrition labels, micro learning is all around us, and promises to capitalise on dwindling attention spans, fitting in with employees’ increasingly hectic work lives and larger workloads. 

So, what is it?

A good way of determining if something is truly microlearning is to ask two questions:

  • Is it short?
  • Does it teach something immediately?

So – not rocket science. But, there is science behind it. Studies have shown that employees are interrupted from a work task once every eleven minutes. Not only that, but it takes on average 25 minutes for the employee to get back to what they were doing. So, imagine you have asked an employee to watch an hour-long training video. It figures that it may well take them a whole working day to be able to watch the whole thing – and how much of that information are they likely to retain?

So, do we provide training that is eleven minutes long, in the hope that employees will be able to watch this successfully in one attempt, before getting distracted?

What about the research that has shown humans can only concentrate on something for eight seconds, less than that of a goldfish?

Well, that research has been widely debunked, and it seems the ‘sweet spot’ – certainly where watching videos is concerned – is in the range of six to nine minutes. Any more, and people switch off. Much less, and the subject doesn’t really get started.

That’s not to say that you have to spend six minutes talking about something. In our recently updated IOSH Managing Safely course, we’ve created a series of two- to three-minute animations explaining different health and safety terminology. They do the job simply and well – and don’t need to be stretched out.

Another popularly-distributed myth is that employees are either ‘right-brained’ or ‘left-brained’, and thus some will learn some subjects more easily than others. Again, this has been proven to be untrue – while brain activity in certain areas might be higher for some individuals, people cannot be categorised as left or right-brained. And whilst it might be true that some employees favour spoken word over written, and vice versa, it’s good practice to include a mixture of content in learning materials, to keep everyone stimulated.

Micro learning is certainly not a fad, to go away over time – it’s a proven, effective way of learning. From our own research, we’ve seen that clients are interested in providing training to their employees quickly, and at the point of need, building up an information bank of on-demand content that can be accessed before undertaking a specific task. We’ll be launching a programme of micro learning later this year. If you’re interested in finding out more, please contact us here.