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Want to be a Great Leader? Add Microlearning


December 6th, 2017

- Updated on

March 21, 2018 - 4:01pm
We’ve all done it. We attend a week-long training course, come back to the office with arms loaded with binders and a head full of good intentions. We WILL make a change to become a more effective team lead, manager, project leader, or_______ (Fill in the blank.), only to be waylaid by the workload that stacked up while we were out of the office. Those binders full of new leadership tips and strategies, they never saw the light of day again.

Let’s face it, demands on our time have increased, distractions have multiplied and the requirements to do better, faster, with less are constant.

For those who aspire to sharpen their leadership skills, the time crunch and immediate performance pressures can foil the best of us. Whether your focus is on developing new leaders, or growing those already in place, or working on your own professional development, what’s a leader to do?
micro learning concept
In a recent report by the Aberdeen group, 49% of organizations say that their main employee learning challenge is ensuring that what is taught is fully understood and applied on the job. Experts in talent development and brain science say that a more holistic approach to learning, one that incorporates the latest learning science, can overcome the barriers to applying newly learned skills on the job. i
Based on the newest research, here are a few important facts to consider when planning a leadership learning campaign.
  • The modern worker has only 1% of the workday to devote to learning and development. ii
  • The average person’s attention span is now between 8 – 10 seconds. Constant interruptions, multi-tasking, and instant media have trained our focus to take in shorter and shorter bites of information. iii
  • The average employee checks their mobile phone 150 times per day. iv
  • 40% of the US workforce believes it's impossible to succeed at work and have a balanced work- life. v
What do these facts about modern work-life mean for learning and professional development?
  • Brain science says we can only absorb four to five pieces of information into short-term memory at any given time. Microlearning – a technique of delivering learning content in short, bite-sized bursts, (3 – 5-minute bursts, several times per week or even daily) makes information easier to understand and assimilate. vi
  • There really is a “Forgetting Curve.” Unless challenged to apply what one learns, a new skill will disappear in about 30 days post learning event. vii
  • Learning spaced out over time is more effective than cramming or the “drinking from a fire hose” method of a one-and-done approach. Spaced Repetition gives the brain time to process information, internalize it, and remember it long term. viii
  • Collaborative learning and curated, crowd-sourced solutions to problems work. We learn from each other. Curated knowledge sharing builds trust and team cohesiveness as a side benefit.
  • Learning that incorporates a multi-media approach is most effective. Use tools that are familiar in every-day life, such as Google-like information databases with robust search features, You-Tube like video vignettes, games and competitions etc. to invite early adaptors and entice the reluctant learner. ix
  • Use a blended, holistic approach for greatest effect. Use formal training sessions for topics that require detailed, in-depth understanding. Couple formal learning with on-the-job application, mentoring/coaching, and aids to performance available to the learner when and where they need them. Build learning around the moment of need. x
  • With the newest learning technology platforms, one can measure knowledge growth and identify knowledge gaps so that they can be corrected to help stem performance drains.

Holistic Learning Strategies – Microlearning Paired with Traditional Learning

What’s new about this approach? Leadership and team development learning strategies built upon these principles virtually wrap the learner in opportunities to seek out, practice, and apply new techniques all day, every day - whenever the need arises. It’s a holistic approach to leadership and team development that incorporates traditional training, mentoring/coaching, and microlearning using the latest in brain science and techniques keenly suited to today’s learners. It’s an approach some call Performance Support that promises greater knowledge lift, real behavior changes, and better job performance over time.
How microlearning is used graphicxi
The following infographic from ATD Research sheds light on the advancement of microlearning as a supplement to formal training programs.
ATD Microlearning infographic


Microlearning is Personalized Performance Support– Touching the Learner at the Moment of Greatest Need

Bob Mosher, one of the earliest proponents of Performance Support, which incorporates microlearning, has found that learners have different needs at differing stages of knowledge acquisition. He calls this learning continuum The Five Moments of Need:
Microlearning - the five moments of need
Mosher's research indicates that more formal instruction, as in workshops, courses, e-learning sessions etc., is best used when an individual is learning something for the first time, or wanting to deepen foundational knowledge or learn more. Then, microlearning or performance support strategies are best when a learner is working to apply knowledge or remember what has been learned, when things change or if something goes awry in an expected process or plan during the everyday workflow. xii
In other words, blended, or a holistic approach to learning works well, offering different approaches and personalized choices for how one can access knowledge in different circumstances.

What are the benefits to the holistic learning approach, incorporating both traditional approaches and microlearning?

Learners are changing and the way they expect to learn is changing, too. 57% of surveyed employees expect learning to be more “just-in-time” or as needed than when surveyed just three years ago. xiii 
What are the proven benefits of this microlearning approach? Learning researchers, Bradenburg and Ellinger outlined 5 positive impacts. xiv
  1. It enhances worker productivity.
  2. It speeds up the learning process.
  3. It improves learner access to knowledge.
  4. It creates more engaged employees.
  5. It optimizes knowledge retention.
With these benefits in mind, surely a change to a more holistic approach that incorporates microlearning will benefit any organization striving to develop talent now and into the future.

Holistic Learning for Strategic Talent Development – AJO’s perspective

A.J. O'Connor (AJO)'s holistic approach to talent development gives learners the opportunity to focus in depth in seminars, workshops and staff development events to build a foundation of understanding. But our strategy does not stop with traditional learning events. To secure full impact, leadership and team development sessions are coupled with personalized executive coaching centered on strategic planning and practical problem-solving to establish a business rhythm that enhances effectiveness and cements knowledge gained. Throughout the learning process and thereafter, online microlearning resources such HR Studio Podcasts, blog posts, and case studies wrap around the learner to provide insights, strategies, and ongoing performance support.
To learn more about how our holistic approach to talent development can meet your leader’s learning needs, contact us.

Recommended Reading and References

Kathy Flora is a Career and Executive Coach and AJO Blogger who is actively pursuing her life’s passion, helping others find and fulfill theirs. Known as a positive change agent, mentor and guide, she has assisted hundreds of leaders and their teams understand their strengths, collaborate effectively, and drive organizational success. She has a special affinity for working with virtual teams, using webinars, virtual meet-ups, and online collaborative communities to optimize communication and productivity. Her experience spans over 25 years in executive management and leadership, career development, facilitation, and consulting in private firms, state government, and in federal agencies.