Editor’s Picks

Corporate Microlearning in 2019

By Sherman Morrison
May 28, 2019

Among the most-read articles on this site last year were two articles about microlearning, including Microlearning Essentials: The What and Why and Corporate Microlearning Examples: Real-World Case Studies. This article is presented to interested readers in order to provide a corporate microlearning update for 2019.

Corporate Microlearning: More than Buzzword

According to the Association of Talent Development (ATD) It appears microlearning has moved beyond the “passing trend” phase to settle into a bona fide method through which more and more corporate learning occurs. Microlearning has become more than a buzzword because it’s incredibly effective. One of the reasons it works so well is because it opens up the possibility of just-in-time learning.

The “just-in-time” (JIT) concept first became known as it was applied in manufacturing in Japan, and specifically in Toyota’s production system (which also morphed into “lean” manufacturing). Then JIT is applied more generally to all kinds of inventory management to reduce the cost of keeping any more inventory around than what is needed. Companies figure out how to keep on hand only what they need in a relatively short timeframe, with more inventory delivered when they know it is needed. Applying this concept to learning makes a lot of sense – learn what you need right when you know you need it in a bite-sized bit of learning content with which you can engage in a matter of minutes. This can be especially useful in last-minute meeting preparations.

The Purchase of the Microlearning Pioneer

Grovo, founded in 2010, has been widely recognized as a pioneer of microlearning through its software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform. In fact, Grovo managed to trademark “microlearning” back in 2017 – a move that didn’t sit well with many corporate learning companies who were already using the word as a generic term for bite-sized learning. But Grovo argued that there’s more to microlearning than just serving up small chunks of content. The company claimed its trademarking of the term was a way to elevate the conversation and make sure people had a more robust concept in mind than might otherwise be the case. Will the company pursue legal action against those who use the term in a way that doesn’t live up to the Grovo standard? That remains to be seen, but first Grovo has to demonstrate exclusive use of the term for five years. Meanwhile, other companies can use the word without crediting Grovo. The only thing that is really protected is Grovo’s specific microlearning services.

The role of Grovo as a microlearning pioneer was further solidified when it was purchased at the end of 2018 by cloud-based learning and talent management solution provider Cornerstone OnDemand. Cornerstone paid $24 million in cash.

The 2018 Benchmark Report

Grovo isn’t the only microlearning leader. Axonify is another leading microlearning platform founded in 2011, just a year later than Grovo. But Axonify is the company that has taken the time to produce “…the first and only comprehensive analysis of what microlearning looks like in terms of general trends, adoption, demographics and industry applications” according to its 2018 Microlearning Global Benchmark Report. Here are some interesting highlights from the report about microlearning:

  • Good for Deskless Workers. Adoption rates of microlearning are highest among companies who have a higher percentage of deskless workers, like retail (27%), manufacturing and logistics (25%), and the finance and insurance industry (22%). This makes sense because they can easily learn on their handheld device of choice (smartphone, tablet, etc.). Moreover, when companies allow workers to get microlearning training on mobile devices, training frequency increases by an eye-popping 42%.
  • Boosts Learner Engagement. Because microlearning simply doesn’t have any room for fluff, learners appreciate getting right to the point in a short amount of time, and even more so when it incorporates gamification and/or is game-based. As a result, microlearning training and learning has much higher rates of engagement than traditional eLearning approaches. In fact, 74% of employees who have microlearning available to them participate in training every month.
  • Better Knowledge Retention. Employees who receive training through microlearning are found to have 85% of the knowledge they need on the job, as opposed to knowing only 73% of what they needed when they first started. This can be described as a 12% “knowledge lift” thanks to microlearning.
  • Gaming Works Best. Gamification can be thought of as the motivational wrapper on microlearning content (levels, avatars, badges, points, achievement rewards, competitive leaderboards, etc.) while content delivered as a game is game-based microlearning. Combining both make for truly irresistible learning and training experiences. When rewards are part of gamified/game-based microlearning, voluntary participation can increase by as much as 200%.

Corporate Microlearning in Action: Southeastern Grocers

Southeastern Grocers is the parent of such supermarket chains as BI-LO, Harveys, Winn-Dixie, and Fresco y Más, which means they need to effectively and efficiently train more than 45,000 associates. The company’s previous traditional computer-based training was described by the company’s Chief People Officer Liz Thompson as not very engaging. Thompson likened it to drinking water from a fire hose (meaning not helpful for knowledge retention). Southeastern Grocers worked with Axonify to develop its Gnome microlearning platform, which launched in 2016. Since implementing Gnome, the company has enjoyed a 15% knowledge lift and an impressive 97% participation rate. Thompson is pleased to see how workers are engaging the platform several times a week, often when on breaks, and are enjoying the competitive gamification features. Other grocery stores are signing on with Axonify to get these kinds of training benefits, including Wisconsin’s Festival Foods and southern California’s Northgate Gonzalez Market.

But Microlearning is Not Effective for Every Skill

The effectiveness of microlearning is found in the way it presents one manageable, very specific idea in a compact way, thereby avoiding outstripping a person’s working memory capacity and attention span. But it’s not necessarily the best way to teach everything. An article in Chief Learning Officer by Todd Maddox notes that what microlearning excels at is training for hard cognitive skills handled by the prefrontal cortex part of the brain. But when it comes to those soft people skills or situational awareness that rely more on the emotional and behavioral parts of the brain (the amygdala and the basal ganglia), microlearning might actually do more harm than good. Unfortunately, many learning and development vendors don’t necessarily understand these important distinctions based on brain science and are pumping out tons of microlearning content for everything under the sun, and some of it simply won’t work.

Featured Image: Luis Villasmil, Unsplash.