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Microlearning Vs Traditional Learning: Which Is Right For Your Workforce?

Executive Summary: Microlearning vs Traditional learning? This is the most important question for businesses poised towards growth and continuous learning. The future of each employee and the success of your company depends on the learning assets chosen. The variety of advanced technologies and learning methodologies can make choosing the right fit for your company complex. In this blog, we look at widely used and promising formats of enterprise learning. We discuss and compare microlearning vs traditional learning, and how microlearning can solve common issues in training. 

Introduction

Microlearning vs traditional learning is a crucial debate for workforce training. Modern day training involves various programs with measured results. A LinkedIn report (2022) mentioned that only 15% of L&D leaders say they have active up-skilling and reskilling programs, and only 5% have made it to the stage where they’re measuring and assessing results.

On the contrary, digging through the LinkedIn report on the state of learning in 2020, we find that L&D budgets had shifted from Instructor Led Training (ILT) to online learning. Even though the report is somewhat dated, among thousands of teams, we saw an increase in online and mobile learning options, such as microlearning, from traditional learning. However, the current reports indicate a huge gap in acceptance and application of smarter learning and development technologies compared to traditional learning.

The lag could be associated with companies not shifting to microlearning vs traditional learning management systems still being their first choice. This can be corroborated through a comment by Stella Lee, PhD, a director at Paradox Learning, a company that provides practical advice and support for e-learning.

“In the past couple of years, we’ve seen a plethora of AI-enabled ed tech products enter the market. There’s an opportunity to pivot towards more varied L&D activities and tools, such as personalized learning content using recommender systems or interactive apps.”

 -Stella Lee, PhD

99% of Learning and Development professionals agreed in 2020 that if employee skill gaps aren’t closed, their organizations will be negatively affected in the upcoming years. The expectation was to see a flurry of solutions and strategies to bridge the gap. And indeed, that is true. In the past 2 years, we have seen several companies embrace remote and hybrid work. Alongside, many companies have also adopted online and mobile based learning.

However, reports in 2022 show that only 20% of learners feel their organization’s leadership values learning more now than ever before.

This implies that there remains an unfulfilled gap between the learning needs of the employees and what the companies offer. This might be a by-product of most Learning Management Systems (LMS) and training procedures failing to address the learners’ wants. The drawbacks of a traditional learning system include:

  • Content Management – They are used as ‘containers’ for content and are hard to navigate.
  • Unused Features – There are many features, often either underutilized or do not have interactive features.
  • Low Engagement – They hardly focus on engaging learners through games or quizzes.
  • Lack of personalization – They lack personalized content and specific skills.

75% of 1,500 L&D professionals agreed their companies will need more custom learning content in the upcoming years in a 2020 Learning States of the Industry survey. But there has been no widely accepted solution yet. Building custom learning content requires extensive research on where and how learning happens in your workplace. It is essential to know the needs of your workforce and what style of learning will suit them best. Keep reading to analyze your workforce’s learning needs, and find a system between microlearning vs traditional learning that is best for them.

Microlearning vs Traditional Learning: Various methods of training

Let us first look at the various methods of workforce training. The microlearning vs traditional learning debate arises from the fact that a major challenge for companies is to find the right training methodology for employees. Be it traditional learning, microlearning, e-learning, or a mix of these; the method of training is important in the longer run.

What suits the workforce? Microlearning vs Traditional Learning

Different types of employee training methods come with varied benefits, challenges, and goals. Employees may prefer distinct learning styles – some are visual learners, some need hands-on experience, some require an instructor to guide them, etc. To find a training method that suits your workforce, consider the below aspects:

  • trainees’ learning style
  • training objectives
  • training goals
  • training cost
  • timeline

Instead, it is a common practice for companies to adopt traditional methods and a ‘one-size-fits-all’ strategy to train their entire workforce. Regardless of their knowledge, skills, and positions in the organization. Is that what the employees want?

A Harvard Business Review study revealed that 75% of 1,500 managers surveyed across 50 organizations were dissatisfied with their company’s Learning & Development (L&D) approach. This shows the magnitude of the issue.

To create a better workforce, training methodologies need improvement. It is important to understand the traditional learning process and the common issues with it.

Traditional learning in the workplace

Traditional workplace learning involves two major approaches.

  • Presentation Approach: This is an age-old classroom type method of training. In this setting, a trainer leads a presentation in a classroom setting. The trainees assemble and listen to a lecture for 60, 90, or even 640 minutes (8-hours)!
    • The trainer generally uses cognitive techniques to explain theoretical concepts. The focus is on imparting knowledge about different processes to be followed at work, and how to handle particular situations. 
    • The trainees take notes for future reference, as that is the only way to revisit this information. 
    • Trainers might use support tools, such as charts, chalkboards or whiteboards, and presentations or PDFs, to deliver information. 
    • Seminars, group discussions, and demonstrations are other presentation training approaches.
  • Activity-Based Approach: In this alternative, trainees are directly involved in the training process. They perform various roles or tasks as per the trainer’s instructions.
    • This approach includes specifically-designed experiential training methods to give practical and interactive training. The goal is to enhance employee performance and behavioral skills on the job.
    • Some common hands-on approaches are simulations or scenario-based learning, role plays, brainstorming, case studies, and workshops.
    • This approach opens the stage for team-building exercises to be part of the learning methodology. This helps trainees interact, share information, build relationships, and work together in teams.

Microlearning vs Traditional Learning: Traditional learning challenges and why to shift

A common thread in microlearning vs traditional training methodologies is the extensive time the employee has to devote to traditional methods.

In a survey conducted by HR Drive, 89% of employees who took the survey preferred that the training material was available to them anytime/anywhere.

The ability to go through learning information at their own pace and access it anywhere are the two factors that traditional learning does not address. Besides, these traditional lesson-like systems take a linear approach. Retention is also limited in behavioral or non-technical topics with this approach. But that is not the only issue with the old ways of training your workforce. Our survey of 100 L&D leaders helped us list some employee training challenges in the workplace:

  1. Information overload: Employees can easily get overwhelmed and start disengaging from training and from the workplace itself in the longer run. This research says less than 35% of the US workforce feels engaged at work. Challenges in training and development can leave your employees more disengaged and drive them to fatigue, or worse, even resignation.

  2. Workforce resistance: Introducing new topics or making learning part of an employee’s day-to-day job can be hard. According to a Gartner report, 50% of organizational change is a clear failure. Old and archaic LMSs or ways of training can make matters worse for inculcating change in your organization.

  3. Ineffective training methods: With a significant rise in remote-first culture, training problems could worsen if companies fail to address their employees’ training needs.

  4. Lack of employee engagement: As traditional learning systems are not interactive and engaging enough, employees never develop a habit of learning or even interacting with LMSs.

  5. Poor feedback and analysis: Feedbacks and frequent check-ins are also key to successful outcomes in training and development. The traditional way of learning has no way to determine the amount of information retained by the employees. Neither is there a channel for employees to provide feedback on how to improve the training material and its relevance.

  6. Fixed learning paths: As workforces become smarter and more efficient, it might be counterintuitive for them to go through training processes that are not self-paced or interfere with their daily tasks.

  7. Time-consuming revisits: Another important issue that traditional training does not address is the ability to revisit information. Portals and LMSs are not optimally designed for accessing specific information. Learners must traverse through long videos or PDFs to find what they are looking for.

These challenges are important to consider when analyzing microlearning vs traditional learning. Modern methods of workplace learning promise to solve such problems. Let’s look at what the future holds for enterprise learning and development.

Switching from Traditional to Microlearning

Despite the millions and billions spent on learning platforms, Google still retains the #1 spot for fulfilling the learning needs of employees. What did they do right that the LMS landscape could not?

Googling is not a laborious task! That is not the case with an LMS or traditional learning systems, where the employee has to spend significant time going through portals and texts. If we peel the layers of this onion deeper, what do we stumble upon?

2 instantaneous inferences:

  1. Google fetches answers for employee queries in multiple formats – videos, blogs, short text boxes, etc. There is no fixed or specific format that user queries appear in.

  2. Google fetches the best and updated answer for queries searched for. Employees get the most relevant answer every time and with minimal effort.

The need for your workforce training methodology boils down to capturing more functional information within a limited period, while keeping it accessible. It is safe to say that this is only possible with a smart system of content delivery that is quick, easily digestible and self-paced.

This is the essence of microlearning. In the following sections, we investigate more on modern learning methodologies. We also build a case for why microlearning wins the microlearning vs traditional learning debate.

What is microlearning?

Microlearning is an approach to learn new information in small chunks in less time. Typically, microlearning sessions are under ten minutes or even less.

In employee training, microlearning means delivery of short bursts of content for learners to study at their convenience. In microlearning, content takes many forms based on requirements, from text to full-blown interactive multimedia, but it is short and easy to remember.

Microlearning content can be presented in different forms, such as:

  • Text (phrases, short paragraphs)
  • Images (photos, illustrations)
  • Short videos
  • Audio (short snippets of speech or music)
  • Tests and Quizzes
  • Games (e.g. simple single-screen challenges)

As employees get busier and their to-do lists get longer, learning on the go becomes the need of the hour. Besides, with the increasing trend of remote work, accessibility of the learning material is also important. Microlearning is well suited for such scenarios.

Microlearning is:

  • Less fixed, more mobile: Modules created for microlearning are easily accessible through phones and laptops, which are used extensively by employees these days.
  • Less rigid, more accessible: Essential information is not stuck in long documents or videos that take time and effort to revisit.
  • Less fragmented, more connected: Topics are reinforced through text, videos and interlinked activities. This makes remembering information easy and fun.

Microlearning with Video examples

A differentiating factor in microlearning vs traditional learning is the ability to present content in different formats. Microlearning content can be presented in the form of videos, images, infographics and more.

LinkedIn learning portal powered by Lynda is a great microlearning example that focuses on videos and quizzes.
Duolingo is one of the most effective microlearning apps, offering activities to improve engagement and retention.
A plethora of YouTube teachers have taken educational videos a step further by sharing worksheets and activities, making it a perfect example of microlearning.

Microlearning content can also be delivered through small slides and documents:

This is a sample of how companies use microlearning for skills development.

Microlearning can also be used to impart product knowledge to employees.

Microlearning is perfect for employee on-boarding, compliance training, skills training and the like. But between microlearning vs traditional learning, can it become your ‘only’ training method? A deeper dive into microlearning is required to realize that the answer is “Yes”.

Microlearning theory and research

The concept of modern day microlearning is based on Hermann Ebbinghaus’s forgetting curve. Ebbinghaus, in the mid 1880s, created a scientific approach to study and classify memory. In his trials, he noted that memory is inconsistent. Memory can increase, decrease, and replenish.

However, this depended not only on the subject matter being learned, but also on the methods in which it is learned. These methods and studies correspond to his studies on forgetting, which ultimately led to his “forgetting curve.”

Ebbinghaus found that strictly memorized information can be recalled much more easily after learning it again.

The idea of bringing back already ‘learned’ information has been built over time, leading to microlearning becoming a widely accepted learning methodology.

The microlearning concept can tackle this issue. Splitting the content into smaller, bite-sized pieces and recalling different parts of it over time helps improve its application and knowledge retention.

A fair question at this point would be if microlearning is the only method to utilize the forgetting curve. Can it be included in traditional learning? What about e-Learning? Let’s take a quick look.

What is e-learning and how is it different from microlearning?

Oxford defines it the best. eLearning, or electronic learning, is the delivery of learning and training through digital resources. Although eLearning is based on formalized learning, it is provided through electronic devices such as computers, tablets, and even cellular phones connected to the internet. This means an extension of traditional learning online. However, microlearning focuses more on breaking down learning information into chunks and presenting it in interactive, easily rememberable forms. This is an important distinction for HR executives and Chief Learning Officers to consider.

Here are some differences between the two:

Microlearning 

e-Learning 

Used to impart knowledge through smaller bits of information that are easily digestible. 

Used to teach specific skills or impart knowledge through PDFs and bulky reference materials. 

It is self-paced to make comprehension and retention easier.

Comprehension and retention are challenging.

Learning is designed to be accessed by users on the go through mobile devices and tablets.

Learning takes place primarily through computers and laptops. 

The content is designed for self-learning, and the learning path is self-paced. 

The learning requires a trainer or teacher to impart information.

Designed in bite-sized modules, which can be finished in 5-15 minutes. 

Longer and broader coursework, which may take hours to finish. 

When pitched against each other, e-Learning is more suitable for schools and colleges in the future. The reason being, it provides the learner with the ability to ask questions and interact with the trainer, which is essential for extensive research and in-depth learning. The needs of workplace learning are quite different. Don’t agree with us? Continue reading to find out how.

Is microlearning effective in the workplace?

Today and in the future, effective learning strategies should fulfill two main requirements.

  • Learning at the moment-of-need: Learning concepts and ideas at the moment of application is most critical. For example, learning about a feature in the new Payroll system, so that the employee can help upload their expenses directly.
  • Learning in the flow of work: This factors in learning that enables the employee to enhance their performance or carry out a process more efficiently while working. For example, learning new ways to sell through a sales refresher.

According to Deloitte, the modern learner can devote only 1% of their work week to professional development. When broken down, that equates to only 24 minutes a week or 4.8 minutes a day for someone with a 40-hour work week. The key numbers here are 4.8 minutes a day and 24 minutes a week. The needs mentioned above must be met for each employee in this minuscule time. In such a scenario, microlearning starts looking more attractive when it comes to microlearning vs traditional learning. As employers can now ensure that their workforce’s learning and development needs are met. It also becomes alluring to employees due to its flexibility, ease of consumption, and engagement.

Microlearning vs Traditional Learning: Why is microlearning a good option?

Before we get to parting thoughts, let’s do a quick comparison of microlearning vs traditional learning.

Microlearning 

Traditional Learning 

Topics can be covered in 5-15 minutes daily sessions.

Takes 60–90 minutes (or more) to cover a topic.

The format is interactive, audio-visual content and mostly informal.

The format is text-based and formal.

The approach of learning is flexible and driven by the individual. 

The approach of learning is very linear and is driven by an instructor.

It is self-paced and level based. 

The pace is the same for all learners.

The information imparted can be customized based on the needs. 

The information imparted may be very generic.

Recognizing your workforce’s needs can help set a clear expectation from your learning methodology. To make informed decisions that are not heavy on your training and development budget, it is important to ask yourself a few important questions.

  • Employees these days are super busy and have less time to dedicate to self-improvement. Will my learning methodology help my employees improve?

  • Virtual employees in the hybrid workplace have environment-related challenges that test their engagement levels and make it harder to access learning content. Has my learning methodology accounted for this challenge?

  • Workforces are getting smarter and ready to take on the future. Is my learning methodology and content challenging them enough to grow?

Learning and development (L&D) across the globe is transforming. Leaders are knocking down traditional silos to collaborate on a more holistic vision for HR. Fresh solutions to build skills are more important than ever, as they directly relate to employee retention and performance. We believe the use of short-form microlearning content as the core learning and workforce enhancement tool solves these challenges effectively.

RapL is our platform for bite-sized learning. We can help your company transition to a more personalized, adaptive, and smarter way of training employees. Read here for more information about how microlearning can help your workforce become more efficient. Visit getrapl.com to create a customized plan to elevate your workforce right away.

We have compiled a visual summary of the blog that you just read. Download it now !

Thanks for being with us all the way here

Dear reader, thanks for being with us all the way till the end. We suggest 2 things from here

1. Speak to us if you want a microlearning strategy deep-dive: Microlearning is extremely effective, if approached sensibly. Microlearning is the answer to today’s shortening attention spans and we know how to make learning successful via microlearning. Drop your context here and we shall partner with you for the rest.

2. Lap up more content: We have written some intense literature on how microlearning is the superglue between people and successful business operations. Access all of it here.

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