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How to overcome 3 popular objections to microlearning

In microlearning by JD Dillon

Microlearning is just learning that fits. That’s it! Check out this post for my full explanation of the term.

Implementing a microlearning strategy isn’t just about new content or technology. It requires a fundamental mindset shift throughout your entire organization. We must help people change the way they view learning as related to performance and business results. Many of the people you work with – L&D pros included – still believe learning looks like school. While it may not always have to take place in a classroom, people still consider “learning” to be a scheduled activity that requires considerable time and focus. They think learning has a beginning and an end – because that’s what school was like. They have not yet reconciled the realities of the modern workplace with the science of learning. That’s where microlearning comes in.

As you explore tactics for introducing “learning that fits,” you are likely to run up against a few familiar objections from your employees, stakeholders and peers. Here are my recommended responses to the 3 most common protests I have encountered during my years in microlearning.

But we have to cover …

This objection typically comes with a 224-slide PowerPoint presentation – all text. The subject matter expert is convinced that you absolutely must include every word in your training materials, otherwise employees just won’t have what they need to do their jobs. Therefore, they won’t approve training content that doesn’t include everything. Welcome to the “coverage problem.”

Two concepts can help you battle this objection: learning science and shared knowledge. The simple fact is that a human being cannot retain this much information this quickly, no matter how pretty the package. Saying they MUST know it doesn’t change that fact. If your SME disagrees, send them a link to this Wikipedia article on quantum mechanics and let them know they’ll be tested at the end of the week to see how much they retained. This is just how the human brain works.

The source information must be broken down into 2 piles: NEED to know and NICE to know. Nice to know information becomes shared knowledge (ex: wiki articles or job aids) that can be accessed in the moment of need. Need to know information can then be delivered using brief, topical content modules that align to the person’s ability to consume and retain. You can assure the SME that you’re still “covering” everything from the 224 slides, but your doing it in a way that ensures maximum retention because … well … science!

My people don’t have time to …

An effective microlearning strategy acknowledges AND leverages the reality that learning is a constant in the workplace. We learn by doing – not just consuming. Therefore, it’s just silly when people say their employees “don’t have time to learn.” Of course, they are usually referring to their preference for operational value over unclear formal training outcomes. Rather than leverage a continuous learning strategy with daily microlearning opportunities, many managers prefer we just schedule their teams for a two-hour training session once per month to get it out of the way.

This objection is actually a math problem. Regardless of role, people are always learning through experience and problem solving. Providing access to shared knowledge and performance support already fits into the workflow and requires little to no extra time for the employee. Now, let’s consider the use of daily microlearning sessions that last 3 minutes each. Surely employees are too busy to dedicate time for training EVERY day, right? Well …

  • 3 minutes x 5 work days per week x 4 weeks in a month = 60 minutes

Would the manager rather pull their employees away from the operation for a generic 2-hour class OR allow for targeted microlearning sessions that align to learning science and individual needs but only require half the time every month? When you put it that way …

This subject is too complex for …

“Our people do complicated work. Surely, they need more than just microlearning to figure it all out. After all, you can’t teach a brain surgeon to become a brain surgeon in 3 to 5 minutes a day.” That’s absolutely correct, but luckily most employees aren’t conducting brain surgery.

This objection relates back to my definition of microlearning: learning that fits. We must apply the support tactics that best fit the performance challenge. In some cases, this means building fully-designed courses – because that’s the solution that best fits the need. However, this should not be the default tactic. More often than not, complex topics can be broken down into smaller, topical chunks to aid comprehension and retention. Plus, by leveraging on-demand shared knowledge like job aids and checklists, we can eliminate unnecessary complexity. So, while the BIG subject may be too complex to solve with a 3-minute video, we can use a blend of tactics to better fit learning and support opportunities into the workflow. And yes, we still need to build courses … sometimes.

Are you trying to leverage “learning that fits” in your organization? What types of push back are you seeing from stakeholders and peers who hold a more “traditional” perspective on workplace learning? How do you get past these objections?