How Micro-learning Can Enhance Learning Credibility (Alex Khurgin) The Forum applies the 70:20:10 Lens
Micro-learning is yet again an organisational learning term that is a bit of a misnomer. Like other "learning" related terms such as mLearning (mobile learning) and eLearning (electronic learning) it assumes that learning is an external event vs. an internal process. To be more accurate, micro-learning by most definitions is micro-learning content (videos, articles, quizzes, podcasts, etc.). Regardless of the term the idea is simple and not really all that new but it is catching fire for a variety of reasons today.
In a recent CLO Magazine article titled "How Micro-learning Can Enhance Learning Credibility", by Alex Khurgin, the argument is made that by getting smaller with its product, Learning and Development makes itself more agile for the rapidly shifting demands of business and therefore makes itself recession proof. As many in the learning industry know firsthand, when times get tough, the axe tends to swing towards training budgets. Furthermore the article notes that a micro-learning strategy can also meet the greatest needs of executives; culture, engagement and retention because with micro-learning "Learning leaders can weave learning into the fabric of a company like never before..."
This is where the article gets it right but also gets it somewhat wrong. Micro-learning without a doubt can be weaved into the fabric of a company because micro-learning can happen within, not outside of, the workflow. Learning opportunities in the flow of ones work address the needs of immediacy, application and productivity. They can also be useful to reinforce culture guiding principles and behaviors to help people better connect their own activities to the mission and desires of the organisation. As far as retention and engagement (very much related), there is much to be said about a sense of shared purpose, meaningful work and challenges leading to recognizable growth. Small, readily available learning opportunities can aid employees in these areas by supporting their performance and helping them meet the needs of their positions. In so doing, their success and growth can enable them to remain with the organisation longer.
Where the article gets it wrong is that micro-learning is not, and need not be, a product of Learning and Development alone. Content can and does come from all directions in an organisation and the hierarchy alone doesn't control the type and flow of behavior changing information. Rather than focus solely on Learning and Development to engineer micro-learning, organisations need to enable micro-learning to be easily generated and used from beyond the learning function alone.
A 70:20:10 Framework adopted by an organisation serves to do just that; enable and encourage learning from all angles, including the Learning Department's products. Chunking learning objects to move throughout the organisation is still formal learning, it is less friction on the workflow than traditional events and can contain valuable performance changing or culture identifying content but it is still not the most dominate way learning takes place. If organisations only look to L&D to help with their big three (culture, engagement, and retention), they are missing 90% of the opportunity before them.
How can 70:20:10 and true micro-learning address the needs around culture, engagement, and retention?
For starters Harold Jarche once stated that "culture is an emergent property of the many practices that happen every day. Change the practices and a new culture will emerge." Opportunity is certainly there to leverage micro-learning assets like small videos, articles and podcasts to reinforce the message leadership wants, but after watching, reading or listening people want to talk about the information and make sense of it by vetting it through trusted peers. With a 70:20:10 Framework the social component of culture reinforcement is significant. Enabling and encouraging people to openly ask questions, provide real examples from their daily lives which reveal the culture in action. Also, engaging directly with leadership helps cement a common understanding and connection. These too are examples of micro-learning of the informal kind.
Engagement is not about what leadership does for employees but what it does with employees. Engagement stems from having meaningful work, work you believe in and people you feel an affinity for. Core elements of the 70:20:10 Framework are purpose and autonomy. The principles of transparency and openness help people easily see where they and their work fit in. These principles make hierarchy more human, encouraging employees to contribute to new ideas and solve sticky problems; building stronger bonds at all levels of leadership.
Retention strategies, like engagement, arguably have less to do with leadership's direct action and more to do with indirectly connecting people to people and people to their work. It's been said that people don't leave companies, people leave people. With that, the charge of leadership is to find the best ways to bring people together so cooperation replaces competition and knowledge hoarders become nodes in the network. Social technology can certainly play a significant role but even just leveraging current platforms like meetings and conference calls creates easy opportunities for people to share their work, call out new ideas, spark knowledge sharing, and increase opportunities for finding hidden expertise.
Learning is a verb, not a noun. It is a process with the output being a change in attitude and/or behavior; be it a closer alignment to the culture, happier employees or ones committed to staying. Looking to one department, with one direction to help people learn and perform better in the workflow is short sighted. 90% of the micro-learning opportunity resides within the very employees leaders look to support, informally and socially.