Utilizing principles of adult learning theory in today's fast paced, multi priority work environments, shorter learning opportunities can provide long lasting impact for skills development and talent retention.
by Ashley Dugger
August 17, 2022
The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted several fundamental professional expectations throughout the last two and a half years. Increasing numbers of workplaces offer remote based opportunities and more virtual training options. Even full-scale conferences are now offered with online attendance as the primary delivery format.
In an age where we feel constantly connected to information and updates via technology, expect instant gratification with the click of a button, and have an ever-increasing workload to juggle on top of personal responsibilities, it is easy to see why so many are feeling the effects of information overload in addition to what some refer to as virtual fatigue.
For talent management professionals, adapting to this new reality and being cognizant of balancing too much versus not enough training and development opportunities for employees is a delicate balance. We must work to keep employees engaged via reskilling and upskilling, but we also must walk a fine line of not just where, when and how we deliver training, but also consider the length of training to ensure optimal effectiveness and retention for application.
Micro bite learning can address the need for ongoing skill development with shorter bursts of learning while not overwhelming employees already feeling fatigued with information and technology overload.
I first saw the impacts of smaller learning solutions when I worked for a small college that had limited resources, time constraints due to varying schedules of faculty and staff, and a human resources department managing a workforce that was not used to dedicated L&D awareness. Following a lunch and learn session on using our new HRIS one afternoon, I spoke with an employee who looked uncomfortable and distracted throughout the session. When we chatted 1:1 they admitted they felt overwhelmed with the amount of information they were tasked with learning regarding the new system, the new processes, the changes to their day-to-day role, and the responsibility for training their direct reports. As we talked, it became clear the employee wanted to learn the information, but needed to break the learning into significantly smaller blocks to retain and apply it on the job.
Instead of only focusing on more traditional training sessions that spanned an hour or longer, in addition to the regular, required sessions with broader information, I also began offering voluntary 10-to-20-minute drop-in sessions highlighting specific skills within the HRIS on varying days of the week, letting employees choose where they wanted or needed a focus on particular skills, leaving it up to them if they attended.
One day I held a session on creating a job requisition, the next day I went over editing a timecard for an employee, and another day I focused solely on approving time off within the new system. During these brief training sessions, we focused only on the topic at hand, keeping the sessions succinct and direct without segueing into other topics around the HRIS, with the option for the employee to schedule additional follow up time as needed.
I also created take-away job aids with step-by-step instructions and practice scenarios to get real time application in a test environment. The shorter sessions focusing on one topic at a time made it much easier for many employees to absorb, retain and apply the information without feeling bombarded with larger learning applications happening all at once.
Across the micro bite approach, I addressed foundational concepts of adult learning theory – meeting the learner where they have a readiness to learn, providing practical skills versus general knowledge, and providing plenty of real-world examples for application. The micro bites were relevant, interesting, unique and designed to improve productivity and job effectiveness.
I realized we could offer this sort of micro bite learning for other skill development, in addition to those learning sessions that inherently tend to lean toward a need for longer sessions or more in-depth training covering broader intersectionality of topics.
A few days per week, I started setting up in the dining area on campus to provide real time demonstrations of smaller skill development such as building and using Pivot tables in Excel to manage data; adding videos and animation to presentations; tips for active listening; compliance awareness highlights and more. Employees could stop by the table during lunch hours (before or after they ate) and get a quick overview of a new skill that might seem like second nature to some of us, but for many employees they had never used those skills before and weren’t sure how to apply them day to day.
I would offer training tips of the week from the HR offices during designated times (in person and remote), walking employees through new skills that could be condensed into a five- to 15-minute learning opportunity and then they could get right back to their regular job functions.
One employee told me they used to avoid training sessions because they worried about their work piling up while they were away from their desk for more than a few minutes and coming back to multiple voice messages and a cluttered inbox. Another employee told me they struggled with retention of information in longer training sessions and found it frustrating to attend, but the shorter skill sessions made them excited to learn new things because now they felt they remembered the information and could more easily apply it.
If you have a learning management system or other technology that can provide micro bite learning, I encourage you to start offering short videos or open sessions where employees can break learning into shorter chunks of time, in addition to your regular development offerings. If there is a common gathering area, spend some time, even one day a week to begin, where employees know you will be set up in a specific location at a specific time and they can drop by to learn a new skill.
If you’re remote based, consider adding a weekly “Skill of the Week” series that goes out via email or at the beginning of a team meeting. Make it memorable and fun – perhaps you offer a prize for a collection of skills within a certain time, or maybe you have a way to gamify the skills development to further engage employees.
There will always be a need for longer training sessions, but by integrating micro bite learning you can effectively meet your workforce needs by offering more skill development throughout the year and perhaps see higher participation rates and engagement with the information.