Our digital content is getting smaller and disseminating faster. We see it in the music industry, as individual songs — and sometimes even ringtones — dominate downloads over albums, and music is shared, mixed and remixed. We see it in the news industry, as incremental online updates throughout the day replace a single, daily newspaper and stories are blogged, tweeted and commented on online, by anyone. And now we see it in our own industry, this time in the form of “microlearning.”
Microlearning emerges from the publication of small pieces of loosely joined digital information, which is often limited to a single topic or limited in length by the publication software on which it’s published. It’s different from just-in-time learning because it’s unstructured and relies on human-to-human interaction and interaction with Internet media. It’s also different from learning objects because the content is not stored in a centralized repository, nor is it created in advance, and it uses a folksonomy, as opposed to a taxonomy, approach to tagging metadata.
Here is how five organizations are responding to the “micro” trend.
1. Intel: Allison Anderson, e-learning designer at Intel, has seen a grass-roots movement at her organization called Buzz, which resembles popular microblogging platforms. “This platform has not been deployed specifically for learning, but microblogging is a key part of where we want to go in the future,” she said. “Our vision is to have a ‘broadcast channel’ where people can turn for help. IM on steroids, to the masses. With the current tools, we’ve seen a fair amount of learning going on, though it is not in any way identified as such. You’ll see people put out a call for help — ‘I’m programming in this language and I’m stumped,’ ‘I’m pondering this technology,’ ‘I’m wondering about my career,’ — and responses are fairly swift. To me, that’s a form of microlearning.”
2. Element K: Manish Mohan, content development head for Element K, uses the microblogging platform Yammer to generate ideas and brainstorm implementation. “The microlearning environment opened communication between departments that traditionally had little or no interaction,” she said. “People exchanged tips about frequently used software tools and shared links. It’s a great tool to engage everyone in the organization and can even be used by CEOs as a communication tool. It does not come without some challenges to adoption. Culture, training and competition with competing applications all have to be considered.”
3. Hitachi Data Systems: Nick Howe, vice president of learning and development at Hitachi Data Systems, said his organization supports microlearning by providing its sales force with focused content that is limited to one or two paragraphs. “Branded as ‘Your Mobile Sales Coach,’ it can be read easily on BlackBerrys and iPhones but contains hyperlinks to deeper content. The messages always target a specific behavior change that we’d like to see in the sales force on a subject set by Hitachi’s global head of sales,” Howe said.
4. Cisco WebEx: Faith Legendre, senior global e-learning strategist for Cisco WebEx, said she’s seeing time and value benefits with microblogging.
“When I was a new virtual employee, I microblogged that I was seeking a seasoned employee who was interested in mentoring me so that I could ingratiate myself to the Cisco culture,” Legendre recalled. “Within seconds, a woman who works in the California office in a completely different area responded, and we have been sharing and learning together ever since. Years back, I used to spend hours researching on the Internet and on the intranets as well as shared folders inside the organization to find forms, information on procedures, etc.
“What’s even better is that I not only receive the exact information I needed, but it often comes with extra learning,” she continued. “For example, [someone might respond], ‘Don’t forget 2 fill out section C way at bottom or it will get rejected in the automatic system.’ I am constantly learning from colleagues around the globe, in addition to saving time while increasing my productivity and accuracy.”
5. Brandon Hall Research: Even at my own company, we’re embracing the microtrend. With a virtual workforce spread throughout North America, we rely on instant and short exchanges to share, collaborate and communicate. It is not unusual for an analyst to be leading a virtual training workshop while utilizing text chat, Skype and Twitter.