Grovo announced that the US Patent & Trademark Office has awarded the New York City–based technology company a registered trademark on the term Microlearning®. The move, which was formally announced on November 15, 2017, has captured the attention of the L&D industry and is sparking animated discussions on social media.

Why did Grovo secure a registered trademark on Microlearning?

“Our trademark on Microlearning is a way to create a dialogue in the market around the definition of ‘microlearning,’ and to elevate Grovo’s expert-led, science-backed Microlearning methodology designed to impact employee engagement and performance from the generic, chopped-up content whose mission is making money, rather than making people great at their jobs,” Grovo CEO Steven Carpenter explained via email.

“The reality is that ‘microlearning’ has now become an industry buzzword with no meaning,” Carpenter continued. “Just because someone claims their series of short-form videos with an emotional hook delivered in the time of need is microlearning does not make it so. It does not mean that they’ve built a platform from the ground up explicitly that organizations, development professionals responsible for delivering effective programs, and learners themselves crave.”

Grovo has been a pioneer of Microlearning since 2010. The company uses the term to identify its proprietary learner-first, science-backed methodology. Its customers include Capital One, InterContinental Hotels Group, Chevron, DDB Worldwide, and PepsiCo. 

Interview with Grovo’s new CLO

Summer Salomonsen is Grovo’s new chief learning officer. Learning Solutions recently spoke with her about the Microlearning trademark, among other issues. This interview has been lightly edited for length, clarity, and focus.

Susan Jacobs (SJ): What was Grovo’s purpose behind trademarking the term Microlearning?

Summer Salomonsen (SS): Grovo has been a leader in the microlearning field over the past several years. This was an opportunity to elevate the L&D conversation around what this term means, and what it can mean for both organizations and learners. L&D has gotten into this habit of co-opting buzzwords and not assigning value in terms of the learner to them. Grovo took this opportunity to say, “Hey. Let’s start a real conversation about the impact of Microlearning, not as just a methodology or not defined solely by its brevity, but as a strategy to reach modern workers with real learning.”

SJ: I can understand starting the conversation, but why trademark a commonly used term?

SS: I think it was an opportunity to differentiate Grovo’s viewpoint on Microlearning … that it is not simply chopping up longer learning in smaller segments. We’ve trademarked Microlearning, but now it’s up to us to bring a robust framework to the L&D space that truly has impact for learners. That’s the end goal. Microlearning cannot be just a methodology. It needs to be part of a larger strategy that equips and prepares workers to thrive in a cross-functional workplace.

SJ: Do you think that people are misusing the term “microlearning”?

SS: Absolutely I do. I think “microlearning” has become a term that has been defined temporally. People say, “Microlearning is short learning. It is learning in a small amount of time.” The challenge with that description is that we end up arguing over whether it is three minutes or five minutes. The temporal thing is a limiting construct to the importance of microlearning as a strategy.

For us, Microlearning is more of an explicit design around a single concept targeted at learning that blends the best of solid learning theory with modern learning design principles. It’s that blend that others who have co-opted this term have fallen short. When you emphasize the temporal qualities of training, you lose the depth that is needed for truly impactful Microlearning.

SJ: Are you looking at pursuing legal action against other companies or organizations that are using the term in a way different from how you trademarked it?

SS: I will say that it is still under consideration.

SJ: What other terminology are you suggesting that people use?

SS: I don’t think I’m at that place yet. My emphasis is in establishing Microlearning as a strategy for L&D, and focusing on the integrity of that framework. I’ve not spent a lot of time at this point thinking about alternatives to the word. My emphasis is on legitimizing and establishing that strategy.

SJ: This is a really big deal to many companies in the industry. Will Grovo be going after other organizations or individuals who don’t put the little registered trademark symbol (®) after the word?

SS: I am going to repeat what I said before. That’s still under consideration.

SJ: Is the trademark registration something that has been in process for a long time?

SS: My understanding, and I will clarify that I have just five weeks on the job, is that it is something that has been in process for a while. It’s been finalized and happens to coincide with my taking the helm as CLO.