Since the release of Microlearning: Short and Sweet, a book I co-authored with Dr. Karl Kapp, I have assisted several leaders in setting the stage to incorporate microlearning. From my experiences, I have identified several reasons that learning leaders struggle to achieve broad acceptance of microlearning. Below, I address common barriers that impede successful incorporation paired with approaches that help to move adoption forward.

Creating a common understanding

First and foremost, decision-makers need to have a unilateral understanding of the potential and purpose of microlearning. I recently wrote about this in “Advocating for Microlearning? Lead with Purpose and Potential,” which addresses the value of microlearning for supporting an organization’s strategic, performance-based initiatives.

Secondly, there needs to be a common understanding of how the word “microlearning” will be used within your organization. In the truest sense, as stated above, it’s intended to develop skills related to performance. However, the word can also be associated to things like “micro-lessons” and “micro trainings” that embrace aspects of microlearning from a brevity and sometimes design standpoint.

Furthermore, these micro-sized products may or may not have an assessment. If they do, the assessment is usually focused on gaining feedback on the training itself or confirming that the learner can recall the key content. Again, microlearning is meant to elicit performance, whether for improvement, development, or support.

Assess the following:

  • Is your organization seeking to demonstrate ROI based on employee performance?
  • Do you know enough about the potential and purpose of microlearning to inform stakeholders and partners?

Approaches you can take:

  • Using research on the topic (like this article, kudos!), attending conferences, or bringing in a thought leader can also assist you in answering these questions.
  • By thinking first about the worth of investing in microlearning vs., let’s say, “micro-trainings,” you can determine which of those you need to champion for adoption. Of course, you went with microlearning, so let’s get you started as the champion of champions!

Championing microlearning

Leading the microlearning campaign is not a top-down perspective from your leadership seat. You need buy-in from management above you, plus your L&D department, not to mention those that will receive the microlearning products. This multifaceted factor to implementing microlearning can be the most overwhelming of the potential barriers, because it takes a lot for a leader to get all groups onboard at the right times (note, I did not write “same” time).

Assess the following:

  • What level of effort will it take to incorporate microlearning into your organization?
  • What additional resources or costs will microlearning bring to the organization?
  • Does your team have the skills and knowledge to develop microlearning? Do they comprehend the design concepts and principles that are used to create effective microlearning?
  • Where else within the organization might you find additional champions?

Approaches you can take:

  • These strategic inquiries hit at the heart of the matter: time, talent, and resources. These provide the talking points you will champion.
  • The best place to start is performing an audit examining your L&D team; look at skills, knowledge of microlearning principles and design, and whether they are on board with the concept. The audit process may build understanding within that team about the fit of microlearning to the organization’s current learning ecosystem and the advantages it may bring. This audit task has the potential to create additional advocates while building foundational awareness and understanding with the most critical group first!

An additional reason to focus on your team first is that a move to microlearning will lead to time, talent, and resources being consumed and utilized in different ways than your organization may be accustomed to. Part of your audit is understanding the skills and knowledge gaps of your team in not just developing a microlearning product but comprehending how the microlearning campaign needs to be designed to elicit performance measures.

Other factors that need to be considered include technology: Is your organization equipped with platforms to collect and analyze data for performance?

Your audit is a critical step; approach it with a 360-degree or holistic mindset. Knowing what it will take for your team to incorporate and sustain microlearning, in addition to how microlearning will modify engagement with the learning curriculum, allows you to speak in terms of cost-benefit analysis when you address stakeholders in management. A language most strategic leadership understands!

If you have an ongoing language barrier, it may behoove you to identify others who can be your allies. Speaking independently to a leader or working with a peer that has a knack for talking the same language as your leaders will also assist in building the common understanding.

Changing mindsets

With comprehension of microlearning solidified and an understanding within L&D of what it will take to bring an initiative to life, the next question is what will be changing the most. Is it form and function or attitudes and dispositions—or both?

Assess the following:

  • Are you comfortable sharing your professional opinion with leaders, stakeholders, and/or partners?
  • Does your organization adopt innovations quickly when it recognizes the value and potential for its organization?
  • Do you know your learning audience’s likes and dislikes?
  • Is your organization’s learning culture able to accommodate a paradigm that moves some learning into the workday and moves some ownership into the hands of the learners?

Approaches you can take:

  • As a learning leader, you should be comfortable sharing your professional point-of-view. However, learning leaders are not experts in every single subject in the performance-learning arena. It’s hard to be confident, let alone comfortable, when influencing change if you are not well informed. Armed with a common understanding of the purpose and benefits of microlearning and buy-in from your team (and hopefully a few other non-departmental champions!), you should be well prepared to navigate discussion at any level.
  • In assessing your organization’s willingness and ability to adopt innovations, you may need to think reflectively. For many, using the situation of how their organization transitioned to work-from-home over the last year is a great way to gain insights. The forced adoption of innovation that many organizations experienced put a magnifying glass on the most critical pain points. Identify these pain points, and, in your campaign, create contingency plans to prevent or mitigate them.

But how do you know what it will take to get your audience on board? One of the quickest methods is to select a current curriculum and identify a microlearning campaign that would complement it. Then create one or two microlearning products and execute with a small field trial to gain appropriate data. This gives a sense of likes and dislikes in your user base—as long as the sample group reflects a stratification of demographics from your overall organization.

The example of leadership training used in my previous article could apply here as well; you can also gain a sense of how your learning culture might need to change through a pilot. While some will embrace the convenience of microlearning, others may not see that benefit. Some learners may see microlearning as a welcomed change, while others see it as disruptive to the workflow.

Additional approaches to bypassing barriers

By now, if you have read both articles, you may recognize how the purpose and potential of microlearning can get anyone excited about investing in it for the organization. Its simplicity and its promise of performance growth offer a convincing argument for moving ahead and implementing it.

However, as this article has outlined, you may need to resolve several behind-the-scenes struggles before you can hope to see that come to fruition successfully.

Here are some final thoughts on ways to support yourself:

  • Create an internal project team—If you have other internal champions, invite them to the table. Having a project that works this conceptual initiative ensures dedicated time is allotted and that resources can assist you in getting audits done, pulling data, etc.
  • Partner with a trusted vendor or thought leader—If you have good rapport with your vendors or a thought leader, identify one or two who are willing to work with you on building the campaign or even products. Just be sure that their definition of microlearning holds with yours and what you envision.

If this article has accomplished its goal, it has demonstrated that a holistic, measured approach to gaining answers and insights will lead to developing champions and creating a glide path to change. The challenge for you might be the lift of it, but given the game plan above, you should be set up to make those moves successfully.

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