Black skid marks on road

In Defense of Microlearning

In microlearning by JD Dillon

If your car starts to skid, steer it in the direction you want the car to go.

Don’t over-correct or turn in the opposite direction. Steer purposefully into the skid until the issue is settled. This is solid advice for driving in icy and snowy conditions. It also comes in handy for workplace learning trends.

Microlearning is either a great strategy or a horrible idea – depending on with whom you are speaking. This polarization isn’t unique to microlearning. It happens with almost every L&D trend. It happened with mobile. It happened with social. It’s still happening with gamification. Why are we so quick to quibble amongst ourselves while the people we support are still waiting for us to get our acts together? 

Because we lack consistency as a profession. What is the definition of “microlearning” anyway (here’s mine)? And why weren’t we talking about it 5 years ago? We don’t have an industry-standard for microlearning … or eLearning … or anything really. While there are plenty of similarities across workplace learning functions, “how we do it here” is really the name of our game. After all, we have to fit our work into the day-to-day realities of the operation. And every company is unique, right? 

I’m firmly in the pro-microlearning camp. But I also acknowledge that “microlearning” is just a made-up word. It’s not new. It’s not ground-breaking. And the opposite of microlearning is NOT macrolearning! For me, it’s just a set of principles that help me help people. And they work. Frankly, we should have been doing these things for a long time. The same is true for gamification, mobile, social, etc. It’s not about the words and the hype. It’s about the fundamentals of how we think about workplace learning and the actions we can take to help people do their jobs better.

I’d love to retire the word “microlearning” and instead just talk about principles. If you attend my sessions or read my articles on the topic, you’ll notice how rarely I use the term. But I don’t get to make that decision for a global industry. L&D pros are trying to decipher yet another trend. And many business stakeholders have heard about it and want to know how it applies to them. It’s my job to help guide them through the buzz to find the real value in microlearning.

So I’ll keep turning into the skid.

  • JD Dillon is the world’s foremost expert on frontline learning and enablement. He is also one of the most prolific authors and speakers in the workplace learning community. For 20 years, JD has worked in operations and talent development with some of the world’s most dynamic organizations, including Disney, Kaplan and AMC. He is the founder of LearnGeek, a workplace performance advising and insights group. He is also Chief Learning Architect with Axonify, where he builds technology, content and services that enable frontline employees around the world to do their best work every day.