Microlearning vs Macrolearning in Training and L&D

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With ongoing, significant skills shortages in many sectors, employers are under pressure to attract and retain key talent to ensure they have the right skills to future-proof their workforce. It’s therefore essential that organisations have a robust learning and development strategy and ensure the quality of training on offer is effective, engaging, and easy to access.

These days, most people rely on their devices for fast access to information, and they are used to digesting short, snappy digital content on social media and video sharing platforms. This is mirrored when it comes to training, and at the same time, many employees want the ability to choose when and where they access their training, so they can learn at their own pace.

This is where microlearning can be a powerful development tool, as it delivers short, bite-sized nuggets of information, which can be accessed from anywhere at any time, making it easier for learners to incorporate it into their busy schedules.

The benefits of microlearning

“Microlearning has several benefits for individuals within the workplace,” remarks Helen Joy, management training expert and founder of People Spark. “As it is distilled down to short events or pieces of content, it is easier to fit around a working day. Keeping content short can help it to be retained, provided that is acted upon within a short period of time. It can also be more focused on areas that are specific to each learner and, as it encompasses many different types of media, it keeps people engaged. Learners can also revisit elements as and when they need them.”

Microlearning is something that many people do now as a matter of course, which makes it feel natural, adds Jackie Clifford, director of Clarity Learning and Development. “If we want to answer a question, we will Google it. If we want a more curated answer, we will consult Chat GPT. If we want to cook a new recipe, we will visit YouTube. All these are great examples of not only microlearning, but also of just-in-time learning.”

Delivering eLearning in the form of digestible microcontent can also help learners retain information. According to Shift Learning, knowledge transfer is 17% more effective when companies use microlearning compared to other methods; while a report by RPS Research found that microlearning improves focus and long-term knowledge retention by up to 80%.

“There’s also clear evidence that retention of learning is increased when learners choose to engage with it, rather than being forced to, so when they decide to reach out for a piece of microlearning that is relevant to a specific problem, there’s also an increased chance that the information or method they take on board, will stick,” says Anthony Fray, marketing manager at Eliesha Training.

Finally, many innovative microlearning platforms will have analytics capabilities, enabling HR leaders to, for example, track learner progress and measure engagement.

The different types of microlearning

There are many types of microlearning, such as videos, quizzes, games, podcasts, and micro-lectures. What you decide to use in your organisation depends on the specific learning objective of each employee, as well as the needs of both the business and individual.

“We all absorb and assimilate information differently,” comments Helen Joy. “Some people will find video or gamification more appealing, whereas for some it will be quizzes or reading articles. By keeping the variety of methods wide, it maintains engagement and appeals to all the different elements of our brains.”

Anthony Fray believes that regardless of the type of microlearning used in the workplace, HR leaders must ensure that the content is both informative and practical, rather than one or the other.

“The type of microlearning that has the most impact on organisational learning and development is that which first explains and justifies a tool or method, then provides a clear description of how to do it. In this way, the learner finishes the microlearning with not only an understanding of why they should try a new approach, but an idea of how they can do so.”

What is HR’s role in delivering microlearning?

HR leaders play a significant role in introducing microlearning to an organisation, and making sure that implementation, take-up, and engagement are all successful.

“To ensure an effective deployment of microlearning, HR teams must clearly signpost and

simplify access to it,” advises Anthony Fray. “Whether they are watching, reading, or listening to the content, learners must be told how to do so in a clear and simple manner. It can help to provide troubleshooting guides or FAQs, and to make real-time support available.”

HR’s ability to choose the content is also important, he adds. “They should conduct some level of Learning Needs Analysis to ensure that their chosen microlearning will help learners to solve genuine operational challenges. Grouping microlearning together under certain areas, such as wellbeing, leadership, or project management, or for certain job

roles, can be a good way to encourage learners to engage.”

HR leaders are crucial in ensuring that any learning meets the needs of the business as well as employees, adds Helen Joy. “In most organisations, they will have to be the early adopters as it is quite a new and innovative way of engaging learners in their own personal development. They will also need to be able to monitor take-up and be able to show how well it is being utilised and embedded in the workplace.”

How does microlearning compare with more traditional training methods?

Other, more traditional styles of learning in the workplace, such as macrolearning, typically take much longer to complete, and cover more in-depth areas or topics, to help learners gradually build their skills and knowledge. This type of learning often takes place in a classroom – either virtually or face-to-face – and usually requires the learner to take time away from the office.

“Macrolearning allows learners to delve deeply into a subject or skill, providing a comprehensive understanding and mastery,” explains Danielle Baron, education and wellbeing entrepreneur. “It enables learners to develop a thorough knowledge base and expertise in a particular area.”

Macrolearning in the workplace is often accredited and requires commitment, adds Gill Brabner, director of Resound Training & Development. “An example of this could be a leadership programme delivered over six to 12 months, exploring topics in depth, and increasing in complexity. There may also be an expectation of practical application or project work to embed skills during the programme.”

Macrolearning, therefore, requires considerable time, follows a rigid structure, and is usually the more expensive option. Microlearning, on the other hand, is more quick, flexible, and cost-effective. As people tend to have shorter attention spans these days, shorter bursts of learning can be more appealing.

However, it can also be worth using both microlearning and macrolearning in the workplace, as they can complement each other and provide a blended learning experience.

“Microlearning should never come at the expense of in-depth training,” comments Anthony Fray. “Interaction, self-reflection, and group discussion, facilitated by the classroom environment, is essential for significant behaviour change, to address complicated or delicate topics, or to allow for learners to practice and provide feedback about their learning.

“A successful approach to learning and development is to use both microlearning and macrolearning in tandem, often with the former complementing the latter. Access to relevant microlearning, for example, can prepare learners for a session of macrolearning, allowing them to arrive at the classroom with thoughts primed and ideas ready. It can also provide a quick refresher after the session, to embed the learning and ensure it transfers to the day-to-day workplace.”