May 22, 2020
Are you guilty of gazing longingly into your smartphone screen the moment you wake up or just before heading off to sleep? If so, you’re in good company (87 per cent of smartphone owners report such behaviours, to be precise).1 Like it or not, increasingly, we are becoming a device-dependent society, and checking our devices has become something of an automatic reflex. Smartphones are not only ubiquitous, but they have rewoven the fabric of how we live and work. It’s no wonder that learners want to access training courses anytime, anywhere, without the barrier of a slow and clunky desktop-based LMS.
AI-skeptics might assume that mobile learning is taking the human out of training, leaving us devoid of true connections. In reality, though, it doesn’t need to be a matter of either/or. Mobile microlearning used strategically can actually serve to enhance face-to-face learning and in-person interactions; and, I would go so far as to claim that a beautiful symbiosis exists between the two. When mobile microlearning and face-to-face interactions come together, both are more effective in terms of learning outcomes and engagement.
It is a common misconception that microlearning is a human/instructor replacement. In a recent study by the Association for Talent Development, only a minority of companies use microlearning to entirely replace face-to-face training.2 When looking at the use-cases for microlearning, Kapp and Defelice identify the four Ps—performance, persuasion, preparation and post-instruction.3 In terms of enhancing the quality of our face-to-face interactions, let’s zoom in on preparation and post-instruction.
Have you ever thought to flip the way your company approaches training? ‘Flipped learning’ or ‘Flipping the Classroom’ (FTC) is an approach that teachers have been using for decades, long before microlearning apps entered the scene. At the most basic level, flipped learning is the reversal of content exposure before teaching. As a teacher, it makes intuitive sense; it frees up precious class time for more interactive discussions and hands-on activities while boosting engagement and performance outcomes. Flipped content can be foundational pre-learning information or intentionally thought-provoking material that can be used as a springboard into face-to-face discussions. When learners come into face-to-face sessions having already partially processed information, and with their own take on it, they are naturally primed to take active participation roles. Furthermore, the scaffolding for learning has already been established, which in turns lowers the cognitive load. If we take randomised control-group studies that have been performed on university students, empirical evidence supports both increased performance and satisfaction among flipped classroom groups.4
With mobile-based microlearning now firmly embedded within the corporate training arsenal, the business world has now caught wind of the benefits of flipping training. Microlearning apps such as EdApp provide the ideal means to preface large-scale learning events; by priming learners with relevant micro content before an event, executive-led town hall meetings and strategy days become more engaging and inclusive. Companies can be creative in the way content is scaffolded, with interactive Q&A or short videos in their pre-learning toolkit. Microlearning apps can also be used as formative diagnostic tools, either for on-the-spot feedback during live sessions or in the form of pre or post-training assessments. By having a window into such analytics, companies can pivot and adapt training to where it is needed most.
A recent case-study from PopHealthCare demonstrates the practical wins mobile microlearning provides in the flipped context. Embarking on the large-scale project of electronic healthcare record training, Director of Clinical Education and Development, Rebecca Baker reported that using ‘microlearning as a prerequisite for classroom learning,’ cut training time in half. Importantly, the company followed up with post-instruction consolidation through the use of strategically timed instructional videos and e-blasts to reinforce learning and boost rendition rates.
We should always be cautious when making blanket statements such as these. In this case, what does “as good” mean? Also, for which learner population are we speaking? Some students with concentration issues find online learning more distracting than face-to-face learning. Others in the same population find the opposite since they are able to be on their own in a quiet room, away from the noise of others.
You can read more about the pros and cons here, but there is one thing we can say with absolute certainty: both online learning and face-to-face learning are valuable pedagogical tools. Both have their unique advantages. Each opens doors of learning for some students which would always remain locked via the other methodology. As a result, educators should practice using both, so they can see how best to apply them to their groups of learners.
Somewhere in-between the ‘two P’s’ (preparation and post-instruction), microlearning can be blended with formal and informal face-to-face training. First popularised within the tertiary sector, this blended model of learning is more frequently being used within the corporate sector to augment and complement on-site learning in a variety of contexts, from onboarding to scenario-based simulations.
Pandora provides an insightful retail case study on the effectiveness of a blended approach to microlearning through its use of EdApp. Pandora staff members reflected on how the interactive nature of social learning features within the app translated to in-person interactions, where ‘you were so competitive about it [training on EdApp] that you would go and quiz someone else when you got to work.’ For many staff members, training was something that they timed during their commute to work, purposefully exposing themselves to content immediately before application opportunities. ‘You go back, you relearn, and you bring those skills to the table when you walk in that door,’ one staff member commented. Furthermore, learning together as a virtual cohort on EdApp provided incidental in-person learning opportunities between colleagues, effectively continuing training conversations by choice offline and in applicable scenarios. It’s a continuous learning culture in action!
When companies do invest in face-to-face learning, whether that be in the form of direct instruction, small teams, or off-site strategy days, it’s important not to let those key takeaways slip through the cracks. Microlearning provides the ideal means to capture and build upon learnings during the post-instruction revision phase, delivering previously learnt content to learners at spaced intervals—the greatest weapon against the dreaded forgetting curve. Not only does micro-revision enhance training transfer for learners, but it provides invaluable formative data for employers and learning leaders to adapt future training directions.
Contrary to what you might hear from technophobic doomsayers, mobile microlearning is not about to stage a conspiratorial AI takeover, and nor is it about to send face-to-face training into extinction. Microlearning brings people together—virtually and face to face, facilitating meaningful conversations on and offline.