3 reasons why business leaders should care about microlearning

What do business leaders in your organization think about training? Do they like it? Do they find it a valuable use of time? Do they believe it has a positive impact on the business?

Let’s start even simpler – do your business leaders care about training at all?

The first half of my career was spent in management within big, high-volume customer service operations. Frankly, I didn’t think about training very much. Sure, I wanted my staff members to be capable of performing to my expectations. But I didn’t bother with details like learning management systems or adult learning theories. I was focused on the things for which I was held accountable: KPIs like attendance per staff hour and revenue per customer. Unfortunately, training was usually something that got in my way. I lost staff members for hours at a time and didn’t see any real improvement when they returned. But at least my name wasn’t on the delinquent list when it showed up in my email.

Eventually I came to understand the important of workplace learning – so much so that I do it for a living now. However, many managers still have the same mindset as I did 10+ years ago. Training isn’t at the top of their priority lists. So, when a new topic like microlearning pops up, it doesn’t stand out as something to which they should immediately pay attention. And I don’t blame them. L&D has showcased trend after trend, promise after promise that this time things will be different. But the impact to the business hasn’t improved despite conversations about things like eLearning, virtual learning, blended learning and social learning. Why is microlearning different? Why should I, as a frontline manager with plenty of things to do, care about this training concept?

Here are 3 BIG reasons why business leaders should care about microlearning, along with a few tips on how to grab their attention.

#1 – Microlearning is focused on business results.

Despite the term, microlearning really isn’t about learning. It’s a strategy for solving business problems by enabling people to grow their knowledge and change their behavior. This is a much more practical and familiar conversation for a business leader, who isn’t well-versed in L&D concepts. Historically, corporate training has usually been about two things: onboarding and compliance. Microlearning covers these topics but also expands the focus to include employees’ ever-changing knowledge and skill requirements.

The targeted nature of microlearning can help leaders keep pace with business priorities by making sure their staff is always ready to execute. In industries like retail, contact centers and sales, products and technology are no longer competitive differentiators. People are. Microlearning can strengthen this differentiation in ways traditional training strategies cannot.

TIP! Don’t approach business leaders with a story about “microlearning.” Instead, start the conversation with a focus on their biggest operational challenges. Show how you can help solve these business problems by helping their people improve their performance. Then, introduce microlearning principles as the foundation of your strategy.

#2 – Microlearning fits into the work day.

Staffing is often a leader’s primary lever when it comes to budget management. Therefore, they schedule just the number of people needed to get the work done. This is why training can become such a negative disruption to the operation. Pulling a contact center agent away from the phone for 1 hour represents lost revenue. If there isn’t a clear value proposition for this “unproductive time,” why would they volunteer their staff to participate?

Microlearning addresses this challenge head-on by building a structured habit of learning into the employee workflow. Rather than losing staff for 30 minutes to 2 hours, business leaders can stay focused on the operation because their teams are engaging in learning activities for just 5 minutes every day. Everyone has 5 minutes. And that 5 minutes of targeted, personalized learning activity can lead to considerable knowledge and behavior improvements over time.

TIP! Get familiar with your audience’s workflow before you engage business leaders in a microlearning conversation. Find the natural stopping points in the day so you can suggest a learning strategy that fits within the operation. Review the tools and devices staff uses on-the-job to determine how they can be used to support microlearning activities.

#3 – Microlearning actually works.

Whether its how Bloomingdale’s saves $2.2 million per year or how BT shortened call-handling time by 14 seconds, you can find plenty of real-world stories to validate your shift to microlearning. And these stories don’t focus on one-time L&D ROIs like reductions in training hours or printing costs. Microlearning is delivering results in the areas about which business leaders already care, including sales, shrink, productivity and risk. So, rather than try to convince them to try out a new learning strategy, you can focus the conversation on the business results they already want to see and credibly show how microlearning can get the job done.

TIP! Share relevant case studies with business leaders to set up for your microlearning conversations. Find out how similar organizations are applying microlearning principles and showcase their success. Use case studies from companies your managers know and respect, even if they aren’t in your industry.  

business leaders have had plenty of reasons to be less-than-enthusiastic about workplace training over the years. To many, learning is still something that looks and feels like school. But the real work frontline employees are doing to drive business outcomes doesn’t leave extra time for school work. Microlearning provides an alternative approach that fits within the operation and focuses on two things leaders already care about: people and results.

JD is one of the most prolific authors and speakers in workplace learning today. His practical approach integrates science, technology, storytelling and pure common sense to enable employees, improve performance and drive business results. For 20 years, JD has executed strategies for global organizations, including The Walt Disney Company.

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