Microlearning: The Truth and the Proof

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Good morning, good afternoon, and welcome today’s webinar. As always my name is Alec, and I’m going to be here to help answer any of your general or technical questions that you may have. But before we get started, I’d like to cover a few things you need to know about today’s session.

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Alright, so with us today, we have JD Dillon, the principal learning strategist at Axonify. He has spent 15 years designing and implementing learning and performance strategies for respected global organizations, including the Walt Disney Company, Kaplan, Brambles, and AMC Theaters. With his practical approach and ability to integrate science, technology, storytelling, and pure common sense, Dillon delivers modern solutions that enable employees, improve organizational performance, and drive business results. It’s always a pleasure to have JD with us, so with that, JD, let’s get started.


JD Dillon:

Thanks, Alec. Hi everybody, thanks for joining me today to talk about microlearning. So as you’ve noticed, microlearning, kind of a popular topic of conversation in workplace learning space right now. But at the same time, while it’s very popular, and there are a lot of presentations, and I spend a lot of time writing and speaking on the subject, something else you’ll find is that there’s a lot of swirl and a lot of noise around the concept of microlearning. In fact, if anyone here has been to multiple presentations or webinars about microlearning, chances are you’ve heard different things. So my desire today, my really only goal for the next hour, is to give you enough information, focus on the foundational principles, on the reality and the truth of this topic, so that you can become that much more dangerous when you go out into the world, when you’re talking to your peers, looking to implement these types of ideas, searching for a vendor partner, whatever you may be doing around the microlearning space, my hope today is to help kind of get past some of the myth and some of the noise, and really focus on what actually works and what we have seen is kind of proven in terms of success as related to microlearning.

As so effectively introduced by Alec, I’m JD, principal learning strategist at Axonify. To summarize that bio, I’m a corporate learning and operations guy. So I’ve been in this world for about 20 years now, and I come from the practitioner’s perspective. So I’ve been annealer a developer, building hands-on, rapid authoring tool content, the tools I particularly captivate, I’ve facilitated onboarding sessions for weeks at a time. I did all types of interesting things at Disney, so if anyone would like to have a side conversation about learning and development at Disney, happy to do that. But now I spend a lot of my time both engaging in the industry in these types of conversations with folks from various corporations and various practices from around the world, as well as working with Axonify with our perspective clients and our current clients in terms of how do we bring some of these ideas to life in order to make a meaningful change and have a meaningful impact inside the organization.

The stories I’m telling today and the perspective that I’m coming from is enabled by Axonify. It’s really the reason that I joined Axonify, about two years ago now, coming out of the corporate learning space, is to really find ways that I could scale these ideas, bring these to life, with the technology that’s proven to work. My overall desire today is you walk away with some fundamentals and the foundational principles that you can go into your organization tomorrow and bring some of these ideas to life. But you’ll see, though, we’ll be talking about some of the organizations that we work with at Axonify, and how microlearning principles have had a true, measurable impact on their business.

And ultimately the reason why I think microlearning is so popular, and why are we … we also interest, we’re going to webinars, we’re talking about a change in the way that we’re approaching workplace learning and helping people do their jobs better every day is the fact that, or the reality, that place-and-time learning simply cannot keep up. I’m never going to say there’s anything wrong with classes or [inaudible 00:04:55]-learning, or these types of ideas, but as I experience when I work for organizations like Disney and Kaplan, it was hard to keep up with the pace of change. It was hard to remove people from the operation. I was always in a battle with front-line management, and as a front-line manager, I was on the other side, saying, “You can’t take my people away! I need them to do the job.”

So how can we keep up with the pace of change within the business every time a new product is released, every time a process is slightly updated, how can we do what we need to do, but how can we do it in a way that’s not disruptive to the employee, the management team, and overall the business and the customer’s you’re trying to support. So the big challenge is that place-in-time learning, anything that requires people to go somewhere in order to learn, has a hard time keeping up with what modern business requires.

Simultaneously, I see our profession as being at a meaningful crossroads. Feels like we’re always in a mode to try new things and explore new trends, and these types of ideas, but I think there’s an interesting kind of confluence of factors taking place that are leading to the large interest in microlearning and some of the results that we’re seeing. It’s everything from the fact that, like I said, we’re having a hard time using our existing tactics to meet business challenges. There’s an increasing interest and demand for us to prove value. To show that like any other function inside the organization, we’re having an impact on the business consistently. There’s a growing interest in ideas like the science of learning. It’s things that, again, not new, the idea that people forget and memory works a particular way is not a new revelation. It’s simply something that we’ve unfortunately ignored for too long. But there’s a resurge in that conversation. And then there’s obviously the evolution in terms of technology. We have new ways to reach people, especially in the scale of a modern business, that are giving us new ideas and new opportunities.

So we start to put these different elements altogether, it leads to a conversation like the one that we’re having around microlearning. Even before the term “microlearning” was a big deal, because honestly, how many of you had heard that word before two years ago? Not a lot. And I’ve been doing this type of work for a decade at this point. I wasn’t calling it microlearning, but now this is the theme under which we’re having a conversation about these types of principles. And as part of our conversation today, I’m going to share a couple of different stories from different organizations who’re applying all of the same principles that I’ll be talking about today, but what you want to really take note of is the fact that these organizations have employees who are doing noticeably different jobs. Working in a retail environment, or a manufacturing environment, professional sales environment, very different worlds. And they’re trying to solve different types of problems, whether it be safety-related, sales-related, customer service-related, but it’s the foundational principles and the realities of how microlearning works that are bringing the success that we’ll share to these different organizations today. So those are the stories that I’ll be sharing in just a little bit.

And what these organizations have come to recognize, and I firmly believe, that microlearning is an essential component of a modern corporate learning strategy. These ideas should be embedded in the philosophies and the way that we help people do their jobs better every day. I will not say, and you’ll continually hear me mention, that this isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. This isn’t going from where you are today to microlearning. This is how do you bring microlearning in in order to become a meaningful foundational component of everything that you’re doing to help people do their jobs. But to do that, we’ve got to figure out what is this and where do we stand? Because if you google microlearning and you start to read articles, people are coming from every which direction. If you’re looking for potentially a technology partner, you’ll notice the word microlearning is pretty much slapped on everyone’s technology, when it wasn’t really there last year. So how did they not change the platform but suddenly are doing a different thing?

So how do you get past the noise when people are saying different things about the same subject? So to get started, I really want to address some common myths. What are the most popular questions that I get when I’m at a conference, or when I write content about microlearning. Where does some of the confusion lie? And once you get past these ideas, I think it’s much easier to focus down on what’s really important as opposed to the noise and the buzz that’s surrounding this concept right now.

So to dive in, the first and the most common myth I hear is about duration. I hear people say things like microlearning should be less than insert number of minutes here. And I’m going to dispute that argument. We’re not talking about duration. I’m never going to sit here and say you need to do something that’s less than two minutes. Because I don’t have anything to back that particular statement up. It’s not about duration, it’s about focus. So the idea that we’re going to focus down on a specific problem we’re trying to solve within the context of what your employees are doing every day. Yes, microlearning and the types of content I’m going to talk about tend to be smaller than large-form courses, half and hour to an hour elearning modules, full day experiences. That’s because we’re not trying to solve everything at the same time, we’re finding one specific problem, a measurable problem, and we’re going to find the right way to help fix it, but within the reality of what’s happening in the workplace every day. In the examples I’ll share, we’ll go there. So it’s not about duration. Hopefully none came looking for how many minutes is anything supposed to be. It’s about focusing down on the specific problem and doing the right things to help people solve that problem.

Myth number two is anything with the word millennial in it. Hopefully everyone here is with me, and if you’ve ever seen me talk before or read anything I’ve written, I have a very hard line against anything about generations in the workplace. So I constantly hear things about, “Well, because millennials grew up with technology, and they’re digital natives, don’t ya know? So obviously they want to learn differently than everybody else.” I wholeheartedly disagree, and everything that I’ve seen over the past several years with Axonify proves otherwise. It’s not about age. This is about how to support everyone in the workplace based on where they are. The reality is, if someone has worked in your company for 35 years, they come with a variety of different foundational knowledge, experience, they’re context is considerably different than someone who joined your company yesterday. Sure, they’re ages are different, but it’s not fundamentally about age, or digital native, or what device they grew up with. It’s about the fact they’re coming from different places. The conversation we’re having today and what microlearning can help you do is better address those individual needs where the employee is today. So it’s not about different ages treated different ways, it’s about the fact that everyone learns similarly, but everyone is very different in terms of where they’re coming from. So that’s where the focus should be, not age.

We often hear that microlearning is specifically about video. So this is maybe about short-form video. My comment is often that if you take a ten-minute video and you make it five, two-minute videos, you just made a ten-minute video with bathroom breaks in between. So this is not just about how to use video to support people in terms of learning and performance. Video can be included. Some of the examples I’ll talk about, people are using video, short-form, targeted specific video content to help get information across. But this is about expanding the greater toolkit of resources you can use to help people do their jobs better. Because I always say, why build a course when a video will do the job? While build a video when a job aid will do the trick? So we’re putting every card we’ve got, every tactic on the table, that we can use to help people ultimately succeed.

Microlearning is completely self-directed. So there’s a lot of conversation out there about making content available on demand. This something people can pull in the moment of need. Which I completely agree with. A big part of the puzzle overall is enabling people to solve problems when it comes up. When there’s a customer in front of you and you don’t know the answer, can you find the answer? So the ideas of performance support and on-demand knowledge are a critical part of this overall package. But that’s not entirely what microlearning is in my experience. It’s about balancing. Because there are plenty of problems in self-direction, and people going out finding what they need. At the same time, the business has priorities. Compliance still exists. Regulations still exist. There are things that you are expected to learn and develop as part of your job, and there are also gaps that you simply don’t know you have. So this is really about creating a balance between the push-and-pull reality of workplace learning. Helping meet people where they are and enabling them to go further if they would like to, or to diversify their learning experience if they’d like to, but also to help simplify the push component, the directed component. What do people have to do for the right reasons in order for the business to be successful?

And finally the last myth I’d like to address is the idea I mentioned earlier that this is somehow a replacement. That you’re going to try to go from where you are today, with all of the courses you’ve built, the instructor-led content, your training team, and completely shift gears to do just microlearning now. And that’s not the case. Like I said, everything else you’re doing doesn’t necessarily go away. You’re not going to completely eliminate the classroom in most cases, but what you can do is use it more effectively. Use it more specifically. The idea is that place-and-time learning no longer becomes the default. It’s not the only thing we can do to help people do their jobs better. It’s about using everything we’re talking about today to augment your overall learning strategy. So you’re going to have a much better reason if you’re going to pull people off the floor, into a classroom environment to have a dedicated conversation. It can be less about information delivery, more about conversation and practice, getting real value out of your different tools and tactics, rather than having to consistently go back to the same thing every time when it’s not meeting the needs and the pace of the business.

So, once those ideas are out of the way, hopefully I didn’t ruin anybody’s intent or question for coming here today, but it comes down to kind of a final summary of what is microlearning? How do we define it? What are we talking about so I can be a little bit less vague?

To define it, it starts with the fact that it’s our recognition and our acknowledgement that we have to overcome the realities of workplace learning to help people do their jobs better. We’ve got to change and evolve our practices in order to keep up with the needs of the employees within our business. This is an adaptation of the famous person, modern learner infographic. It’s just, all the data says to me is the workplace has evolved, what’s expected of people has evolved, and the pace of business accelerates. We have to do the same to be there when people need us. So to create a definition, here is what we’re focused on within my team in Axonify around what microlearning really is.

So instead of reading everything on screen, I want to focus on a couple of key components. Things like, fitting into the workflow. So again, figuring what’s the context, what are people doing everyday, where are they doing it, and how do we go to them rather than making them come to us. It has to be engaging, something that people actually want to do. In too many organizations, training is something that is done to people. This is about making it something that people see clear value in that they want to engage with and they see that there’s a reason to dedicate their time and effort to continuous learning and training. Based on how people actually learn, so not being the easiest method for us to deliver, which we’ve historically done, pulling someone into the back room to do eight hours of elearning was never a good idea. But it’s administratively simpler than trying to do it some other way. With modern tools and tactics and these types of fundamental principles, we can flip the switch and actually deliver learning and support in the ways that people actually learn.

Adapting, again, to the needs of the individual, I find microlearning to be a great way to get into the idea of adaptive and personalized learning. This is going to create … if you’re interested in that topic as well, something that I’m continuing to explore with the team at Axonify, and something that we’re doing with our customers every day, the idea here that microing really sets the stage to be able to address those individual needs.

And then the last line, driving business results. Because this is not learning for the sake of learning, no one goes to work to learn. They go to work to do the job. This is about helping us take that same posture in saying if we can’t measure the result, we’re not trying to solve a tangible problem, why are we doing it? So the idea here is to, again, focus down on the things that we can do to help the business and show clearer value in terms of what we’re providing as a learning and development team.

When I say microlearning, that’s the definition and the mindset everyone is in here today. And again, the idea is that’s not just about a learning and development strategy, it’s not just about types of content, it’s really about how we think about what we do. How we think about how we can bring support and learning opportunities into the world of the employee to help them get better where they specifically need to get better in the way that best suits them. So that is what I mean by microlearning, and kind of hopefully the kind of mindset and the shift required, and every that is here today.

And honest opinion, when I go into different organizations or work with different partners, often everything I’ve said right now makes pretty much common sense to an operational audience. You talk to a vice president in manufacturing, and you talk about bringing learning and support into their environment, and helping them solve real problems, and these types of ideas, it tends to resonate pretty quickly. Because again, their focus is on solving problems, get business results, help the people.

I often have the biggest challenge with learning and development audiences. Because again, we have baggage. We came from a certain place. We see our value in many times, in what we’re doing, how we do what we do. The types of content we deliver. In some cases, our value’s the fact that we are the trainer in front of the classroom for multiple weeks at a time. That does potentially have to shift. So when you go back into your organization, you’re working with your teams, this is really a conversation that needs to start within L&D that can then really help effectively sway the rest of the organization and your operational audience and your stakeholders look at the relationship between learning and business results.

So when it comes to doing this well, to executing microlearning, to bringing this definition to life, there are six key principles. So really quickly, the things that you have to do, or the things that you have to think about in order to make microlearning work, regardless of your use case, your industry, where you’re located, what kind of team you have, all those different variables that come into play. As you’ll see in the examples that I’ll share, this is going to look different in every organization. If you work in food and beverage, or in hospitality, customer service, sales, the principles all apply. And that’s what I continue to see in the work that we do. However, the context and how you bring them to life will shift based on what’s right for your organization, your culture. But these are the six principles that I believe need to be in play to make microlearning successful and to help you really solve some meaningful problems.

So number one is that clear business goal. If you and your stakeholders can’t articulate the problem that you’re trying to solve and how you’re going to measure that outcome, you’re going to have a problem. Because again, this isn’t about learning for the sake of learning, this is learning and support in order to solve a specific, measurable business problem and to justify the value of everything that we’re doing. So our methodology that I’ll share in a bit is really focused on the outcome, the result that we’re trying to get for the business and then working our way backward to the right learning and development strategy. But it all starts right there at the clear business goal.

Number two is identifying what are the specific behaviors that need to be executed for the business goal to be achieved. This goes deeper than what we typically define as competency. Because you can’t necessarily measure a competency, you can’t necessarily see it in real life. I often use active listening as the example. How do you measure active listening? I think you have to go deeper than competency. This is really defining what does success look like and what has to change in order for us to get where we need to go? So that requires a challenging conversation in some cases between a learning and development professional and the business stakeholder to really identify what does good look like, how is performance measured, and how can we use that to inform the way that we’re going to support people. So two is desired behavior. Really identifying specific, measurable, observable behavior.

Three is learning science. So I don’t expect anyone here to be a cognitive psychologist. If you are, thumbs up to you! There are some great resources that I’ll provide links to in the future that if you want to dig deeper into the sciences and realities of learning how memory functions, we have to use these principles and present them to the people that we’re working with as the foundation of how we’re approaching things. If your business stakeholders say no, people have to go into the back room and do eight ours of elearning, you have to articulate to them in a clear way why that’s never been a good idea and that learning simply doesn’t work that way. So principles like spaced repetition, the idea that the more often people are exposed to information, the more likely they are to retain and be able to apply that information at the moment of need.

Retrieval practice. We’ve all experienced the science of retrieval practice if we’ve used flashcards. There’s a reason that you had a harder time memorizing information by re-reading the book over and over again as compared to when you challenge yourself with flashcards. Because pulling information out of your head often creates longer term retention than pushing more and more information into your head repeatedly. So, again, simple scientific principle like spaced repetition, retrieval practice, confidence based assessment, merging the realities of what people know and how confident they are to apply, really makes a difference and you’ll see that one of our stories. Using the realities in these simple principles of learning science as a foundational way to guide how we design a learning solution.

Number four is the reality of anytime, anywhere. Like I said, learning needs to get more like pizza. More people eat pizza because people bring the pizza to you, you don’t have to go get the pizza. Kind of the same principle here. How do we bring learning support opportunities to employees rather than requiring them to always remove themselves from the operation. So this requires you understanding what does their world look like, what are their access points for technology, how can you take advantage of a POS system, maybe, if you have cashiers on your team, or mobile devices if you have a mobile-enabled sales team out there. So how do we bring these learning and support moments and resources to employees as often as possible to, again, increase those touch points, apply the scientific principles I just mentioned, and really drive retention and behavior change over time.

I mentioned expanding the toolkit, so again, matching the format to what the employees need. So figuring out what’s the right format to deliver this message. As I mentioned earlier, it could be as simple as a checklist, a job aid, you could require a video to explain some more complex topics. It could be an interactive module. Everything’s on the table. But the question becomes one, what’s the right format for the message in this particular audience? All things considered, whether it be language, physical location, etc. And then also what’s the right format to be consumed within the context of work? A video might be a great idea for a call center environment where people are sitting at a computer every day, have a headset on, and can really listen to narration in the video. But if you’re talking about a manufacturing audience where the access points are within a busy plant environment, and you may or may not have access to sound, you may not be able to hear it, it might not be the right format for that message deliver in that opportunity. So figuring out what’s the right format and the right type of content we’re going to build based on the context, how it’s going to be used.

And finally, data. This is about using data in a more informed way. Not just what people complete, not just what score they got on a test that one time, but continuously measuring, continuously assessing so that we know what is their current need. Again, data will look different in organizations, but it could be measuring what people know, constantly quizzing and testing people to know where their knowledge is today. It could be measuring and observing behavior and using that data to inform when people need refresh training. It could be using business result data to identify when people aren’t executing the right behaviors, when they’re not getting results they need to see on the job, how do we use that data to inform how we provide learning and support.

So it’s these six ideas that are being used by all of the organizations that I’ve worked with, but specifically the examples we’re showing today, that are making them successful with microlearning. So again, different context, different companies, but it’s these six things they’re doing the same way within what the problems that they’re trying to solve that are bringing it to life and making it microlearning done well.

And ultimately, what you’ll see is that microlearning and these principles are helping the learning and development teams balance and address the needs of the business, like I said, potentially the push requirements, everything from compliance, business change, new requirements from a product or service perspective, to the needs of the individual. Is this someone who just joined the company? Is this someone who’s been here for 35 years? Meeting that balancing act is what I think microlearning does really well.

The experience fundamentally shifts. The experience that I’m going to show in these four different companies looks something like this. Again, a little bit different, it’ll look a little bit different inside of your organization. But when you apply these six different principles, you bring a learning experience more consistently and continuously to the employee what starts to happen. Because in a lot of cases, the learning experience today may look like we built an elearning module, we push it at everyone, they complete the elearning module, learning experience complete. We know where that gets us. We know that people forget. We know they’re not ready to apply at the moment of need. We chase people in order to complete those moments, etc, etc. So by bringing these principles to life, you see a shift in the fundamental experience.

So this is what I think a microlearning, continuous learning experience looks like in a modern organization. One is founded on that access point, that on-demand knowledge. That community that you can go to when you need it. So this could be anything from searchable knowledge repository, a wiki, an effective use of SharePoint, somewhere that people know they can go to find information when they need it. No one goes to the elearning from six months ago in order to find that one thing they forgot. So this is making sure information is available, whether it’s an on-demand resource, maybe it’s a person, or a list of subject matter experts. People know where to go when they need to pull information.

From there, it’s providing and kind of restructuring how we use some familiar tactics. Everything from how we motivate people to engage. We talk about continuous learning. You’ll see that the organization’s working with, employees are accessing continuous learning experiences multiple times a week. I guarantee if you try to get your existing employees to do training multiple times a week, you’d have a hard time. A lot of organizations have a hard time getting people once a month, once a quarter, to complete some online training. So how do we trigger the right motivations, show that there’s value, make it an engaging, and dare I say fun experience, to have people continuously coming back?

The idea of reinforcement, making sure people don’t just get the information once, we use ideas like spaced repetition to make sure people are continuously challenged and continuously assessed in their knowledge to make sure they retain long-term. A big part of this is going to be coaching. So making sure that managers are a part of this experience. I believe they’re the most important people in learning and development in the modern business world. So how do we use them as part of the continuously learning experience as the boots on the ground, per se. We already talked a lot about data, how we’re using that to inform this experience, and ultimately also getting feedback and understanding what’s working and not working for the employee. This isn’t, like I said, just a push experience, they have to do this because we said so. This is also about engaging people, understanding where they are, what is working, what isn’t, taking that feedback and using it to inform the puzzle.

We continue to use a lot of the inputs we do today. Like I said, you’re probably still going to use event-based training, different types of online content, messaging, practice experiences, these types of ideas. But we use those when they’re the right type of experience based on how complex this is, who the audience is, all those different things. But it’s not the default. We feed that into this continuous learning experience, and that’s the way that we get results. That’s where these organizations are seeing not just knowledge growth but tangible business results, and improving the overall experience for everyone.
So this is how we build an experience that focuses on the individual, really drives home that knowledge, that need-to-know information, allows them to pull additional information as needed, allows us to insert the right elements when there’s a big priority or a big requirement, and ultimately get the results we’re looking for. So this is in my kind of estimation and in my experience what continuous learning can look and feel like for an employee today.

So what does that experience look like in these four different organizations? What problems were they trying to solve? And how did these different tactics come to life in ways that really fit that organization? So we’re going to start it with At Home. So if you have not heard of At Home, they’re a home décor superstore retail environment, often in the middle of the United States, headquartered out of Texas, I believe. So the challenge here is that At Home is looking at rapid expansion. So a lot of retailers are challenged today, and the face of retail is shifting, the consumer expectation of a retail experience is shifting. Simultaneously, At Home is seeing continuous expansion with new stores, adding associates. But at the same time, if you’ve ever been in an At Home store, or maybe a similar type of big box home décor store, they have limited staffing. They only have a few people on the floor, a few people at the cash register to meet the needs of the customer.

So they can’t pull half their staff off the floor at any given time, because they just don’t have that many people. So the question was how do they engage their associates in continuous learning, help drive up their knowledge when it comes to sales and customer service, solve some problems around things like safety incidents in a retail environment, but also how do you onboard people in that type of environment without doing the put them in the back room and have them do eight hours of elearning thing?

So the At Home experience was, using as an example, break room chaos, to introduce this microlearning experience. That short-form, couple of moments a day, but really focused on what is the most important thing the business is looking at now. So I know At Home started with safe dances, they wanted to make sure that the environment was as safe as possible, reduce incidences as much as they can, and use that to introduce this new type of learning experience.

So when you look at the results from At Home, what’s interesting here is, one, there’s obviously a meaningful drop in safety incidents. Two, there’s that reduction in onboarding time. I know the At Home team was flying a lot of people around, moving a lot of people to visit store-to-store in order to support the onboarding of new associates. In this case, by introducing a continuous digital experience, they were able to much more rapidly onboard someone, because it became a natural part of their day. That couple of minutes every day to iteratively grow their knowledge of what it meant to work within the store.

The two big numbers are the ones in the corners for me. One, the voluntary participation. The fact that 94% of their employees are doing this on their own. This is not something people are forced or required to do. People are engaging consistently in on-demand learning experiences because it fits them. It’s specifically about what they need in order to do their jobs better. When people see value, people will dedicate their time on the job to that experience. And then on the other side, the rapid acceleration of compliance. The fact that they’re able to see 78% of their employees meet compliance in a particular topic when it often took weeks, if not months to get to that number. So because they inserted this learning habit, they have the access point to their employees consistently on almost a daily basis, they’re able to use that access point not just to drive safety information into the organization, but when there’s a compliance need, and all of us have similar check the box type moments, they’re able to hit that compliance goal much faster than they were with a traditional approach to learning.

So At Home I think is a great example of a retail environment with limited staffing but finding a way to introduce a habit of microlearning into the daily experience to get, again, measurable results that are meaningful to the business.

Let’s shift gears and go into a call center environment and talk about BT. So BT was kind of in a similar place where they were onboarding a large number of call center associates as quickly as they could. But in this case, again, different environment. So these folks aren’t working within a store environment away from technology, they’re seated when they’re doing their job in a call center at a computer. But before they can do that, they’re often in the classrooms for weeks. And I know having worked in a call center environment, in some cases it can be months of classroom activity in order to get someone on the phone. And if you’ve ever worked in the call center, you know that that’s what managers want. People on the phone. So how do you get agents prepared faster, get them out of the classroom, onto the phones where they’re going to be helpful to the business and to the customer, but do it without a degradation in knowledge? They have to know what they need to know in order to be able to do the job.

So in this case, what BT was able to do was introduce microlearning as a way to not only shorten the onboarding experience, but really extend it. When we talk about onboard, often you have to get as much information as you can into that classroom time, because when they get into the operation, they’re gone. But when you introduce this idea of continuous learning a couple minutes a day, and really focus on what’s going to make them better at the job, you don’t have to do as much in onboarding anymore. In the classroom you can focus on the things that are really valuable in the classroom, those things you can’t get on the phone until you know, but then people can continuously grow their knowledge by accessing a microlearning experience, answering a couple of questions per day. Watching a video on a new topic. And it’s that type of approach that leads to the results you see on screen.

So again, not just a reduction in onboarding time, but a noticeable improvement and a projected improvement in terms of meaningful call center metrics. So everything from reduction of repeat customer calls, reduction in call handling time, and an overall improvement in customer value. Because if you work in a call center environment, customer service is priority. So by shifting from just a place-and-time idea to the idea of inserting short bytes of training continuously over time that were very focused on meaningful objectives, these are the type of results that BT has seen.

And an interesting quote. So it’s not just, again, about the numbers. We’re talking about pl, and how we’re helping people. What does it feel like, and what does it look like when the experience shifts and microlearning is introduced? I think this is an interesting quote from specifically a manager in that environment talking about a comparison between the advisors that have gone through the onboarding experience and the microlearning experience as compared to those who haven’t. And speaking really about not just the knowledge, but how confident people are in terms of their products and services and really applying that information on the job. As I mentioned a little bit earlier, it’s not just what you know, do you have the confidence necessary to apply it to solve the problem when it happens. And by aligning learning with how people actually learn, making it something that’s constantly there, a habit inside of your organization, it also grows that competence. So it’s great to hear from someone in the operation that this is visibly shifting because of the introduction of these principles.

Third story we’re not shifting into the manufacturing world. So again, different environment, 52 global manufacturing sites, and think about all of the potential complexity that comes with that. So we’re in physically different locations with folks who are doing very challenging safety-focused work every day. And what Merck was really looking to do was take their safety culture to the next step. And in organizations that I work with otherwise, we talk about things like safety and everyone wants to drive a safety culture, especially in this type of environment where things can be potentially dangerous. But the question is, how do you tackle culture? It can be this nebulous thing, right? So rather than strategize everything about culture, I see it as how do you introduce, again, that habit of learning and that conversation, that awareness and focus on safety as part of the daily experience and not be reactive, which what I think a lot of organizations are. Someone comes through the door, you train them on all of the safety requirements, and then you send them out to do the job, they’re doing the job, something potentially happens, or maybe it’s a certain time of the year, and then you train everybody again, and then you repeat. What happens in the interim is the question.

So how do you, again, embed this habit of microlearning to make it part of the experience? So in this case, we’re using access points within the manufacturing environment, so it could be kiosks, as an example, within the manufacturing location, and we’re inserting just again, a couple minutes a day of really focus, in a lot of cases, question-driven learning content about safety-critical topics. And what it does is, and in Merck and in other organizations, it really starts that conversation. It shows that safety and safety culture isn’t just lip service, this is something we meaningfully care about, and something that we’re going to make part of every day in order to get the types of results you see here.

So, again, meaningful decreases in recorded incident rates, decreases in lost time, knowledge growth, but again looking back at that voluntary participation. When we talk about things like generations, or people learning different ways in the workplace, I think it’s interesting that you see the level of voluntary participation from a retail environment to a call center environment to a manufacturing environment, different people, different experiences, different types of jobs, but when you approach learning in this way, and you make it something that’s clear value and engaging, people will do it without having to be chased. So I think Merck is an interesting story when you think about the manufacturing context.

And now let’s shift finally to Ethicon. So, in this case, we’re talking about professional sales environment. So these are digitally enabled folks who are out and about, going into doctors offices, having very complex product-oriented conversations about medical devices. So well beyond my pay grade when it comes to understanding this content, but if anyone here supports a sales team, or has ever been part of a sales team, you know it’s hard to get sales people to do anything but sell, right? That’s their motivation. That’s what their job is, that’s what they’re expected to do. So in a lot of cases you either have to chase people down in order to complete training, or there’s always that fly everybody in once a year thing in order to give them all the updates at one time, and then they go back out to do the job.

Based on everything that we’ve said so far, it’s not a surprise that that doesn’t work. And, how many of us have the resources to do that? Do you have the financial ability and the time to bring everyone home in order to do the training and to send everyone back out? So in this case, it was again, introducing that habit of learning that really focused targeted experience, but in the right context here. So this is not a manufacturing environment where you can find a couple of minutes of downtime in the day, or a retail environment where it’s often where people clock in and out. These folks are not clocking in and out. But, there are downtime moments in the professional sales experience. Potentially when you’re in a waiting room waiting for the doctor to speak with you. Potentially when you’re in the airport waiting for your next flight. So there are those moments, and that’s where you fit learning experience in.

So in this case, it’s a combination of access to on-demand information, people being able to pull up information about a particular device, and if they’re going into have a meeting with right now, so they can have a quick refresher. As well as things like refresher questions and short-form content that again, increases not just knowledge but confidence in that knowledge when you’re having a very complex conversation with an audience and a customer who really knows what they’re talking about because they’re doctors. So you have to be able to express that confidence to have the influence that you need as a salesperson.

So again, in this case you’re seeing proven increased knowledge and increased competence as measured over time. But again, 80% plus voluntary participation within a professional sales team that is often remote. That, for me, is a huge number as someone who has supported sales folks in different organizations over the past several years. And again, looking at the feedback, not just from management where we had the previous quote from, but this is from an actual sales rep who is using microlearning as part of their ongoing learning experience, and it’s about that comfort and the fact that they can speak intelligently and have confidence in what they’re trying to do, because they’re not doctors. They don’t have the depth of background in many cases that their customers do. But because we’re really focusing the training experience, giving them the information when they need it so that they’re prepared to go in and have that conversation, they’re more confident in being able to apply that information. I think that’s what we all want, not just knowledgeable employees, but people who are ready to use that knowledge when the moment arrives.

So how do you in your organization, because you are … maybe you are from those four companies? Hi, if you are. But if you’re not from those organizations, how do you apply these principles, build your own microlearning strategy, so that you can solve the problems that are meaningful to you, whether it’s product knowledge and confidence like Ethicon, safety like at Merck, safety and onboarding scenarios like at At Home, or call center type environment and onboarding scenarios like we talked about at BT.

So here are a set of steps and a little bit of a process to bringing these ideas to life from front to back inside of any organization. So step number one is the mentality thing. Like I said, if we don’t start thinking about how we help people do their jobs every day in a different way, none of this works. So we have to break out of the idea that everything requires a course, or that video is the only way, or any of those kind of false assumptions that we have, and really expand the toolkit. So one, it’s start shifting the mentality in the way we think about learning, and then expanding the toolkit to include all of our potential options. Like I said, everything is on the table, whether it’s building a job aid, shooting a video, building an elearning module, potentially using courses and longer form stuff. But what’s the right solution for this problem for this particular audience?

To figure that out, step number three is getting closer to the work flow. We have to understand what the reality of the day-to-day is for the audience we’re trying to support. And we can’t just make assumptions. And in many cases we can’t just believe what we’re told by a subject matter expert or stakeholder. I always recommend getting in there and really understanding. One of the great things I think about this profession is that a lot of us, including myself, came from operational environments. I know what it feels like to be a front-line cast member in the world’s busiest theme park. I know what it is to manage the world’s busiest rollercoaster. So it grounds me when I think about what learning should look and feel like every day because I’ve experienced it. So if you’ve had those experiences, you could bring those to the table. If you have not been a front-line employee, maybe not in the organization you currently work for, how do you get closer to the end user experience to understand what their day-to-day looks like? What they’re held responsible for? How they use their time? Where they physically spend the majority of their time? And another big question, especially when we’re talking about digital, scalable learning experiences, what technology are they using?

Whenever I go into a new organization and I walk a store environment or a plant environment, I’m always looking for access points. If you look at the gentlemen on screen, I notice the fact that he’s using a handheld as part of his job. If they’re using a POS unit, I’m going to notice. I’m going to notice the time clock. We have one organization we work with that actually completes learning experiences on the scales in their deli, as they’re retail grocery environment. I did not know that deli scales were internet connected devices, apparently they are now. So that’s another option. So how do you understand what resources people are using as part of the work every day so that you can see how do we leverage that as part of the puzzle we’re trying to put together.

Number four, find a business problem. So you’re thinking about learning differently, you’re understanding what the day-to-day looks like for the employees, starting to think about how we’re going to insert support experiences, but what problem we’ve got to try to solve, which is really going to inform the equation of what we’re ultimately going to do, and maybe what we’re going to build. So talking with and challenging your stakeholders to say what’s keeping them up at night, what are the big deliverables that are expected of them, what are the KPI’s they’re most concerned about. If you work in a safety-critical environment, obviously that’s probably going to be a topic of conversation. If you support any type of retail or sales environment, customer service-types ideas. How are they measuring the success of their business? Because we’re ultimately going to want to measure the success of our learning and support in the same ways. So finding what are the most critical business problems, because when you can solve them, and like with the stories that I shared, and you can show numbers, and you can show an impact, you grow trust and you grow value in the organization, and you now have more opportunities to do what you need to do. So finding a business problem is critical.

Number five is using a results-based approach to solving that problem. So this expands on what we talked about earlier in terms of identifying that clear, measurable business goal, and we’re working backwards to the content that we want to build. Too often we build content for the sake of content, and we can’t connect it to anything. That’s why there’s a big question around ROI and value of learning in the workplace. So what we’re going to do is start at the result, whether it’s customer service, compliance, sales, satisfaction, any of these types of things, and then work backwards to what do people need to do? What is an observable, measurable behavior that is required, and what is the change required to help us meet that goal? What’s the knowledge necessary to execute on that behavior? So what do people have to know in order to do what’s necessary on the job? And then what is the best way to drive that knowledge home to enable that change in behavior to the result?

And like I said, it could be a job aid, could be a video, could be an interactive module, could be a range of different things from our toolkit, but it needs to be the right type of content and the right medium in order to drive this value change home. So as an example, if I can click effectively, let’s look at maybe we want to reduce back injuries. So again, finding a measurable version, not just … safety is not a goal, right? People talk, we obviously want the entire workplace to be safe, but what is specifically calling incidents within this environment? Maybe back injuries are the biggest challenge we’re having today. And we want to reduce that by 20% in order to improve the overall safety experience. So then working backwards, what’s the behavior that needs to be demonstrated.

Well we’re going to specifically identify what a safe lift looks like. If anyone’s worked in a safety-critical environment, it’s things like bending at the knees, not with your back, keeping your elbows in, these different types of ideas. So clarifying what is specifically an observable safe lift. Working backwards, people who are executing in the operation need awareness of safe lifting behaviors. They need to understand what causes injuries. Often people are trained how to lift when they walk through the door, but over time, bad habits develop, shortcuts develop, and that’s where you start to see people getting hurt. So we’ve connected, we’re trying to get this result, this is what it looks like on the job, this is the knowledge necessary to get the execution, and then what’s the content?

So in this case, and in a lot of cases, we’ve addressed this particular challenge with two different methodologies. One, an instructional video, because telling someone what a safe lift looks like is one thing, but showing them and reminding them what that looks like is critical for them to be able to execute. And then the idea of reinforcement questions. So we’re not going to just train them when they walk through the door and then let them go do it until they get hurt, we’re going to continuously use that. Again, that daily experience, that continued reinforcement idea to make sure that they remember what a safe lift looks like, what they habits they need to execute are, and that’s what makes it a continuous conversation. So when we talked about things like the example with Merck and safety, this is really how I see safety cultures evolving, because you’re making safety part of the everyday conversation, because there’s a clear and continuous focus on the right knowledge and behaviors on the job.

So this is what it looks like to take a results-focused approach, working backwards to make the right type of content decision for the example of an audience that we’re supporting here. And again, may look different inside of your organization. To start to wrap up, there’s always a question around, well this is great for, this works … I used four different examples from four different types of industries, I probably didn’t mention yours, right? So does it work in my world, right? Does it work for an audience that’s distributed versus audiences that work at a desk, or does it work in distribution environment, or the big question is can we use it for managers? Can we use it for the leadership training and these types of ideas? And my response, always is, and what our data and our experience continue to show at Axonify, is that these principles work when applied effectively. The experience, the idea of continuous learning, targeted objectives, on-demand access to information, engaging experiences, they apply across the board. It’s just you’re going to use the methodology differently and build different types of experiences to solve different types of problems.

So regardless of the environment that you work in, or the types of skills and knowledge you’re trying to convey, these principles apply. And like I said, they may not be the entire puzzle, I’m probably not outlining your entire learning and dev strategy today. I’m hopefully outlining a fundamental component that you can then use and attach to the other types of things you’re going to do, because you may require, again, classroom time. You may require more programmatic information. But I’ll bet if you put people in a classroom, and then you continue to reinforce that information over time, you’ll get better results than just putting them into a classroom and hoping that things change when they go back into the operation.

So in my opinion, this applies everywhere, it just applies differently based on your overall strategy. So a couple final things to start thinking about before we get to any questions that anyone may have, when you’re looking at implementing microlearning and shifting the experience, and really building the habit of learning inside of your organization. One, getting buy-in at all levels of the organization, like I said you can often be challenged to get buy-in from your learning and development peers if they’re not familiar with this experience. Or maybe they’re stuck in some of the buzzy, mythological elements of microlearning and they’re trying to figure out how many minutes a day should something be. So getting buy-in not just from your learning and development team, not just from your stakeholders and executives, but also from your front-line employees. This is different. This is not the way they have necessarily been trained before.

I had people in organizations that I’ve worked with come up to me and say, in the very beginning, “We used to do quarterly training like once a quarter in the classroom, can’t we just do that? Because that’s easier than doing something every day.” I’m not going to turn back at them and scream, “That’s not how science works!” But I need to really build the value proposition to help them understand why we’re shifting strategies and why it makes sense to spend time doing something continuously rather than just going to a class once in a while.

Really helping people understand the principles I talked about today, and make it as common-sense as possible, as relatable as possible. Like I said, most people don’t want to talk about learning theory, especially if you’re not in this field. But we need to talk about not just learning, but doing. Solving problems and the different ways that we’re going to accomplish that to help people understand why this shift is necessary.

Again, the motivation consideration. I’m willing to bet that if in your organization you put the greatest learning technology in the world in play tomorrow, your employees won’t necessarily jump at it and say, “This is great!” Because they’re used to a certain way. They potentially have been disappointed in the past. They’ve gone to classes that didn’t necessarily make a difference. So how do you motivate people and engage people and show them the value so that they’re willing to give you the time, or willing to help you make the change in terms of the strategy.

Skills. This may require a different type of skillset within your learning and development team. Like I said, today if you’re only doing instructor-led training classes, or you’re only building long-form captivate modules, and we’re talking about a world where maybe you’re going to build more job aids, maybe you’re going to write better questions, be you’re going to use them for reinforcement, maybe you’re going to use video, it may require a shift in the skillset not just for developers but for people that are building your learning strategy. Whether it’s an instructional designer, project manager, consultants, these types of folks. Again, thinking about learning in a different way is the starting point, but there are going to be some tangible skillset shifts that you’re probably going to have to work with your team to up-skill on in or to apply these ideas over time.

And then finally, technology. If you’re working in an environment where there’s a question of scale, most of the organizations I talked about in terms of my stories were definitely in that case, again with At Home rapidly expanding a hundred plus stores, small learning and development team. How can they reach at that scale? Technology is the answer to that. So how do you pick the right technology that’s going to bring these principles to life and really help you implement learning and microlearning as a continuous habit.

So hopefully, my, again, only goal today was to give you enough information and some kind of grounded fundamental principles that help you ask better questions, help start shifting that mindset, sharing stories of organizations that may be like yours, so you can get people thinking about learning in a little bit of a different way. SO hopefully I’ve accomplished that, and overall to summarize, this is really for me about connecting the value of learning to the business and what people are trying to achieve within the organization, and I think in order to be agile, in order to shift and move at the pace of modern business, learning is a critical part. People are a critical part, and I think that microlearning can really bring that to life, as you’ve seen in the demonstration today.

So couple things before we take questions. One, this slide deck’s in the presentation room today. It’s also available in my slideshare with other presentations, so if you’re looking for other information, that’s a resource. If you’d like to look at any additional customer stories, or more details on the four organizations I shared today, they’re available on the Axonify website at So you can see how different organizations that may be more like you are applying these same principles to get measurable results, so a lot of great stories there. Literally everything I know about the topic of microlearning is at this URL, so if you got to, there is a long-form resource there, there is a downloadable eBook with all of the principles we talked about today and a lot more, and also some great links to other folks who talk about this, other articles that have been written about microlearning, research reports, a whole bunch of stuff available at that URL. Dare I say it’s the most comprehensive microlearning resource on the internet today. So please check that out.

There’s also part two. So if you liked this presentation, check out the next one. So we’re going to take it to the next level and really talk about measurement, and how you prove that you’re impacting the business, the results that I showed today, how do you get there? And how do you prove the ROI of learning on the business, that’ll be in April via CLO as well, so make sure to sign up for that when information becomes available. And obviously, if you have any questions, you want to reach out to me, specifically talk about anything that I mentioned today, feel free to reach out. Always happy to help. So that is my contact information. And with a couple minutes left, Alec, I’ll throw to you to see if there are any questions to be answered from our audience today.



Alright, JD, thank you. Yeah, we have a lot of questions in the queue. If you have a question for JD, click on the Q&A icon, type it in and click Submit. We’re not going to have time to get to all of them, but we will have them on record. So JD we’re going to go to one here from Ann, Ann’s question is, are there any examples that you know of where this has been implemented globally with a [inaudible 00:54:43] wide range of language needs?


JD Dillon:

Yes. So I’ll point straight back at that URL that I said where there are various customer stories. So if you go to Axonify’s website, we’ve got multiple examples where there are multiple languages in play. Again, I think that using, again, right-fit technology and a strategy like this can help meet those individual needs. For me it’s table stake today with technology being able to meet global language and accessibility considerations. So short answer, yes, check out the Axonify website for more details. For free to reach out to me if you want a specific example.



Alright. Perfect. We’re going to move to the next one from Suzan, Suzan’s wondering have you used this or seen this used for social skills like leadership training, etc?


JD Dillon:

Yes. Hopefully that came in before I said a similar thing at the end of the presentation, but for me, regardless of knowledge or skill area competency, this applies just in different ways. There’s always fundamental knowledge about how to apply a particular behavior, and I think it’s critical for us to distill down what soft skills of leadership behaviors look like so that they can be effectively measured and addressed, right? It can’t stay vague. If things stay vague and can be interpreted in different ways, that’s where we have challenges. But like I said, you’re not going to learn to become the best manager in the company just by doing three minutes of reinforcement questions a day, it’s part of a larger strategy, but I think this helps embed that and we do a lot of work with managers to help improve management behaviors using the same principles. So same story applies, you’re just going to do a little bit of different things.



Okay. Perfect. We’re going to go to one from Mark, Mark’s wondering what were some of the specific topics that were covered by Merck, at home and etc in their microlearning programs? I know you touched on it some during the presentation, but Mark was looking for some more examples of topics.


JD Dillon: 

Sure, so within At Home, as an example, like I said, we’re talking about onboarding. The original focus was safety. So we’re looking at different topics that are specific to safety in a retail environment. I don’t have that list in front of me, but generically speaking, in a retail environment, we could be looking at things like spills, we could be, again, looking at things like packing shelves, lifting behaviors, again the idea wasn’t to tackle every topic on everything, it’s to find the things that are critical to success in the environment and are going to help solve the problem.

So in the Merck example, again, it’s looking at what are the safety issues that are affecting that environment, and addressing those. Another organization not in the story line that we talked about, that back lifting example, the effective lifting behaviors and back injuries, that’s a real example. So again, instead of addressing all safety, you say what is the biggest safety issue in this environment? It was lifting, and back injuries, so that is specifically what is addressed. And we went after and solved that particular problem, saw the reduction in injuries that area, and then moved on to the next challenge while continuously reinforcing.

So again, it’s hard to say the exact list, in some cases I can’t be specific, but it’s what is the most critical issue in the environment as opposed to trying to tackle everything simultaneously. So hopefully that helps.



Alright, perfect JD. That’s going to be all the time we have for questions. Like I said, we weren’t able to get to all of them, but have a bunch in the queue and they all are recorded. I’ll knock out a few of these right now, I had a bunch of people as if this is being recorded. It is recorded, you’re going to receive a link in a follow-up email. In that link you’re going to have … or in that same follow-up email, you’re going to have a link to the PDF of the slides, a link to the recording, you’re HRCIA and SHRM certification code, and a registration link for part two of this series, which will be in April, as JD just said. So you’ll be able to sign up there. Thanks again to JD, like I said it’s always a pleasure to have you here with us. And thanks to the sponsors at Axonify. It’s always a pleasure to work with them on these. So again, thanks to everybody in the audience. If you enjoyed today’s presentation, please take this time to fill out our post-event survey which is going to appear right as this webinar ends. You’re feedback is obviously very important to us here at Chief Learning Officer.

So thanks again everybody online, and like I said, keep an eye out for that next registration link for the April part two of this series. So thanks again everybody and have a great day.


JD Dillon:   

Thanks all.