Microlearning breaks topics down into bite-sized pieces, allowing workers to learn safety tips or refresh their knowledge without taking big chunks out of the day.

What if you could update your employees’ knowledge without pulling them away from their work for time-consuming classes? Welcome to microlearning, bite-sized lessons that can make learning both more convenient and less disruptive for busy workers.

Microlearning is a training technique that breaks information down into smaller components. They are sessions that are 4 to 5 minutes long focused on one aspect of a topic. Traditional training sessions are generally 40 to 50 minutes or longer—sometimes an entire week or weeks of coursework that covers a topic in its entirety. Microlearning can be used to teach new skills, to address performance issues, to refresh previous training or to close skills gaps.

What Are the Benefits of Microlearning?

In comparison to traditional training classes, microlearning offers more flexibility and saves time and money.

Terry Mathis, founder and CEO of ProAct Safety, says in an article in EHS Today that microlearning makes safety training easier to work into employees’ busy schedules.

“The gist of this approach is to shorten, focus and increase the availability of training,” Mathis says. Instead of being presented in longer workshops, information is organized in modules that are each four minutes or less. “A series of these modules can replace, or be used to reinforce, the longer classroom or CBT (computer-based training) modules.”

Because of this, microlearning saves companies time and money, says Don Leonard, co-founder and president of The MARCOM Group Ltd., in an article in Industrial Safety & Hygiene News.

“Safety training has typically been an ‘event-oriented’ activity,” Leonard says. “Employees go to a class, or take a computer-based course in a learning lab or at their desk. However they do their training, it takes them away from their normal work activity, resulting in hours of lost productivity. And the impact of that lost productivity can be huge.”

Microlearning also helps companies with decentralized employees, can be easily updated and can be accessed on demand, says Annie Murphy Paul of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

“Microlearning systems are set up to allow employees themselves to control when they take their training, so it can be at a time in their day when it is convenient and won’t impact their productivity,” says Leonard.

Breaking Down Microlearning

In the long run, offering short refresher courses helps employees retain key safety information.

“Early in a role, employees need macro-learning to understand their job and the skills they need to perform it,” says Victoria Zambito, senior vice president of content and communications with Vector Solutions. “Then, they need reminders of that learning. That is where microlearning comes in.”

Walmart was able to reduce its reportable injuries by half after it began using a microlearning app that featured three-minute presentations on topics like driving a forklift. Employees would log in to watch a safety presentation, then take a brief test. After a successful pilot, Walmart expanded the program to distribution centers companywide.

George Haber, Ph.D., global director for Instructional Systems at DuPont Sustainable Solutions, writes that microlearning enhances workers’ understanding and awareness of specialized individual tasks and skills.

“For example,” says Haber, “a training seminar on personal protective equipment frequently is a significant, two-day session. Clearly, microlearning would be ineffective for training workers about such a comprehensive subject. However, microlearning can be very effective for the specific subject of hearing protection, even enabling an organization to target and customize the microlearning to a specific work environment within an organization.”

“Part of the appeal of microlearning is that it can be administered just-in-time and just enough,” adds Clare Epstein, chief operating officer of IndustrySafe Inc., in an article in Occupational Health & Safety. So if workers are about to use a ladder, she says, managers can send a microlearning session on ladder safety to the workers’ devices before they begin. “The session would be brief enough to avoid interrupting the work schedule but thorough enough to provide a refresher on safe practices to avoid injuries.”

Are there other ways to up your safety skills? Learn more in “The Path to Becoming a Safety Professional: Certifications and Steps.”

“Part of the appeal of microlearning is that it can be administered just-in-time and just enough.”
Clare Epstein, Chief Operating Officer
IndustrySafe Inc.

Technology Is Key to Microlearning

To make the most of microlearning, companies need to present multimedia modules accessible on multiple devices, experts say.

Mathis says microlearning is driven by new technologies like smartphones and other portable communication devices, and by changing demographics.

“Attention spans have shortened over the past several decades and the time required to forget new information has shortened even more,” he says. “Retention of information has been delegated to smart devices, as illustrated by where we keep phone numbers and calendar events.”

In addition to using rich media formats and including video, Epstein says microlearning presents an opportunity for more, albeit brief, interaction. Courses can include learner interaction, such as a brief quiz or follow-up discussion with an instructor, and provide reference documents and other outside items as additional resources.

Haber says microlearning’s ability to offer focused instruction to subsets of employees makes it an important part of a safety program.

“It is important, however, not to view microlearning simply as an individual ‘chapter’ of a larger training curriculum, but as a powerful tool that enables better engagement and retention of focused subject matter,” he says. “Its ease of use and ability to target specific employees who have specific responsibilities at specific locations opens new avenues of training beyond the traditional seminar to promote year-round learning opportunities, which significantly can improve an organization’s safety performance.”

Has your company integrated microlearning into its safety training program?

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