Microlearning and its more sophisticated cousin, subscription learning, are beginning to gain acceptance by regulators and those who credential.

Until recently, many regulators and credentialors would only accept traditional classroom and elearning courses as acceptable proof of competence or learning. No more.

As reported yesterday on the AccountingToday website, the "National Association of State Boards of Accountancy and the American Institute of CPAs are proposing to revise the standards for continuing professional education for accountants." More specifically, they are proposing that microlearning (or what they're calling nano-learning) be deemed an acceptable learning experience.

The Ohio Society of CPA's (OSCPA) got the ball rolling on this, quickly followed by Maryland's CPA group. OSCPA president and CEO Scott D. Wiley, quoted by AccountingToday back in March said, “The nature of professional education is changing…Studies show micro learning can provide the quick, focused education that CPAs need to stay current in the market place.”

If the stereotypically-stodgy accounting profession is credentialing microlearning courses, other organizations are likely to soon follow.

Evidence for the popularity of microlearning just keeps adding up…

 

I was recently interviewed for a German audience on subscription learning.

You can read the interview here in German.

Here is a rough American English translation:

Will Thalheimer as Interviewed by Andrea Sattler

What is subscription learning (how does it work, what topics does it cover, who is it designed for/ what’s the target group…)?

Thanks Andrea for inviting me! I’m delighted to talk about subscription learning because I think it offers us, as elearning developers, a powerful new tool in our elearning toolbox.

As I wrote on the Subscription Learning website, Subscription Learning, as its name implies, provides an intermittent stream of learning-related interactions to those who are subscribed. These learning-related interactions–called “nuggets”–can involve a great variety of learning-related events, including content presentation, diagnostics, scenario-based questions, job aids, reflection questions, assignments, discussions, etc. Nuggets are short, usually presented in less than five minutes. Nuggets are intentionally scheduled over time to support learning, often utilizing research-based findings related to the spacing effect. Learners subscribe (or are subscribed) to one or more series of learning nuggets, called “threads.” Learning threads can be predesigned, selecting nuggets based on anticipated learner needs or they can be dynamically created based on learner performance.

Why do you recommend the use of “nugget learning”? What is it based on (e.g., are there any studies that prove that learning in short sequences is most successful…)?

Subscription learning is not new, of course. People have been learning from the content of their magazine subscriptions for over a century. Apprentices learned their trades by working alongside master craftsmen, and getting short doses of instruction spread out over months and years.

The subscription learning idea occurred to me when I was researching the spacing effect in the learning research. The spacing effect shows that repetitions of content are much better remembered when they are spread over time. Every university student knows what happens when they cram repetitions to prepare for exams. The do well on the exam, but they soon forget everything. The spacing effect demonstrates the opposite finding. When we spread learning over time, we remember more and we remember for longer periods of time. Interestingly, the spacing effect (also called spaced practice, distributed practice, etc.) is one of the most robust findings in the learning research, but one of the least utilized in the workplace learning-and-performance field.

My research-to-practice report details over 100 studies from scientific refereed journals.

In addition to the spacing effect, there are other reasons that subscription learning is effective:

  1. Learners can engage learning nuggets on their own timeframes.
  2. Learners can keep their learning easily accessible in memory.
  3. Learners can relate their learning more easily to workplace issues.
  4. Learners are more likely to integrate their learning with workplace cues.
  5. Learners can be prompted to actions while at work.
  6. Learning is often more palatable in shorter chunks.

How do learners benefit from this kind of learning? (if this is not already included in the answers to the above questions)

Learners benefit because they don’t have to sit through long and tedious classroom sessions or through similarly long elearning courses. They benefit because—if the subscription-learning is well designed—the learning will actually stick. It will be remembered. Learners benefit because the learning will be easier to integrate into their work.

How can subscription learning be integrated into corporate learning?

What’s fantastic is that we have arrived at a time and place where subscription learning can be utilized through both simple and complex technologies. Subscription learning can be as simple as a string of emails or as complicated as sophisticated decision scenarios triggered through software that highlights new learning nuggets on one’s mobile phone or laptop.

Subscription learning can be a standalone learning intervention or as an adjunct to traditional learning courses (or elearning). It can be part of a run-of-the-mill training session or part of a strategically-important initiative led by a company’s CEO.

Do you have any experience with subscription learning in companies? If so, can you give us an example of how this is used in the company, and what experiences they have had so far?

Although I am now a dedicated learning consultant, I once led a leadership-development product line and taught leadership to managers at large corporations. After my courses, I would keep in touch with my learners through email over the next several months, sending engaging and entertaining emails that reinforced key learning points. I still remember one comment from a learner that reinforced the value. “Hey Will, I didn’t read every email you sent, but the one’s I read, I really did get value out of. They reinforced what we learned in the training. Thanks!”

Subscription learning is erupting everywhere. Last year, a subscription-learning program used by people all over the world to learn languages won Apple’s App of the Year. Verizon, a giant telecom company in the United States is using subscription learning in many ways. A large financial services company used subscription learning to prepare their sales folks.

Any Final Thoughts?

Subscription Learning is here to stay. But here’s the thing. We’re just getting started with it—we have a lot more to learn. And I don’t want to be accused of adding to the hype cycle. Subscription learning, although it is an incredibly powerful tool that will transform the elearning landscape, won’t replace traditional elearning. We’ll still have relatively long elearning engagements. But in addition, we’ll now have another tool in our toolbox.

The key to success for organizations who want to use it today will be to follow research-based learning design recommendations and find innovative vendors who can have already captured lessons learned. It’s imperative on us all to begin experimenting and learning how to use the subscription-learning approach.

Organizations Wanted to Pilot Leadership-Development Subscription Learning!!

I am looking for organizations who are interested in piloting subscription learning as a tool to aid in developing their managers and energizing their senior management's strategic initiatives.

To read more about the benefits and possibilities for subscription learning and leadership development, read my article posted on the ATD (Association for Talent Development) website.

Potential Benefits

  • Reinforce concepts learned to ensure remembering and application.
  • Drive management behaviors through ongoing communications.
  • Utilize the scientifically-verified spacing effect to boost learning.
  • Enable dialogue between your senior leaders and your developing managers.
  • Inculcate organizational values through scenario-based reflection.
  • Prompt organizational initiatives through your management cadre.
  • Engage in organizational learning, promoting cycles of reinforcement.
  • Utilize and pilot test new technologies, boosting motivation.
  • Utilize the power of subscription learning before your competitors do.

Potential Difficulties

  • Pilot efforts may face technical difficulties and unforeseen obstacles.

Why Will Thalheimer and Work-Learning Research, Inc.?

  • Experienced leadership-development trainer
  • Previously ran leadership-development product line (Leading for Business Results)
  • Leader in the use of scenario-based questions
  • Experienced in using subscription learning
  • Devoted to evidence-based practices
  • Extensive experience in practical use of learning research

Why Now?

  • Subscription-learning tools are available.
  • Mobile-learning is gaining traction.
  • Substantial discounts for pilot organizations.

Next Steps!!

  • Contact Will Thalheimer, PhD to arrange an online discussion of the possibilities.
    • email: info AT work-learning DOT com.

 

A little while ago, I wrote an article for my newsletter about how Subscription Learning might be used in Leadership Development.

I’m still a big believer, and I’m looking for organizations who want to pilot test the concept. Let me know…by clicking here.

ATD liked the article and asked if they could post it. Click to read the article.

If you want to sign up for my newsletter, click here.

Yesterday, #chat2lrn, a bi-weekly twitter discussion, delved into the concept of microlearning. It was an interesting discussion.

You can view the tweets by clicking here (thanks to Martin Couzins).

Here are my takeaways from engaging in the discussion:

  1. There was no consensus on what microlearning entails.
  2. There was no consensus on how long a microlearning engagement might take. Indeed, there were estimates that ranged from 5 minutes to 1 hour!
  3. There was a strong suspicion that “microlearning” was a buzzword, perhaps one created by “evil” marketers.
  4. There was no consensus on what microlearning might be good for.
  5. Many saw microlearning as information-presentation only, not considering that a microlearning nugget might also prompt action.
  6. Many saw microlearning as something that regular learning-and-development folks would not be involved in. Indeed, many seemed to see microlearning as a way to subvert the ineffectiveness of L&D departments.
  7. Many saw microlearning as just-in-time learning, almost as performance support.
  8. Very few folks considered threading microlearning nuggets together in a subscription-learning manner.

“Microlearning” is now in the infosphere. The genie is out of the bottle and we better be ready. “Microlearning” is coming to a senior manager near you!

 

Here's a blog post by Brent Schlenker on Extreme Micro Learning, meaning videos in 6 seconds.

Click here to see the post.

His examples are more advertising than learning, but I think he's right that if we see the extremes it may make us more creative.

Tom Spiglanin has a nice blog post on Microlearning, in which he has generated a great discussion as well.

  • tom.spiglanin.com/2015/03/microlearning-fab-or-fad/

I commented on the discussion and am copying-and-pasting my comments here:

=============

Tom, glad that you’re pushing this important discussion!

You say, “Microlearning products usually need no navigation, and there is no inherently complex structure. Each microlearning product serves but one objective and is tightly focused on that objective.”

I think this is too restrictive. Please check out my work on the Subscription-Learning Website (defunct as of December 2017).

On that website, I describe subscription learning (the use of small nuggets spread over time) as a way to create meaningful learning interactions. Indeed, subscription learning can go way beyond “learning” to provide prompting mechanisms, calls to complete tasks, feedback, etc.

The problem with the way many are thinking of microlearning is as a content-delivery system for folks with short attention spans. Unfortunately, we know that content presentation is a poor method. To really get folks to benefit from learning we need to ensure that we provide learners with at least the following (from the Training Maximizers model https://www.worklearning.com/2015/04/08/training-maximizers/):

A. Valid Credible Content
B. Engaging Learning Events
C. Support for Basic Understanding
D. Support for Decision-Making Competence
E. Support for Long-Term Remembering
F. Support for Application of Learning
G. Support for Perseverance in Learning

So, if microlearning only gets at A, B, and C; it will not create meaningful learning benefits.

Subscription learning can deliver isolated nuggets of information, but it can do much more as well. For example, one of the most important learning factors (based on the scientific research) to support remembering is the spacing effect (spacing repetitions of learning concepts over time). If you take a nugget-by-nugget approach, you don’t get the spacing effect.

Bottom line is that microlearning without intention, without scientifically-based learning design, with only isolated nuggets — will be a FAD.

Microlearning that utilizes learning factors that help us reach the requirements of (D) decision-making competence, (E) long-term remembering, (F) application of learning, and (G) perseverance in learning will be FAB.

Kerri Simmons, Director of Solution Architecture at SweetRush (a learning and performance vendor), wrote a nice set of 10 recommendations about using learning in small chunks…

Check it out by clicking here.

The one thing I noted from her description is that she seems to be referring to more of a pull strategy than a push strategy, which tends to be less effective unless learners are highly motivated or required to complete the learning nuggets.

I'll reach out to her to see if she'd like to provide additional reflections…

They seem to be using the term "microlearning" for much longer chunks of learning time than that imagined in subscription learning's short (less than 5 or 10 minute) nuggets.

Still, the article makes the case that people just don't have the attention spans that they once had, and that the shrinking attention span is only going to get worse.

Click here to read the Guardian article.

Joe Pulizzi, marketing expert, offers several definitions for content marketing in his very good book on Content Marketing, including these:

"Content marketing is the marketing and business process for creating and distrubuting valuable and compelling content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience–with the objective of driving profitable customer action."

"Content marketing is a strategy focused on the creation of a valuable experience. It is humans being helpful to each other, sharing valuable pieces of content that enrich the community and position the business as a leader in the field."

"Content marketing is about delivering the content your audience is seeking in all the places they are searching for it. It is the effective combination of created, curated, and syndicated content."

As you can see in these definitions, content marketing is generally something that marketing and business leaders think about. Content marketing is NOT what we learning professionals think about.

But we might be wrong! We might be missing an important opportunity!

Notice in Pulizzi's definitions the overlap with our learning goals:

  • creating and distrubuting valuable and compelling content
  • to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience
  • with the objective of driving profitable [employee] action
  • focused on the creation of a valuable experience
  • humans being helpful to each other, sharing valuable pieces of content that enrich the community
  • and position the business as a leader in the field
  • delivering the content your audience is seeking
  • in all the places they are searching for it
  • [using] the effective combination of created, curated, and syndicated content

In the Training Maximizers model there are seven priorities we ought to have to create successful training.

  1. Valid Credible Content
  2. Engaging Learning Events
  3. Support for Basic Understanding
  4. Support for Decision-Making Competence
  5. Support for Long-Term Remembering
  6. Support for On-the-Job Application of Learning
  7. Support for Perseverance in Learning

Content marketing can impact several of these, depending on how we use the content. Content marketing creates, researches, or curates valid content. It can be engaging if designed well and targeted for relevancy. It can support learners in having a basic understanding of key principles. It can support on-the-job application and after-training perseverance by connecting with learners over time.

That's all the easy stuff. If content marketing is taken to an even higher level–through scenario-based decision-making, through spaced practice, through realistic practice–it can also help support long-term remembering and decision-making competence, which, in turn, will support application and perseverance.

Others have talked about curation of content as a key role for us in the learning field. By taking the Training-Maximizer goals seriously, we can use content marketing to be maximally effective.

Subscription Learning and Content Marketing

Subscription Learning can be defined as follows:

"Subscription learning, as its name implies, provides an intermittent stream of learning-related interactions to those who are subscribed. These learning-related interactions–called "nuggets"–can involve a great variety of learning-related events, including content presentation, diagnostics, scenario-based questions, job aids, reflection questions, assignments, discussions, etc. Nuggets are short, usually presented in less than five minutes. Nuggets are intentionally scheduled over time to support learning, often utilizing research-based findings related to the spacing effect. Learners subscribe (or are subscribed) to one or more series of learning nuggets, called "threads." Learning threads can be predesigned, selecting nuggets based on anticipated learner needs or they can be dynamically created based on learner performance."

Subscription learning is ideally positioned to utilize content marketing approaches. It can be as simple as content curated for learners after a training session and emailed to them by their instructor. It can, of course, be more sophisticated, involving diagnostics, simulations, video, etc.

But content marketing ideas go beyond just information presentation. One of the key ideas with content marketing is that we are trying to build an audience of learners and learning facilitators. We in the workplace learning space should consider how we can meet our main mission by going beyond our traditional models. We could support communities of practice by supporting people in providing content. We could–instead of offering courses–provide content to generate interest and encourage self-directed learning. Indeed, we might ask ourselves, what's more costly, providing skilled instructors or providing content curators?

Those of you who are the most ambitious and most innovative might consider learning a bit more about content marketing and brainstorming ways you could use it in your organizations.

To get you started, here's an excellent article on content marketing from Inc. Magazine.