As has become all too common, someone decided to point me to some posts for their organization. Apparently, interest was sparked by a previous post of mine where I’d complained about microlearning. While this one does a (slightly) better job talking about microlearning, it is riddled with other problems. So here’s yet another post about more marketing malarkey.
First, I don’t hate microlearning; there are legitimate reasons to keep content small. It can get rid of the bloat that comes from contentitis, for one. There are solid reasons to err on the side of performance support as well. Most importantly, perhaps, is also the benefit of spacing learning to increase the likelihood of it being available. The thing that concerns me is that all these things are different, and take different design approaches.
Others have gone beyond just the two types I mention. One of the posts cited a colleague’s more nuanced presentation about small content, pointing out four different ways to use microlearning (though interestingly, five were cited in the referenced presentation). My problem, in this case, wasn’t the push for microlearning (there were some meaningful distinctions, though no actual mention how they require different design). Instead, it was the presence of myths.
One of the two posts opened with this statement: “The appetite of our employees is not the same therefore, we must not provide them the same bland food (for thought).” This seems a bit of a mashup. Our employees aren’t the same, so they need different things? That’s personalization, no? However, the conversation goes on to say: “It’s time to put together an appetizing platter and create learning opportunities that are useful and valuable.” Which seems to argue for engagement. Thus, it seems like it’s instead arguing that people need more engaging content. Yes, that’s true too. But what’s that got to do with our employees not having the same appetite? It seems to be swinging towards the digital native myth, that employees now need more engaging things.
This is bolstered by a later quote: “When training becomes overwhelming and creates stress, a bite-sized approach will encourage learning.” If training becomes overwhelming and stressful, it does suggest a redesign. However, my inclination would be to suggest that ramping up the WIIFM and engagement are the solution. A bite-sized approach, by itself, isn’t a solution to engagement. Small wrong or dull content isn’t a solution for dull or wrong content.
This gets worse in the other post. There were two things wrong here. The first one is pretty blatant:
There are numerous resources that suggest our attention spans are shrinking. Some might even claim we now have an average attention span of only 8 seconds, which equals that of a goldfish.
There are, of course, no such resources pointed to. Also, the resources that proposed this have been debunked. This is actually the ‘cover story’ myth of my recent book on myths! In it, I point out that the myth about attention span came from a misinterpreted study, and that our cognitive architecture doesn’t change that fast. (With citations.) Using this ‘mythtake’ to justify microlearning is just wrong. We’re segueing into tawdry marketing malarkey here.
This isn’t the only problem with this post, however. A second one emerges when there’s an (unjustified) claim that learning should have 3E’s: Entertaining, Enlightening, and Engaging. I do agree with Engaging (per the title of my first book), however, there’s a problem with it. And the other ones. So, for Entertaining, this is the followup: “advocates the concept of learning through a sequence of smaller, focused modules.” Why is smaller inherently more entertaining? Also, in general, learning doesn’t work as well when it’s just ‘fun’, unless it’s “hard fun”.
Enlightening isn’t any better. I do believe learning should be enlightening, although particularly for organizational learning it should be transformative in terms of enhancing an individual’s ability to perform. Just being enlightened doesn’t guarantee that. The followup says: “Repetition, practice, and reinforcement can increase knowledge.” Er, yes, but that’s just good design. There’s nothing unique to microlearning about that.
Most importantly, the definition for Engaging is “A program journey can be spaced enough that combats forgetting curve.” That is spacing! Which isn’t a bad thing (see above), but not your typical interpretation of engaging. This is really confused!
Further, I didn’t even need to fully parse these two posts. Even on a superficial examination, they fail the ‘sniff test’. In general, you should be avoiding folks that toss around this sort of fluffy biz buzz, but even more so when they totally confound a reasonable interpretation of these concepts. This is just more marketing malarkey. Caveat emptor.
(Vendors, please please please stop with the under-informed marketing, and present helpful posts. Our industry is already suffering from too many myths. There’s possibly a short-term benefit, however the trend seems to be that people are paying more attention to learning science. Thus, in the long run I reckon it undermines your credibility. While taking them down is fun and hopefully educational, I’d rather be writing about new opportunities, not remedying the old. If you don’t have enough learning science expertise to do so, I can help: books, workshops, and/or writing and editing services.)