Micro-learning is BS

The thing that irks me most in L&D at the moment is the comparisons made between ‘eating’ and ‘learning’ formats. Whether it be ‘bite-sized learning’, ‘snacking’ or the hideous term ‘feasting’ to describe traditional formal classroom programmes. All I think this comparison serves is to focus on duration and frequency and not the fundamental issues with both learning in business – and eating in the West today: ‘what is in it’ and ‘what it is doing’? With food, it is the nutritional value. In learning, it is ‘what it is helping business people to do better’.

‘Non-foods’ is a term that describes foods that ‘drench our tastebuds with fat, salt and sugar combinations that overstimulate without giving a sense of satisfaction – other than reaching the end of the packet.’ For me, this is micro-learning and any other generic e-learning that is not at all focused on improving the business performance in a given organisation – but instead just ticking the ‘learning + technology’ box.

Perhaps we could compare the abundance of information available today to the access many of us have to terrible foods. But if you are responsible for influencing and improving employee performance and building capability, then serving up ‘non-learning’ to employees is just like throwing candy bars at athletes.

A smarter way of using technology in L&D is to address actual business performance gaps and focusing on building the capability the business requires to achieve its strategic goals. You can do this quickly and easily using technology today but in a smart way that helps people to access the knowledge and know-how they need in order to perform and learn from the most successful and expert people that work in their organisation.

So, I’m not knocking shorter forms of ‘learning’ or ‘support’ – in fact, quite the opposite – but if we are focusing on portion-size to the detriment of nutritional value then we are focusing on the wrong things. Let’s make smart, informed decisions about the nutritional value of our learning and help workers to perform and grow – rather than dish up non-learning in the latest fad-format.

About the author:

David James is Chief Learning Strategist with Looop and a seasoned Talent Management, Learning & OD leader with nearly 20 years of experience in the field. Until recently, David was Director of Talent, Learning & OD for The Walt Disney Company’s EMEA region.

Follow David on Twitter @DavidInLearning

  1. Krystyna Gadd 4 years ago

    Interesting David, I wasn’t sure where you were going with this one, but by the end I was agreeing.

    Just last week I did a short learning session for a client’s team which included face-2-face, some pre-work and some short videos. “Micro” in comparison to other workshops & programmes I run, but focussed on what the business needs and with more than one opportunity to learn and apply the content.

    That sadly seems to be missing these days when I hear of organisations buying e-learning modules to add to their suite, without real in-depth needs analysis of what they are trying to achieve.

    What also worries me is the shelf-life of some of these packages – maybe for today they are spot on but next year or the year after?

    To me business focus and a clear needs analysis are key to make any type of learning: micro, mini, blended or e-learning, valuable to the organisation and able to yield the results they need.

    • David James 4 years ago

      Thanks for your comment, Krystyna. I completely agree with your comments and that it is about helping organisations to equip their people to perform and grow – and not about having a packed content repository!

  2. Mark Bradshaw 4 years ago

    I’m sure it’s not intentional, but it’s a bit unhelpful to lump in support with learning.

    Business conflate the two, us in L&D need to be very clear that they are separate, but linked, activities, both vital in their own sections of the moments of need!

    • David James 4 years ago

      Thanks for your comment, Mark. I think you’re right in distinguishing between ‘learning’ and ‘support’. Technology has enabled business to provide on-demand support that can influence performance at the moment-of-need, from which learning can occur with doing the job at hand. ‘Learning’ as a tool for L&D must occur when there is a gap between the ‘event’ and the ‘application’. I feel that L&D’s role will move more towards providing on-demand support and putting capability into smart systems that can be accessed by employees. ‘Learning’ will be just one way to achieve the broader remit of L&D.

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