In a recent post I somehow managed to put in the same phrase “L&D professionals” and “witches”. Creating effective training solutions may not seem like witchcraft for those doing it, but it sure looks like that for those outside the industry. Many jobs that involve deeper knowledge of various serious disciplines seem that way actually.
I went on to say that microlearning could be the equivalent of that magic drop of the secret ingredient always kept in the smallest of bottles that makes the magic potion of training magic. A drop of learning wrapped in a small training package can have a huge positive impact over retention rates and employee productivity.
If you haven’t checked out the 10 advantages of microlearning in training please do so. You might need the positive energy from it.
Because I also mentioned that magic potions can either heal or poison the hero of the story. So the same magic drop can also do harm. This post will therefore focus on the poisoning potential of a training potion made with microlearning.
10 Drawbacks of microlearning in training
Even though it can lead to positive learning outcomes thanks to its learner-centered vibe, just-in-time learning support or its enabling of reusable learning objects, microlearning is not the perfect solution for every training challenge.
It simply can’t be. Not with all the diversity that comes with the organic process of learning in the myriad of organizations. In fact sometimes is better to avoid it altogether.
So let’s explore some negative aspects of microlearning that will help you make the best decision regarding whether or not — and if so, how much — to include it in your L&D strategy:
Microlearning covers only one learning objective
The world of work is as complex as it could be. Employees need to find the best solutions and solve problems all the time. Learning and training is a crucial part of them being able to do that, and they need to learn a lot in order to thrive in the workplace. Whether it’s the induction program for a new-comer or an advanced course on deepening their skills and competencies, learning is complex. But microlearning can only cover on learning objective at a time.
Microlearning simply can’t do it all alone
There are many types of organizations and their employees cover many types of work. There are many factors that can influence how people learn, as various as the trees and plants in the Amazon forests. From age and industry knowledge to the number of interruptions at the workplace or a good night’s sleep, everyone can agree that learning is not a one-size-fits-all type of thing. Microlearning can meet various learning needs of many employees, but it can’t meet them all. Other types and forms of training have to exist as well.
Microlearning can get expensive
The basic thinking is this: if one traditional training course that covers a learning topic costs a lot to plan, create and manage, a microlearning course — because it’s micro — should cost less, right. But is it really? If you actually ask people who focus on microlearning they’ll say cost is not necessarily micro as well. Some already available content may be transformed to suit a microlearning module, but a lot of time it has to be created from scratch. Either way, the planning, creation and management of microlearning content for training can get quite expensive.
Microlearning may miss the big picture
When you get caught in the day-to-day small tasks you forget you also have to get altitude from time to time to make sure you’re on the right path and you’re going in the right direction. Microlearning is a lot like an Impressionist painting. If you focus too much on the dots, it’s easy to miss the big picture. You need to take a step back, go to the opposite side of the room if necessary, and when you come back and focus again on the dots, don’t forget they’re part of something bigger.
Microlearning can be distracting
With so many ways to make microlearning content engaging, it can be easy to overdo things. A small and relevant learning game can be so fun that trainees may want to do it again and again, even if they’ve mastered the content already. If the platform on which microlearning is delivered has a smart algorithm that suggests new learning modules based on learner activity, it’s easy for them to click away and consume content that is not needed at the moment, just because it’s fun. Microlearning can slip in the “fun land” but too much fun can distract from actual learning.
Microlearning maybe offers too many options
When there are too many ways to reach the same result, people easily fall into the paradox of choice. When there is only one way or another to create a great online training course it’s rather easy to choose which way to go. But with so many options that come along with microlearning, it’s tempting to try them all: scenarios, interactive videos, short learning games, various assessments, and so on. Since confusing the learner is never an objective in workplace training, microlearning modules should at least be consistent within a course and not offer too many types of content at the same time.
Microlearning is useless if it’s not found at the right moment
This is of course connected to the idea of just-in-time learning. When an employee is stuck with something about their working task and they need just-in-time support but they can’t immediately access that small but important piece of training that will help them, they’ll grow in frustration. Microlearning modules can be pretty and engaging and without unnecessary word fluff, but if the learner can’t find what they need when they need it, it fails to be an effective way of training.
Microlearning may raise organizational challenges
This is mostly connected to the already available training content that can be transformed in microlearning modules. A training course can be dense in terms of concepts to be learned and words to read and understand. It obviously won’t fit into the new micro frame as it is. But what to keep and what to get rid of? And how to organize the content? These are challenges that are not easy to overcome. Deciding on what’s important and what’s fluff can be hard to do when everything seems important. And this leads to…
Microlearning is no match with highly technical content
When there’s no fluff in a big training course and every piece of information there is either important or very important, transforming that course into a microlearning one might not be a good idea. Training content on complex issues or highly technical content — which for some industries, are the only types of content — are not meant to be delivered through microlearning modules. When there are high stakes at play, learners should dive as deep as possible into the dense training materials.
Microlearning is rather short-term
Microlearning is a great way to fill short-term gaps in knowledge. It may be the best. That is really not a bad thing, but long-term knowledge goals are important as well, and they cannot be achieved through microlearning. Anyone who has an L&D strategy with objectives that will benefit both the learner and the organization they work for can’t possibly rely on microlearning to successfully implement that strategy and achieve those objectives.
All in all
There you have it. The good and the bad of the use of microlearning in training. Nothing is black or white in the world and microlearning makes no exception. It can be the best solution to many training issues organizations of all types must face, but it can also hinder learning processes and fail to achieve great results. It all boils down to balance eventually.
While it’s here to stay, microlearning must be part of a well-designed L&D strategy in order to be successful.