How can mobility benefit from microlearning?

Ahead of the CIPD’s Learning and Development Show in London on 10-11 May 2017, Relocate caught up with consultant, author and speaker Clive Shepherd to find out how ‘bite-sized’ learning could be applied in global mobility.

iPad with image of books on it
The impact of technology on all areas of our lives is difficult to overstate. Companies grappling with its benefits often find themselves playing catch up. How to best meet individual learning preferences and the organisational learning and development (L&D) context are no exceptions.“Technology has empowered us enormously in terms of people development at work,” explains Clive Shepherd, founding director of The More Than Blended Learning Company. “Not least because it is ubiquitous, like mobile hand-held technology.”Mr Shepherd, who worked in L&D for large international companies, including American Express, is helping organisations to reinvent their thinking around learning architecture in a digital age.

Mobility and microlearning

Technology-enabled microlearning – small-scale, 5-10-minute exercises practised daily to achieve a specific and manageable goal and available at the point of need – is not a new concept. However, it could help us reconsider how we think about workplace skills acquisition.In mobility, for example, language learning, destination orientation, on-boarding and intercultural skills are among those that lend themselves well to the comprehensive and growing range of interactive apps available for handheld mobile devices.“The best example of microlearning in everyday application is learning a language,” says Mr Shepherd. “Certain skills are best acquired by repetition every day. When you are acquiring new knowledge, it’s best to learn one idea, one rule or one concept at a time and build on it piece by piece. Over time, you do get there.“There is a huge amount of shift towards this outside of work. Companies are now beginning to think about how you can bring it into the L&D equation. That’s not to say you throw everything else away. It’s about appreciating that small acts, over time, for some skills and knowledge can be better than large chunks of learning.”

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Agile learning approaches

The appeal of microlearning in the workplace is easy to appreciate. Not only can it be relatively low-cost and widely available, lifelong learning and less linear approaches to career development are taking on renewed importance.The UK’s skills deficit is already deepening in the run up to negotiations about the UK leaving the EU. Automisation is also further changing the type of jobs we do. The need for responsive, ongoing training of all types tightly aligned to overall business strategy to close knowledge and skills gaps quickly is high on policymakers’ agenda, highlighted by the attention skills received in the recent spring budget.There is scope therefore for microlearning approaches to be embedded and accepted as a valuable part of an overall approach. “An enormous amount of formal training is not transferred back into changed performance because the emphasis is all on one big hit,” explains Mr Shepherd. “A lot of learning is also transactional and managers are unprepared to follow training through to maximise the benefit.“What microlearning offers is an addition to the wider learning architecture. What we know about the psychology of learning is that this type of approach works. Think of the difference between cramming for an exam – big chunks of learning for the short term might get you through an exam in the short-term. For long-term gain, you are better off with the little and often approach to really embed the learning and making it count in the long run.“The underlying principle is that you can achieve something amazing with just 10 minutes a day.”

Making the move to micro-learning

Shifting from bite-size, app-based learning on the daily commute or from home, to integration into a fully-fledged workplace strategy is also relatively straightforward, suggests Mr Shepherd. Corporate intranets and other open-source platforms can easily offer learning portals and quick checks to clarify progress, while badges and awards help to keep the micro-learning momentum going.“The arrival of mobile devices changed everything,” says Mr Shepherd. “Anyone can operate them without difficulty, whether you are a 70 or 17 year old. The concept is completely natural if you are brought up on it and people are already doing it and with great success.”

Clive Shepherd is one of over 40 speakers at the forthcoming CIPD Learning and Development Show, which will take place at London Olympia on 10-11 May. Its theme will be “Building learning into the core of your organisation.” Relocate will be reporting from the event. For more HR and CIPD news, please follow the links.

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