Article in Brief: Corporate online learning has undergone a massive shift in recent years resulting in real benefits. But it has also created challenges – like asking knowledge workers to spend more screen time when the training may not be relevant to the key issues being faced today. Team members are more likely to act on something learned in a 3-7 minute video clip delivered by a respected manager (and in the context of their work environment) than they are from solely taking a generalized online training course. A big impact can be made from a simple strategy that only costs a few minutes of an experienced manager’s time.

The seismic shift in workplace learning is – well – obvious.

To say that the COVID pandemic sped up the transformation of corporate learning is an understatement.  Even my pre-adolescent family members (who themselves have had to endure their own classroom metamorphosis) scrunch their eyes and say duh to this glaring observation. The use of online training courseware rose in direct proportion to knowledge workers going remote. In other words, it has been meteoric. Even today (as remote work is replaced in some situations with a hybrid configuration, or a return to the office altogether) online training remains the mainstay of organizational learning. Access is relatively easy, course topics are plentiful, and design features are interactive. Technology has provided a genuine, and substantiated, benefit to the conundrum of we can’t gather people together in the same room to learn like we used to. But, and it’s a big one, who wants to spend more time in front of their computer screen especially if the training is not immediately relevant?

It’s hard to find people who want to take an online course when they’re already spending the vast majority of their workweek stuck behind a screen.

While there are genuine benefits, there are also challenges that come along with purchased courseware. In plain terms, there is little appetite to sit for hours watching a canned training course.  I know. I just spent a full (mind-numbing) hour going through a program on the three “A’s”  (something about Awareness, Asparagus… Arthritis- wait… that can’t be right). Most working professionals will tell you that it’s a tough sell to ask them to sit (and stare) at a training course screen when they are already glued to their laptops for the majority of the workday. It’s not just online courseware causing a worker’s training procrastination. It is also the exponential use of apps that are adding to screen exhaustion. Take one popular tech app widely used – Slack. It is reported that 10 million people use this messaging platform spending 9 hours every day connecting online. And that’s only one tool used in the workplace. When combined with email, virtual meetings, and other workplace apps, the expectation associated with taking online training courses can lead many workers to feeling even more frazzled than they already are.

Vendor – provided courseware featuring microlearning lessons provides an improved experience but still falls short when it comes to relevancy and immediate application – in other words there’s little immediate knowledge application.

Chunking training courses into microlearning lessons is a terrific improvement with modules typically playing for less than 10 minutes each. Still, even when these lessons are replete with animated characters, flying text boxes, and a featured do-not-proceed-algorithm-before-you- finish-reading-all-the-words-on-the-page, they still miss the mark of providing significant knowledge that can be directly used in the present tense.  You might finish one lesson in the series but find yourself delaying other topics because actual work is screaming for your attention. With no relevant opportunity for application, the forgetting curve sets in. Made noteworthy by German psychologist, Hermann Ebbinghaus in the early 1900s, this concept underpins what most of us know from first-hand experience. In the context of this article, it is that downward spiral – which in the absence of translating online learning into immediate action – results in a lack of recall. Putting the whole argument of no time aside, failing to remember occurs when the information is not deemed relevant enough for immediate use.

The unsexy, low tech, and boot-strap strategy of inviting managers to immediately transfer knowledge via short virtual video clips.

There is a way to leverage the benefits of microlearning lessons while simultaneously focusing the information, tailoring the content into timely bites, and incorporating a call-to-action for application– Manager-led Microlearning Lessons. During my time as the Executive Director for the Institute in Leadership and Management for Science and Technology professionals with the University of California (a title which required both sides of the business card), my team and I conducted a one and a half year long research project on the topic of knowledge transfer. While many of the results were eye-opening, I was struck by one outcome in particular – people prefer people over any technology system.

What this finding comes down to is that workers want to hear from someone they know (and respect) who will interpret, synthesize, and describe data in a way that translates squishy concepts into actions which can be undertaken today.  This makes the idea of a manager using an existing platform (like Zoom or Teams) to video-record a short knowledge-based lesson a legitimate no-brainer. And, since most managers can now point to years of experience with using these online platforms, there’s no requirement to train them in the how-to, or investment needed for additional hardware and software.

Relevant organizational experience, synthesized perspective, and problem-solving solutions (pertinent to the needs of team members) presents a decent business case and resonating emotional argument for adopting the approach. Though the technology is far from sexy (no animated characters and interactive buttons), it does offer a practical, highly accessible, and exceptionally budget-friendly value-add to the company’s online learning strategy. Plus, the highlights of each lesson can be reinforced for direct implementation through regularly held one-to-one meetings, project status reviews or team Lunch & Learn sessions.

Here’s what I know about managers sharing their tribal knowledge through an informal video-recorded microlearning (3-10 minute) format:

  • The good stuff in people’s heads is transmitted faster than anything written down ever could.
  • When shared in a conversational manner, this format can quickly clarify complex why we do what we do processes.
  • Best practices are quickly established and standardized because the context is pertinent, therefore immediately applicable (critical when establishing a Community of Excellence).
  • This approach lends itself to furthering an inclusive environment where people are learning in real-time from the people they interact with on a regular basis.
  • It is a practical way to socialize the company’s culture as viewed through the working-life-lens of managers.
  • The approach encourages personal and professional development, as well as mastery of subject matter through first-hand knowledge transfer.
  • Team members walk away from viewing the videos feeling more engaged. This reinforces a sense of belonging and signals sticking power in the company.

How you can quickly, and easily, weave this approach into your training initiatives:

  • Select a pertinent topic that would directly benefit the team, department, or organization. No script needed. While deliberate thought should be given to a few key points, this is not a TED Talk where oodles of hours go into prepping. It’s more palatable to participate when the process is simple.
  • If desired, have someone ask a couple of questions to prompt the manager (like a Q&A format) and press the “record” button on the video platform. This way, the person talking doesn’t have to memorize or multi-task.
  • Model the approach from the top down. Before asking team managers to record their lessons, ask C-Suite members to provide some organizational-wide microlearning video clips. Topics that range from “Here’s Our Focus for the Business Quarter,” to “The One Thing I Wish I Learned Earlier About Being a Great Leader,” are definitive ways to capture engagement and help frame a better understanding of the company’s culture.
  • Provide subject matter expertise in a succinct, but informal (story-like) manner. No need to do any editing afterwards. Filler words like Ums and Ahs are perfectly acceptable since today’s learner prefers listening to individuals they know (talking in a conversational style) versus watching them try to give a super polished performance.
  • Keep the video at under ten minutes (the shorter the better). You can always do a multi-part snippet series so as not to cram too much info into one microlearning lesson.
  • Include an actual example to illustrate the relevancy of the topic to the audience. The more pertinent, the more likely people will remember.
  • If preferred, incorporate 1-2 slides with imagery and/or bullet points to visually underscore the information being shared.
  • Conclude with a call-to-action (opportunities for immediate application).
  • If your company does not have an intranet for posting this type of media, send the video recording link to your team on an approved company platform. Ask your IT department how you can archive the video clip for new members expected to be onboarded in the future.
  • Ask for team feedback to identify additional topics they consider relevant. Nudge other managers to volunteer to do a lesson or two.

Check out examples from manager-led microlearning lessons:

  • In the R&D department, here’s how we translate our company’s mission of “making our patients first” into our daily processes.
  • In marketing, it’s key to avoid confirmation bias when attending decision-making meetings. Here’s how.
  • Our Quality Department’s approach is not restricted to product excellence – it’s an entire business mindset where we put the customer at the center.
  • Why learning the Triple Constraint, and other project management principles, can immediately improve the way we address our commercialization pipeline.
  • As we kick-off the new year, here are the Top 3 Things our Compliance & Ethics team wants everyone to know.
  • Here’s why, and how, I use “month at a glance calendaring” to practice and encourage better productivity and greatly improved well-being.
  • Our company security can come down to whether or not you have installed the latest updates on your smart phone – here’s what you should know.
  • Here’s how we use the business concept of Kaizen in the purchasing and logistics department.

Bottom Line: 
There’s a lot of good that can be said for the evolution of corporate online learning. There is also a legitimate need to augment vendor-purchased courseware with real-world experience.  Asking your managers to share their knowledge via non-Hollywood-like-video-based microlearning lessons, may not be sexy given that the technology is now commonplace, but it can position them to provide critical information when needed most. Team members are more likely to act on something learned in a 3-7 minute video clip delivered by a respected manager (and in the context of their work environment) versus taking a generalized online training courseware alone. More organizational learning “bang” for relatively little “bucks”.

To learn more on how you can incorporate the strategy of Manager-Led Microlearning Lessons, send me a note –