Using Microlearning Courses for Point-of-Need Performance Support

Using Microlearning Courses for Point-of-Need Performance Support

There's a lot of interest in using microlearning as part of a job training program, and there are lots of good reasons for that interest. A lot of that interest revolves around how useful microlearning can be for actual training, such as including a microlearning learning activity into a multi-activity training path or using microlearning for refresher training using the evidence-based training practice known as spaced practice to improve retention and transfer.

And those are good potential uses of microlearning, to be sure. But another great use for microlearning activities is to use them outside of your actual training program and allow workers to access them directly while on the job, at the moment and place of need. There are many different ways of referring to this idea. In this article, we'll use the phrase "performance support" for this idea, but you might also know similar phrases for this idea, such as job aids, guidance, workflow learning, and more.

We'll give you a few tips for using microlearning for performance support in this article.

Once you're done reading this article, you may also want to listen to our Microlearning for Safety Training webinar and download our 3 Uses for Microlearning infographic.

What Is Microlearning?

There's really nothing too tricky about microlearning.

You can think of it as a short learning activity. That's fine.

Or you can add a little nuance and say it's a short learning activity designed to help workers satisfy a single learning objective. I like this definition, myself.

Or you can get even more nuanced, and add some additional points to your definition revolving around the various ways microlearning can be used. Check out our What Is Microlearning? blog article for the definition by learning researcher Dr. Will Thalheimer if  you'd like to consider this further, but for the purposes of this article, we'll say microlearning is a short learning activity designed to help the worker do one thing (complete a learning or performance objective).

Why Not Use Microlearning for Training?

The header of this section is a bit of a trick question. Our point isn't that you shouldn't use microlearning for job training, and in fact we're all in favor of doing so.

But what we're saying is it's important for a learning and performance improvement specialist like yourself to think beyond training. How can you help the worker perform better in addition to just helping them acquire knowledge and develop skills while in training? How can you help them perform better right at the moment of need, on the job?

And that's where performance support comes in.

If you'd like to take a little detour and consider some issues related to workplace performance improvement and your role in it above and beyond creating and delivering training, take a moment and read the following articles:

We'll wait here while you're reading and then we'll go on together when you get back.

What's Performance Support?

Just like microlearning, there's nothing especially new or exotic about performance support. The idea has been around a long time and it's a tried-and-true way to help workers improve their performance on the job. You may know it as "job aids" and it might be as simple as placing a checklist next to a machine or putting a Post-It note on the side of your computer. More recently, folks seem to be using the phrases "workplace learning" and "learning in the flow of work" for this same idea.

Note: If you're not familiar with the classic book The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande, you might want to check it out.

So performance support is simply the idea of giving workers access to resources they can use on the job, right when and where they need it, to improve their performance. This might mean the worker performs the job task more accurately, or does it in a safer manner, or performs the job more efficiently. All wins, right?

Why Is Performance Support Helpful to Employees?

Well, let's take a step back here and acknowledge something important: learning is hard, it takes time, and it's imperfect. A designing training to help people learn is also hard work and an imperfect venture.

You've probably experienced this yourself. Have you ever attended a training session only to soon enough forget whatever it is you learned, well before you had an opportunity to apply it on the job? Maybe that was arguably partly your fault--maybe you weren't paying attention when you could have been. Or maybe it was arguably partly the fault of the training designer or developer--maybe they created a sub-par learning experience. But the reality is, people just don't remember everything we're exposed to in our life experiences, including in training. Yes, as a learner there are metacognitive techniques you can apply to learn more reliably. And yes, there are all sorts of do's and don'ts that people in L&D can follow to improve the effectiveness of our training (use evidence-based training techniques, deliver training shortly before the employees will use it on the job, etc.). But none of that is a guarantee.

So if our real job in L&D is to improve employee performance and business outcomes, and if performance support is another tool in addition to training to do that, why not make use of performance support, right?

For more information about why training isn't always effective and how to make it more effective, check out this sampling of articles:

How Can We Use Microlearning for Performance Support?

The most important answer to this question is to simply remember that performance support is an option in addition to training.

And once you've internalized the idea that performance support is one tool in your workplace performance improvement toolkit, then identify some simple opportunities to begin using it.

For example, do you currently have a training program that you feel is largely ineffective? If so, you might want to consider replacing that training session entirely with point-of-need performance support. Or maybe keep the actual training session, but instead of training workers how to do the job task, train them how to use the new performance support while completing the job task.

And remember, job tasks are often harder for new workers who were just hired or who moved to a new position within your organization. It may be true that performance support you create will be used by those new workers and then, over time, they'll no longer need the performance support. And that's OK.

And also remember that performance support can come in any number of formats--a written checklist, a video available on a mobile device, etc.

If you'd like some good advice about how to gear-up your performance support program, check out this 5 Moments of Need whitepaper by Bob Mosher and Conrad Gottfredson.

Microlearning: Can I Make It? Can I Buy It?

You can make your own microlearning. You can buy or license microlearning courses from training providers (yep, we offer microleraning courses here at Vector Solutions).

So there's no better time to get started than now. 🙂

Conclusion: Use Microlearning Activities for Training AND Point-of-Need Performance Support to Improve Worker Performance and Outcomes

We hope you found this article on using microlearning for performance support useful.

First, we hope it was a good reminder that we can be more than trainers and instead can and should be performance improvement specialists or consultants at our own workplaces.

And second, we hope it was a good introduction to the idea of using microlearning activities as part of your performance improvement efforts.

Keep coming back to the Vector Solutions blog and we'll continue to write material that we hope you'll find helpful in making your workplace more productive and efficient.

And before you go, feel free to download our free 3 Uses of Microlearning infographic, which we've got right below for you.

Jeff Dalto, Senior Learning & Performance Improvement Manager
Jeff is a learning designer and performance improvement specialist with more than 20 years in learning and development, 15+ of which have been spent working in manufacturing, industrial, and architecture, engineering & construction training. Jeff has worked side-by-side with more than 50 companies as they implemented online training. Jeff is an advocate for using evidence-based training practices and is currently completing a Masters degree in Organizational Performance and Workplace Learning from Boise State University. He writes the Vector Solutions | Convergence Training blog and invites you to connect with him on LinkedIn.

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