1% of a workday. That’s the amount of time an employee can devote to increasing their skills, according to the study “Meet the Modern Learner” by Bersin by Deloitte. More than just availability of free time, it’s the availability of their attention that’s at stake.
And for good reason: In today’s digital age of hyper-activity, our attention span is decreasing, resulting in a decrease in our availability and in our productivity. Organizations find themselves, then, faced with two challenges: catch the attention of their employees, and also find a way to impart sustainable knowledge and skills that will last.
Muscle memory, micro-learning, Learning by Doing… in this article, Lemon Learning gives you the keys to understanding the intersection of neuroscience and the digital age. The challenge? Optimizing training content and the engagement of your learners.
Catch and maintain attention: Micro-learning addresses modern organizational training challenges
Whether needed to understand, memorize, or problem-solve, human attention is a mental resource which has significant impacts on our performance. The greater our attention, the better our performance.
Attention is the process by which the brain prioritizes certain signals over others. That is to say, attention is the filter that allows us to select which information to focus on out of all the information we receive at any given time. It is therefore also the foundation of learning: without attention, there is no comprehension or memorization.
An adult brain has an attention span of about 20 minutes for moderately complex subjects. Attention span is reduced to just 10 minutes for highly complex subjects.
In a hyper-connected world where speed, brevity, and immediacy are newly ingrained imperatives, educational designers must adapt in order to catch learners’ attention. One potential solution to this challenge is known as micro-learning. An increasingly-common form of digital training, micro-learning offers short sequences of 30 seconds to 3 minutes in length, featuring video, text, images, or audio.
Among its many advantages, microlearning helps avoid cognitive overload; learners engage with small doses of information in order to avoid too much demand of attention. Microlearning also enables independent learning, facilitating access to training when and where it’s needed. Because of its short format, it also helps to quickly fill knowledge gaps, whether business processes or tool features, employees only access training on the skills they’ve not yet mastered. Microlearning finally answers the increasing demand for just-in-time training, offering short and independent segments, each linked to a micro-objective, accessible anywhere and at any time.
Digital solutions such as Lemon Learning have made this just-in-time capability their core value. By integrating directly into users’ tools, and therefore into their daily routine, Lemon Learning’s interactive guides do not interrupt users’ operational activity while also offering support.
Micro-learning also offers advantages for trainers and those creating training materials. First and foremost is the profitability of production costs: short and condensed formats are easier to produce. They’re also easier to update as applications evolve. And microlearning enables precise, individualized reporting according to various training programs and users (number of views, time of view, etc.).
With limited capacity of attention, it is critical that training professionals make an effort to convey information in a way that is attention-catching; it’s this information that is most easily retained.
Memory, understood by neuroscience: Identify the keys to efficient training
Capturing the attention of your employees is only the beginning. Maintaining it and encouraging the retention of the information long-term is the real challenge of organizational training.
Short-term memory, also called working memory, enables us to retain certain information temporarily in order to accomplish specific tasks (for example reading, speaking, or calculating). Long-term memory allows us to permanently store information from short-term memory, and the ways in which we recall this information are many.
Our senses, our knowledge, and past events all stimulate our memory, sometimes perceptive, sometimes semantic, sometimes procedural. In addition to these three types of memory, also known as representational memories, is a fourth type. Muscle memory enables us to accomplish motor tasks subconsciously (e.g. walking, riding a bicycle, driving). It’s on this type of memory that certain methods of learning are based, as applied by the concept Learning by Doing.
Among these methods are MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) which facilitate online learning and access to training programs all while integrating interactive learning elements, such as case studies, role playing, etc. Another training method applying this approach is augmented reality, which organizations like Rolls Royce and Qatar Airways have used to train their maintenance engineers. Its main advantage? Retention rates similar to those achieved by actual field training.
At Lemon Learning, we’ve taken our own approach to Learning by Doing: integrated guides built into your users’ tools. Like GPS navigation, Lemon Learning content guides users step by step through their applications. The key is in the segmented training programs and micro-modules enabling users to master individual features of their tools and specific business processes through on-the-job repetition and on-demand availability of guides.
Therein lies the challenge: it's not just about acquiring new knowledge, or even retaining it, but about mobilizing it at the right time. And it is repetition that anchors knowledge over time.
Repetition: the key to memory retention
When the human brain learns, neurons activate and relay information between each other, creating a new neural network, according to Hebbian Learning. This law goes one step further: the more active these neural networks are, the more solidified they become. In other words, as the authors of NeuroLearning have put it, “if to learn is to create new neural networks, then to remember is to reactivate these same neural networks.”
The key, then, for training professionals is to focus on training materials that appeal to and engage learners (short, interactive, entertaining) and which will be retained long-term. This trend towards short, impactful formats is not exclusive to training: bite-sized content, elevator pitches, Twitter’s 280 character limit… all forms of content have been reinvented for a new way of communicating.
Micro-learning is not the only answer to the challenges facing organizational training. On the contrary, micro-learning in all its forms (interactive guides, quizzes, videos, etc.) does not wholly replace other methods of training, but rather complements them. It is a way to respond to simple, immediate, operational objectives. It can easily be tied into a Blended Learning approach, associating micro-learning materials with other forms of training such as those needed for more complex subjects or for developing soft skills, for example.
- “Meet The Modern Learner: Engaging the Overwhelmed, Distracted, and Impatient Employee”, Bersin by Deloitte, 2014.
- Philippe Gil, Philippe Lacroix, Digital Learning Book by IL&DI, 2018.
- Dr Nadia Medjad, Philippe Gil, Philippe Lacroix, NeuroLearning. Les neurosciences au service de la formation, Eyrolles, 2017.