Blog Post

Avoid These 4 Common Microlearning Missteps

Jeff Miller

Chief Learning Officer and Vice President of Organizational Effectiveness, Cornerstone OnDemand

This article was originally published on, under Jeff Miller's Forbes Human Resources Council column.

One of my favorite TED Talks is called "Everyday Leadership" by Drew Dudley. In the six-minute video, Dudley describes his realization that you don't have to be in a leadership position to be a leader. Instead, you can inspire people in everyday moments — what he calls "lollipop moments."

For me, the talk holds an important lesson for the workplace about seeing beyond job titles. Today, whenever I come across an employee who's struggling to find their place at work, I recommend Dudley's talk.

This is the power of microlearning: Twenty years ago, it was more difficult to learn a new idea or skill in six minutes. Today, there are thousands of mini courses available online, whether it's a YouTube video, a TED talk or in a company's learning management system (LMS). Bite-sized learning appeals to our waning (or at least selective) attention spans, too, and is easy to fit into a busy workday. And it works. Micro-courses can increase learning retention when compared to longer courses, and at least one expert estimates they can increase the speed of development by 300%, which is key to staying competitive amid today's rapid technological changes.

According to one study, 80% of companies have adopted, or plan to adopt, microlearning as a way to support employees. But in my experience, few organizations take full advantage of microlearning because it's seen as the domain of the learning and development team. But once these common pitfalls are addressed, managers and employees can start actively curating and using microlearning — and companies will start to see the positive impact on ROI.

Mistake No. 1: Managers don't recommend specific courses to employees.

I often see managers tell employees, "Your communication needs work. Go find a course in the LMS for a refresher." But the problem there is the manager is asking the learner to both look for content and evaluate the relevance of that content, all without understanding what the manager is looking for. While the employee may end up learning something, you can't ensure they'll learn what you need them to learn.

Instead, managers need to review the courses personally. I know, for example, that my team could do better with creating more strategic presentations. So, I'm going to find a series of microlearning courses that I'm confident will hit the gaps in their knowledge that I'm looking to address.

Mistake No. 2: Managers fail to follow up.

It's also common for managers to assign learning to employees, but never debrief the learning. In fact, research by LinkedIn suggests getting managers involved in employee learning is a top challenge for HR professionals.

When I assign my team specific learnings about presentations, I also schedule meetings to ensure they understood the courses. This gives my team a chance to ask questions. Once they draft presentations to practice the skills they learned, I can evaluate those presentations with the microlearning in mind. The courses give us a common touch point to refer back to when discussing areas for improvement.

Mistake No. 3: Employees don't use microlearning proactively.

Beyond the courses their managers assign them, employees should feel empowered to access microlearning to address their own deficiencies and be proactive about their growth. For example, I found myself in a position of having to give a tough performance review several years ago, and I decided to watch a microlearning video on how to approach the situation. I was reminded to make sure to have Kleenex and water on hand, and I also learned something new: to seat the person by the door in case they felt they needed to leave the room.

Employees should be coached to see microlearning as a resource for situations like this, as well as for their broader career development needs.

Mistake No. 4: Employees don't consider themselves content curators.

While managers can assess whether a course addresses the learning that they're hoping employees will gain, the employees themselves are best able to rate its quality and efficacy. Was the course engaging? Easy to understand and apply? When using microlearning, L&D teams and managers alike should encourage employees to rate and share feedback about courses to help curate the best ones.

It can also be impactful to help employees share great courses with each other. People on my team regularly create "playlists" of microlearning content based around a specific theme (such as management) or time of year (such as holidays). It's another great way for employees to discover learning.

By addressing each of these common microlearning missteps and getting managers and employees involved, microlearning programs can evolve into a vital, positive piece of growth — on an individual level and for the organization by extension.

Photo via UnSplash

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