CHAPTER 15: MICROLEARNING IN THE WORKPLACE OF THE FUTURE
by: Johnny Hamilton, Darci Hall, and Theresa Hamilton
Chapter excerpt from Microlearning in the Digital Age
In the next few years, the Learning and Development department in more organizations will be seen less as a means for completion requirement and more as a strategic driver of organizational growth. Corporate learning will soon provide “consumer-grade” experiences that are designed to delight like Netflix has for entertainment and Amazon delivers for shopping. But what will that look like? Through five scenarios, you’ll explore a day in the work-life of a worker, Olivia, in 2025. In each, you will discover what enabling technologies and design considerations are needed to support each of those experiences. You’ll also review how innovation happens in a corporate setting.
SPECIAL SECTION | 2021-Q3 UPDATE
Update by Johnny Hamilton
The chapter for this book was written in late 2019, and there are two important updates that I’d like to share.
Proof Point: Microlearning Improves Engagement and Reduces Costs
The first update is to report the outstanding success of the Providence implementation of the microlearning platform Qstream, showcased in part 4 of this chapter. During the Training Industry’s TICE conference in October 2020, I presented “How Providence’s Compliance Learning Engagement Scores Went from an F to a B+ and Saved Millions of Dollars” (Training Industry, 2020). By using a microlearning design, Providence was able to cut the time required to complete compliance education by two-thirds, resulting in a savings of over 11 million dollars per year in implementation costs to their 120,000+ workforce. Additionally, engagement scores drastically improved by using Qstream’s platform that incorporates:
- Engaging activities through gamification
- Convenient access via a mobile app and email
- Easy to understand analytics of progress through dashboards
In addition, the power of real-time analytics provided insights at the worker, manager, and organizational levels.
In Response to COVID, Acceleration is the New Normal
The second update is how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted Learning and Development professionals. This chapter was written 18 months ago and in a normal business environment, we would have seen incremental changes in the learning industry. However, the pandemic has forced businesses to rapidly change how to do their core functions and this has resulted in exponential changes.
Chris Casement, an expert in the learning industry and chief operating officer at
My Baseline Builder, has analyzed business trends in the learning industry and offers several insights based on his market research (My Baseline Builder, 2021). He identifies a key shift in response to the pandemic has been the significantly accelerated the rate of change. For example, in late 2019, PwC surveyed over 1,500 CEOs and found that the overwhelming majority recognized that their workforces were facing a significant skills gap. At that time, the CEOs forecasted they had 10 years to close this gap or they could face irrelevance as their competitors moved with greater agility (PWC, 2019).
Only a few months later, at the beginning of 2020, McKinsey reported that 87% of 1,200 executives surveyed thought that they had only five years to upskill and reskill their workforce. In addition, close to two-thirds anticipated there would be a significant change in roles within their workforce within the next five years (McKinsey, 2020).
In 2021, Edelman Data research firm surveyed over 31,000 full-time employees and discovered that employees are at an inflection point (Edelman, 2021). Their research showed that the pandemic has left the workforce tired and thinking about their next move, specifically-
- 41% of employees were considering leaving their current employer
- 46% say they were likely to move because they can work remotely
If workers leave their employers in these numbers, this shift would represent the largest labor movement since the 1980s. Since it costs as much as six times more to hire from the outside than fill roles internally, organizations must focus on retaining, upskilling, and reskilling the workforce they have to meet their changing workforce needs. In response to COVID, the essential question for executives and learning professionals has now shifted to how to best reskill and upskill their workforce.
Explore more trends in this video featuring Chis Casement and Johnny Hamilton
The New Value of Learning
In a pre-pandemic world, the focus of learning was on increasing engagement and saving money on implementation costs. Now however, the real value of learning is in how it can drive business success. As businesses have shifted their focus to rapidly upskilling and reskilling their workforce, new models and approaches have emerged that show how learning can be an essential driver of the organization’s success and earn a seat at the executive table.
At the core of creating a new value of learning is the shift from completions to capabilities (My Baseline Builder, 2021). Traditionally, L&D strategies have focused on building knowledge, typically through a course-centric approach. Remembering facts and understanding them is the foundation- which focuses on the knowledge to do something, as shown below in Bloom’s taxonomy of thinking (Bloom’s Taxonomy, n.d.). To complete the capabilities picture, we need to shift from just knowledge to application. By applying and analyzing the content in higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, the second half of the definition is realized- which is the ability to do something.
Push-Anchor-Pull: A New Approach to Rapidly Building Skills
This shift to rapidly build skills can be put into action with the Push-Anchor-Pulltm approach (Hamilton and Hamilton, 2020) that I co-developed with Terri Hamilton, co-author of this chapter. I recently showcased this learning design strategy at the Training Industry’s TICE conference (Training Industry, 2021) as an evolution of the 70/20/10 model in which:
- Content is initially pushed to workers so that they learn and set a baseline of the core knowledge
- Then, content is anchored when workers practice new skills
- Finally, content is pulled as workers apply new skills in their workflows
The Push-Anchor-Pull approach can be designed and deployed using an advanced microlearning platform like Qstream. In this use case, a question a day is Pushed to workers via a mobile app and their work emails. When it’s convenient for them during their day, workers take a couple of minutes to answer a question on their smartphone, laptop, or desktop. When they do so, they get immediate feedback as well as an explanation. This flipped learning design of answering questions before getting the explanation has been proven to increase engagement, understanding, and retention in peer-reviewed research.
Next, Qstream’s real-time analytics Anchors workers’ knowledge. This is where frontline managers play an essential role to support workers’ proficiency and engagement.
Using real-time actionable analytics, managers target individual workers’ specific needs to practice and improve their baseline performance with precision-coaching.
Finally, workers and managers Pull from an ecosystem of microlearning resources to support learning and performance. Workers can access learning performance support resources 1) when they answer their Qstream questions and 2) anytime from a learning pathway. Whether workers need them in their workflows or managers when they are providing precision-coaching, they can all access the right content at the right time.
Some resources in the microlearning ecosystem focus on learning core knowledge such as micro-videos, how-to guides, and infographics. But building skills and capabilities requires more than knowledge- it requires opportunities to practice and apply that knowledge. In these learning pathways, workers can also practice new skills through micro-games, activities, and interactive case studies. Finally, workers can
apply those skills in their workflows – through interactive templates, job aids, and more.
Using this ecosystem of microlearning resources not only reinforces and sustains your organization’s upskilling and reskilling efforts, it increases workers’ fluency, accuracy, and work performance. Workers will increase their capabilities by applying their new knowledge in their work. This is where the real value of upskilling your workforce is demonstrated.
Watch this space- interesting things are continuing to happen in this area of microlearning. As learning tools, approaches, and frameworks evolve, the value of learning to business will exponentially increase. Gone are the days of just reporting on compliance- now learning is about building strategic capabilities…
- plus generating workforce analytics
- plus increasing engagement
- plus slashing implementation costs
With the right design and tools, learning finally earns a seat at the executive table to help drive the business forward.
If you are interested in learning more about how to rapidly upskill workers using the Push-Anchor-Pull approach and a capability building framework, feel free to take the next step and connect with me at [email protected].
Chapter 15 (original book text)
In the past several years, we as learning professionals have seen massive changes in the corporate learning and development space. There was a time that Learning and Development was seen as a checkbox to complete – a compliance requirement that reduced the risk to the organization. That has now changed. Learning is now seen as a strategic driver of organizational performance and personal growth. In the coming years, more companies will include a seat for learning at the executive table. Learning will earn its seat in the C-suite because it will:
- Prove Return on Investment (ROI)
- Deliver real-time data
- Provide actionable analytics
- Predict workforce trends, and more
How will the learning profession live up to the shift from minor to crucial- and why is this change happening now? To put it simply, the world has changed. To see how this works, let’s explore another shift that happened a few decades ago- a shift from delightful to expectation. When airbags were first invented, Lexus was one of the first car manufacturers to include them, but it was an optional feature. The only way to get an airbag and to have that added layer of safety was to buy a Lexus. Today, airbags come standard in all cars. Airbags went from an option that was a differentiator, a delighter, and something innovative to now being an expectation- a standard feature.
Compare that to what has happened in learning. Several decades ago, Instructor-Led Training met everyone’s expectations. Then, we delighted our learners with LCD projectors and PowerPoint presentations. Soon, those were standard expectations. Then, we evolved and delighted with eLearning, mobile access, streaming video, and microlearning. All of those have now become standard. Many in the learning industry would be fine to stay here because people have come to expect these from learning- and we can deliver it. The only problem is… the world continues to change. Will microlearning continue to evolve and adapt to these changes?
Today, social media, entertainment, and commerce have been disrupted by technology, mobile access, and new designs. People experience, and now expect, a high degree of engagement, personalization, and ease of use when they shop, watch shows, and join social media. Companies such as Netflix, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple spend billions of dollars to design, research, and continually refine user experiences to make them exceptional. We have all become accustomed to better experiences when we shop and get entertained.
Yet, what do people experience when they learn in the workplace? Typically, it is something that is less than these “consumer-grade” experiences. Current learning often is:
- Content-centric, not learner-centric
- One-size-fits-all instead of personalized
- Not nearly as engaging as consumer-grade experiences
- Delivered to them instead of something they seek
- Prepackaged rather than collaborative
People will disengage if their workplace learning experiences do not match or even come close to their consumer experiences. But really, is learner disengagement all that bad? What will happen if workers disengage from their learning? Here’s a typical result:
- Workers won’t learn much, which leads to…
- Their behaviors and performance not changing substantially, which leads to…
- Little or no impact on the business outcomes, which leads to…
- A lot of wasted time, effort, and money- i.e., no ROI
54% of the workforce will require significant upscaling and reskilling in the next five years. Lack of professional development continues to rank among the top three reasons why people leave companies (World Economic Form Report, 2018). 8 in 10 CEOs say that a lack of key skills is a serious threat to their company’s growth (PwC, 2019), yet only 18% give employees the ability to actively develop themselves (Deloitte, 2018). If businesses aren’t upskilling and keeping their best employees, they will fail or become irrelevant. It has been predicted that 50% of S&P 500 companies will be replaced over the next 10 years (Innosight, 2018).
As learning professionals, we need to get this right. We can do better. We need to earn that seat at the business table. So how can we be part of the solution to support our companies to not only survive, but to thrive and stay relevant in this new reality? It’s not about creating more learning or completing more courses. It’s about designing the right conditions for learning. It’s about getting the right knowledge at the right time to increase performance that drives business outcomes. We have the knowledge, skills, and tools to begin to effect this change now. By 2025, these tools will be even more robust and powerful, and our learning designs will be fully implemented. Just imagine what our work will be like in the future. In this chapter, we will explore what microlearning could look like in 2025 in forward thinking companies.
You will meet Olivia and explore a day in her work life. Although her story is fictional, her experiences, opportunities, and the learning solutions explored are all real. Her story is separated into five sections:
- My Lifelong Learning is about Skills, not Degrees
- The Things All Around Me are Learning Experiences
- My Learning Adapts to Me, Not the Other Way Around
- When My Learning is Tiny, It Doesn’t Get in the Way
- I’m Pursuing My Dream Job
Each section first explores her story to discover what a day in the life could be in the workplace of 2025. After every scenario, you will discover what enabling technologies and design considerations are needed to support that experience. Note, this is not to imply that many or most companies will incorporate these experiences by 2025- but there will be some that are early adopters and will be leading the way. Finally, the chapter will explore how the Learning and Design team at Providence has been designing, prototyping, and implementing the precursors to these workplace learning solutions of the future.
It is important to note that Providence is a not for profit health system and as of 2020, is the ninth-largest system in the United States of America with 119,000+ caregivers/employees that serve in 51 hospitals, more than 800 clinics, and provide a comprehensive range of health and social services for over 2.1 million people across the western U.S. (Providence, n.d.). Providence started in 1856 and has a long heritage of meeting new challenges by pioneering innovative solutions (Providence, n.d.).
OLIVIA’S LEARNING IN 2025: A FIVE-PART STORY
Olivia is a learning manager for Tobias Financial, a company with 50,000 employees in four states. She is traveling to meet with the executive team to discuss workforce planning for their new acquisition in its office in San Antonio, Texas. She is a lifelong learner and actively pursues opportunities to grow.
PART 1: My Lifelong Learning is about Skills, not Degrees
OLIVIA’S STORY: WORKPLACE SKILLS
Olivia leaves her hotel at 8:00 in the morning and takes a ride share service to the new office building. Olivia has been a learning manager for six years and wants to become a learning executive. Her bachelor’s degree in literature that she earned 11 years ago has very little to do with her current role or the new role that she is seeking, but that’s not stopping her. She’s actively seeking and completing learning experiences to prepare herself in her career development.
As Olivia rides in the car, she finishes listening to a podcast about leading with influence on her mobile device.
“That was fascinating,” she tells herself with a smile. She’s smiling because this is the last item on her learning pathway called “Strategic Planning.” The pathway had several blogs to read, a TED Talk to watch, a downloadable worksheet to complete, a few microgames to play, and this podcast. She taps ‘Mark Complete’ on her mobile app to indicate her progress. This pathway is the last piece to complete her overall learning plan to become a learning executive. She decides to message her manager, Steven, to share the good news.
“Hey Steven, guess what? Check out my profile – I just finished my Executive Leadership plan!” Olivia exclaims.
“That’s wonderful! Are you ready to take your Executive Skills assessment?” Steven messages back.
“I sure am! I’m going to nail it. By the way, can you update your ratings of my Skills in my profile? I want to make sure all my progress is tracked,” Olivia responds.
“Absolutely. Let’s discuss it at our meeting you scheduled next Tuesday to talk about your career,” Steven replies.
“Great. I want to share some podcasts and articles I’ve finished since we last talked. There’s this great one from Simon Sinek that I want to talk about,” Olivia shares.
“Sounds good. I’ll recommend some people to connect to that know a lot about his work,” Steven suggests.
WORKPLACE SKILLS IN 2025
As we can see from the scenario above, in 2025, the workplace has become a learning place. Every role will have skills associated with them. In addition to preparing for those new skills, workers also focus on the skills needed for particular projects and how to upskill for them. These skills are accessed at the point of need, on the fly, mostly via mobile devices. Businesses will be shifting their focus in their workforce, as shown in Table 1.
Workforce Shifts in Businesses
|Four Year Degrees||Skills/Competencies|
|Organizational Hierarchy||Agile Teams/Projects|
|Job Descriptions||Skills Required|
The skills that are in high demand include creativity, collaboration, persuasion, design thinking, digital literacy, analytics/visualization. Note that many of these skills are easily transferable between roles within a business.
There is also a shift from a Push paradigm (where content is assigned to workers) to a Pull paradigm (where workers seek content when needed). As shown in Table 2, learning needs to be designed differently in a Pull paradigm.
Comparing Push and Pull Learning
|PUSH LEARNING||PULL LEARNING|
|Mandatory Content||Self-Directed Learning|
|Send People to Training||Peer-To-Peer and Team Learning|
|Long eLearning Modules||Informal Content/Microlearning|
As you can see in the right column, much of this learning is aligned to microlearning in that it is mobile, informal, and social enabled. Most learning happens within the flow of work to help improve performance, efficiency, and accuracy. Microlearning is most powerful when it is mobile-enabled and accessed at the point of need. This is not a check the box, compliance driven activity- it is a just-in-time learning solution. Workers are empowered to set up what is relevant to them and learn new skills to advance in their career development. This is where social and peer learning happen- learning that is self-directed and empowering.
It is important to note that Pull paradigm complements, but does not replace, a Push paradigm. For example, longer form and required eLearning modules still have an important place in the learning ecosystem. It is necessary to dive deep into new or complex content that all workers must understand (such as regulations or product/services essential to the business). However, these assets are now complemented by informal learning, which is not mandatory, and microlearning, which is much shorter and can be accessed in the flow of work to address a specific need.
WORKPLACE SKILLS NOW
At Providence, all of our learning traditionally has been pushed to workers and tracked through a Learning Management System (LMS). In 2019, we designed and piloted Degreed, a Learning Experience Platform (LXP), that was launched across the enterprise in 2020. Workers can now take charge of their own learning, skill development, and career growth by enhancing their traditional, formal Push learning with a variety of informal learning that they can pull. Workers are encouraged to learn, track, and share:
- Articles they have read
- Podcasts they have listen to
- Videos they have watched
- Insights they gained from group discussions
These learning activities can be accessed anytime, anywhere, and on any connected device. This vast amount of user generated data enables our organization to identify learning trends, behaviors, and hot topics in real-time. Our learning professionals are also able to respond by designing, developing, and deploying microlearning and other experiences that address these areas in a matter of weeks – not months or years.
- How much of your current learning that you develop is a Push paradigm and how much is a Pull paradigm?
- What skills would you define for the role you are currently in? For your previous role?
PART 2: The Things All Around Me are Learning Experiences
OLIVIA’S STORY: INTERNET OF THINGS
Olivia arrives at her destination – the office building of their latest acquisition. During her visit, the things around her provide her valuable information to help her live and work better.
As Olivia walks up to the building, she checks the screen on her wrist for a quick view of a 3-D map of the office building. From it, she sees where her meeting is on the second floor, as well as how to walk there and which elevator to take. Her digital assistant, Sam, gives her a notification through her wireless earbuds.
“Olivia, you are 15 minutes early to your appointment. Did you want a quick bite or check the news for a few minutes?” Sam asks in her ear while simultaneously showing a café in the office building and a top new story on her wrist screen.
Olivia taps the café on her screen. On Olivia’s smart glasses, walking instructions appear on the bottom of her view.
“Sam, do they have any vegan blueberry muffins?” Olivia asks as she walks to the front entrance.
“No, they do not. However, they do have a berry protein bar that matches your fitness profile. Are you interested in that?” Sam asks.
“Forget about it,” Olivia replies.
As Olivia walks through the main entrance, she walks to the reception area. A security guard looks up from his tablet and greets her.
“Hi Olivia. You’re from our California office, is that right?” the security guard asks.
“Yes I am. I have a meeting with the executive team here this morning. Mind if I check out some things in the lobby for a few minutes?” Olivia asks.
“Sure. The sculpture and framed pictures are enhanced. Do you need any assistance in accessing them?” the guard asks.
“I’m good. Thank you,” Olivia replies as she walks over to a painting on the wall of one of the company’s founders. She pauses to take a look at it, and as she does so, several icons appear on the side of it within her smart glasses. She looks at the virtual About icon, the artwork springs to life and turns into a short video. As it’s playing, her wrist screen vibrates, reminding her that she has five minutes to arrive at her meeting destination.
“Cancel. Show me the way,” Olivia says to Sam and the interactive painting fades away while the navigation dots and arrows replace them. They guide her to the elevator, second floor, and show her turn by turn where to go for her meeting.
On her way, she passes by some cubicles and offices of some of her colleagues that she has worked with, but has never met in person. She recognizes Clark’s name, from marketing, in an empty cubicle. As she looks at his smart nameplate on his desk, she sees his schedule on her wrist screen that shows he’s in a meeting until 10 o’clock.
She says, “Leave a message,” pauses, then says, “Hey Clark, do you want to get together for lunch today? I’m in a meeting in conference room 2.”
“Message saved and sent,” the smart nameplate replies.
Olivia leaves and walks to her meeting.
‘INTERNET OF THINGS’ LEARNING IN 2025
As is evident from the encounters Olivia has in the previous scenario, the Internet of Things (IoT) is a concept in which many everyday items, such as work badges, framed art, and nameplates are connected to the Internet and are interactive. The scenario includes four types of things that are described in Table 3.
Types of Internet of Things
The framed painting does not have any integrated electronics, but its image has been coded to launch an Augmented Reality experience- accessed through a mobile device (smartphone or tablet) or smart glasses.
Olivia’s work badge has an embedded chip in it that is easily scannable at a distance by readers. Information encoded in the chip can include data such as personal, payment, and security. The security guard was able to not only validate that a company employee just walked in, but her company profile as well.
The smart nameplate incorporates active electronics such as microphone, speaker, and Wi-Fi Internet connection that accesses online services in the cloud. The device itself has very little processing power. The complex analytics and processing are performed by distributed infrastructure by one or more systems.
Olivia’s smart glasses, wireless earbuds, and wrist screen are devices that are meant to be worn and add a digital layer to the real world as well as connect to powerful interconnected online services to access real-time data such as maps, schedules, and more. Next-gen GPS provides accuracy to several inches, so location-based experiences are more detailed.
In order to power the Internet of Things, an ultrafast connection to powerful cloud-based services is needed. Throughout most populated areas, 5G wireless connectivity is available, which is up to 100 times faster than its predecessor, 4G, and can connect 10 times faster (known as latency). Because many IoT “things” will not have screens and/or keyboards (such as smart speakers, smart glasses, and smart nameplates), people will interact with them using their voices.
The Natural Language Recognition
Voice User Interface (VUI) technologies rely on cloud-based services in order to perform the highly complex natural language processing. Spoken words not only need to be decoded from sound waves into text, but the intent of the phrase must also be analyzed and determined. Idioms and euphemisms such as, “Forget about it,” that are used in conversational speech must be inferred and understood.
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
AI leverages Machine Learning and advanced algorithms to process this information and refine its algorithms in real time. The more people use natural language recognition, the more accurate and efficient it becomes. That is because Machine Learning does not require humans to manually update the code and algorithms, the computer learns by itself based on its experience.
Multiplatform Integration and Standardization
Once the intent of the spoken words has been determined, the appropriate action or response is processed. This generates a query to its associated backend integration (i.e., calendar, reference look up, payment processing, streaming media, etc.) to serve up the requested information. All of this needs to happen seamlessly and within a fraction of a second (low latency) in order to ensure a great user experience.
To perform an ever-growing array of ever-increasing complexity of tasks, companies leverage cloud-based quantum computers within their infrastructure, which have a thousand to a million times more computing power and speed than today’s supercomputers. The data that is collected is highly detailed and contains many identifiers. It is also formatted in standardized protocols that facilitate transferring between systems.
‘INTERNET OF THINGS’ LEARNING NOW
Today, the IoT is not widely available because the technology infrastructure still is in its infancy. It’s made some headway in home automation with things such as security systems, thermostats/lighting, and voice-enabled remote controls. There has been very little development in the IoT in workplace learning. However, at Providence, we have been exploring and developing experiences that are the building blocks of IoT.
We have explored two ways that Augmented Reality (AR) enhances learning. In 2018, we incorporated an interactive branching scenario into a traditional classroom training. Workers scanned their notebook binder with an app on their smartphones to launch the experience.
You are able to try it out by following the directions in Figure 1. You can also read more about this Brandon Hall award-winning design (Brandon Hall, 2018) in the whitepaper titled, This is What Happens When MicroLearning Meets Augmented Reality: An Augmented Reality Enhanced Whitepaper (Providence, 2018).
Augmented Reality Enhanced Microlearning Scenario
In 2020, the Augmented Reality technology evolved to no longer require people to download and install an app to launch the experience. Workers could now launch it via WebXR with a simple QR code and their browser. Check it out yourself by using your mobile device’s native camera software or a QR code app (if needed) to launch the experience in the poster in Figure 2 that was used to announce a new learning platform.
Augmented Reality Enhanced Educational Poster
Voice activated digital assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and Microsoft’s Cortana currently can understand basic spoken requests like playing music or answering factual questions. They also provide some increasingly complex interactions such as buying things and making reservations.
In the realm of microlearning, we began developing our own Voice User Interface (VUI) experiences using Amazon Alexa in 2017 and won an award for Best Advance in Leadership Simulation Tool (Brandon Hall, 2017). We started with a simple skill called Safety Stories in which workers use the Alexa app on their mobile device or talk to a smart speaker to request and listen to a safety story at the beginning of a meeting. Then, we developed a simulated conversation skill named Giving Developmental Feedback so workers can refine how they provide feedback to their team. This more closely resembles an actual conversation because workers must both speak and listen during the experience. In the realm of VUI, the challenge is to design and develop engaging microlearning experiences in which there is nothing to see nor touch. The whole experience is based on what you say and hear. To learn more about this design, read the whitepaper A New Learning Design Using Alexa Voice User Interface (Providence, 2017).
We also use the Virgin Pulse app to track our fitness and learn healthy tips. It connects to biometric wearable devices such as FitBit that track fitness metrics like movement and heart rate. Workers can learn what their actual behaviors are in real-time and take micro actions (like taking a quick stretch break) to align their performance to their goals. They can also be prompted to try new, healthy snacks at the times when they are most likely to want them, such as the mid-afternoon. Changing behavior through targeted nudges moves microlearning into a whole new level.
- How could augmented reality microlearning experiences be used in your workplace today?
- What wearable devices do workers in your company currently use? How might those change and be better in the near future?
PART 3: My Learning Adapts to Me, Not the Other Way
OLIVIA’S STORY: ADAPTIVE LEARNING
Olivia joins her meeting with the executive team. As the learning manager, she has some thoughts to share as they discuss their strategic workforce plan. Olivia confidently points out a few of the outcomes produced from their adaptive learning strategy, which adapts the learners’ experience in real-time, based on their responses.
“Comparing the expense to train our workers using a traditional versus an adaptive 4.0 architecture, you can see here that our costs have been reduced by over 60%, resulting in a savings of over $7.2 million,” Olivia states as she references a chart on a slide.
“Those savings are substantial, but can you be sure our workers have the same level of learning as they did with the traditional approaches?” asks Thomas, the Chief Financial Officer.
“Well, it’s hard to answer that because with traditional learning designs, there’s very little data we can analyze beyond who completed the courses,” Olivia responds.
“That makes sense- I used to think that’s all we could do in learning,” Thomas replied.
“We can do a LOT more. With our adaptive 4.0 system, we not only can provide personalized learning and then analyze it in real time, we can take that to the next level,” explains Olivia.
“What’s the next level?” asks Thomas.
“Predictive analytics, for one. I’ve been working with Colin to map our workers’ performance metrics to the data in our adaptive learning platform. This closes the feedback loop and directly connects learning to business outcomes,” Olivia says.
“And that’s given Brenda and I some new abilities,” says Colin, the Chief Technology Officer.
“That’s right. We’re also making a broad range of accurate predictions based on knowledge and performance gaps that have dramatically improved our ability to map workforce planning, and with greater efficiency. Let me show you some preliminary results…” Olivia mentions as the rest of the executive team listens intently.
ADAPTIVE LEARNING IN 2025
As we can see from the previous scenario, by 2025, learning in the workplace will be highly personalized, adaptive, and predictive – these are the hallmarks of Adaptive 4.0. Several decades ago, when adaptive learning was introduced, it utilized branching scenarios and decision trees. This is Adaptive 1.0 in which workers can choose different experiences by the choices they make. Then Adaptive 2.0 emerged with simple algorithms – but although there was differentiation, it was limited because the learning pathways were already preset. Workers selected different levels which took them on pre-determined pathways of content.
In Adaptive 3.0, Artificial Intelligence has created a true personalized learning experience as the system adapts to a worker’s performance in real-time to provide the right level of instruction at the right time. Workers will have a different experience if they revisit the content since they will presumably answer questions differently. Finally, in Adaptive 4.0, learning performance is mapped to workplace performance. This requires a high degree of backend mapping using API (Application Protocol Interface) protocols so that the learning system can share information with other business systems that track worker performance, business output, and other metrics. For example, if a worker has a number of personal safety incidents, then a safety course may be automatically recommended.
With Adaptive 4.0, executives and frontline managers will always tie learning to business outcomes, because now it can be measured and analyzed. They will place greater emphasis and value on developing and measuring training KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) within their organization. The Chief Learning Officer (CLO) and Chief Data Officer will have greater influence in the C-suite because they will have the data to back up their business expectations and outcomes. However, a business cannot do this lift by themselves. Rather than looking for vendors to farm out the work, smart businesses will seek out technology partners in which they can have a collaborative, productive relationship so they can thrive and adapt as the technology changes.
By 2025, workers will come to expect personalized learning as the norm, and they will be frustrated when it is not. That is because the technology all around them will be increasingly personalized – so why should their workplace learning be any different? Workers will be able to:
- Master the material at their own pace
- Choose their learning modalities (i.e., watch, read, practice)
- Learn at their optimal level of difficulty (to stay in the flow)
- Access self-remediation and reference resources
Key benefits of personalized learning include:
- Enhanced learning experiences
- Improved performance and business outcomes
- Reduced training times
- Increased engagement/participation, especially for non-mandatory training
ADAPTIVE LEARNING NOW
At Providence, we partnered with Fulcrum Labs, an outcomes-driven technology leader in Adaptive 3.0 learning solutions that enables companies to exceed their learning and development Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). We designed, developed, and implemented an adaptive learning pilot that recently won a Brandon Hall Award in Content Management Technology (Brandon Hall, 2019), a BIG Innovation award (Business Intelligence Group, 2020), and a American Business Association Gold award for Corporate Learning (American Business Association, 2020). Fulcrum’s Adaptive 3.0 platform allows workers to choose how to engage with the content via watching, reading, and practicing and uses Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to dynamically adapt a worker’s learning experience in real-time. In the pilot, workers had the option of enrolling in our Fulcrum adaptive learning course or taking a traditional series of short videos to learn how to use a new software platform that was being rolled out. Those that took the adaptive Fulcrum course showed a 416% engagement increase compared to a 70% increase with the traditional videos. Find out more outcomes on page 18 of the solution brief titled, Now is the Future of Workplace Learning (Providence, 2019).
- What learning have you developed or would like to develop that leverages Adaptive 1.0 (branching), 2.0 (simple algorithms), 3.0 (AI enhanced) or 4.0 (tied to performance/outcome metrics)?
- How many vendors have you established true partnerships with (rather than a service for hire) and what has been the outcome of them?
PART 4: When My Learning is Tiny, It Doesn’t Get in the Way
OLIVIA’S NANO-LEARNING STORY
After the meeting, Olivia checks her notifications and sees that Clark wants to get together for lunch. She walks to the elevator and her wrist screen vibrates to notify her she has a question of the day. While waiting for the elevator to arrive, she taps her screen to open it. The question pops up as she waits, “What does Code Black mean?” The doors open and by the time she gets in, she’s considered her answer from the four shown. As they go up two floors to the cafeteria, she submits her answer and gets feedback that she got the answer correct and she’s now third on the top score leaderboard for her team. As the doors open for her floor, she walks out with a smile.
After lunch with Clark, she decides to stay in the cafeteria for a few minutes and video chat with Steve, her manager. They talk briefly about the meeting, her visit at the new location, and the turbulent flight she had the day before.
“Olivia, that reminds me, I saw you struggled last week with a question about safety protocols. Could you touch base with Elizabeth about it?” Rebecca asks him.
“Sure. I wasn’t familiar with the updated evacuation procedures,” Olivia replies.
“I know these protocols can be confusing. Elizabeth has been excellent in that area and I think she could help you out. I’ll follow up with you next week to see how you’re doing,” Rebecca mentions.
“Great. Thanks for the support,” Olivia says with a smile.
NANO-LEARNING IN 2025
As demonstrated by Olivia in the previous scenario, nano-learning takes microlearning to an extreme, where it takes less than a minute to complete, but occurs on a daily basis over a period of weeks or months. Nano-learning can be defined as learning that occurs in less than a minute. Some easily relatable examples include asking a smart speaker how many tablespoons are in a pint, using your smartphone to search for directions to a restaurant, and watching a YouTube video on your tablet to learn how to make a double-sided copy on your specific printer.
Learning in such a small time frames does not disrupt the flow of work, yet it keeps the content top of mind for workers. Olivia was able to answer a question as she was going to lunch. Responses are received, analyzed, and accessible by frontline managers in real-time. This enables managers to respond quickly to areas of concern and provide any additional support needed. The key here is not just learning material, it is comprehending and retaining it. Using spaced learning is a proven methodology for organizations to ensure their workers keep what they have learned.
Many studies have shown that in as little as 30 days, up to 79% of knowledge is forgotten (Murre & Dros, 2015). This phenomenon is called the forgetting curve. This means that regardless of the design or modality of the initial learning, workers will not be able to recall a majority of what they learned when they need to a month or two later. Given this, how can a company expect performance to improve?
The forgetting curve is offset by nano-learning’s spacing effect (by presenting information over spaced intervals of time) and testing affect (by providing immediate feedback after questions). Studies by Qstream (Qstream, n.d.) have shown up to 170% increase in retention using this methodology.
When combined with adaptive learning that is powered by Artificial Intelligence, additional questions can be suggested based on worker’s real-time responses or by changing business circumstances. For example, a worker may show promise in a different area and for a different business need. The system could make a recommendation that would benefit the business by filling in a gap and the worker by providing individualized professional career growth. Conversely, if a worker is not reaching required mastery, their profile might be flagged for review to indicate a lack of fit for the current position.
In addition, the library of nano-learning experiences developed could be shared beyond workers to the extended community. Topics such as making the most effective use of preventive programs, healthy living strategies, and communicating effectively can be useful not only to workers, but to their customers and to the community at large. Further, nano-learning can be used beyond the training realm. When a topic of interest needs to be messaged or a new program/location/service is offered, nano-learning can be an effective tool.
In 2019, we completed two pilots of nano-learning ahead of an enterprise launch in 2020 for three of our annual compliance courses using Qstream. We exceeded our Key Performance Indicators (KPI) with a 93% engagement rate, an 18% proficiency improvement, and an average of 38 seconds spent per question. For our compliance courses, we anticipate a savings of over $20 million per year because of our new learning design because training time is reduced by over 50%. Workers spend less than a minute answering a question and if they get it right, they move on with their day. If they get it wrong, they have an opportunity to review relevant content. In this way, they only spend time learning what they need to learn – as opposed to spending a fixed time in a course on material they already may know and then getting assessed on it.
An additional benefit is that workers’ learning performance is analyzed in real-time and their managers are provided weekly actionable analytics via email and access to an online dashboard. Frontline managers know who on their team currently is performing well and who needs additional support on specific items. This empowers managers to be able to take proactive steps to improve performance and address small issues before they become large ones. Explore more details about the pilot by viewing the webinar titled, 3 Proven Ways to Impact the Future of Workplace Learning: High ROI, Data Informed Managers, Engaged Learners (Qstream, 2020).
- What, if any, methods do you use to track learning retention?
- What learning data do your frontline leaders have access to and how current, specific, and easy to analyze is it?
PART 5: I’m Pursuing My Dream Job
OLIVIA’S CAREER/WORKFORCE STORY
Near the end of her day, Olivia gets an exciting notification about her skills profile. She calls her mother, Diane, to share the news.
“Mom! Guess what? My profile was matched at work to the role I’ve been dreaming of!” Olivia exclaims to her mother over the phone.
“That’s amazing! But what are you talking about? What profile and what’s the role?” Diane asks.
“Remember last time I visited, I showed you the scenario simulations on my phone? I was playing the role of the financial executive and I needed to solve a bunch of challenges,” Olivia replies.
“Yeah, all of that stuff was way over my head. How did you know what the right answers were?” Diane asks.
“There were no real right or wrong answers. Through my responses within the different scenarios, the AI created a profile with a lot of different factors like my strategic thinking and business acumen. It’s sort of like a personality test- but this related to business skills,” Olivia explains.
“OK, but what does that mean?” Diane asks.
“Well, what it means is that my profile matched current high-performing and high potential executives. That basically means that I’ve shown that I have the mindset and skills to be successful in a new role that just opened up,” Olivia explains.
“So does that mean you have the job? And what is it?” Diane asks excitedly.
“No, mom – I don’t have the job. I still have to go through the interview process – but now I know and they know that I’m a great fit,” Olivia says.
“Wow! That’s fantastic. That’s a far cry from when I was interviewing for my first job when I left college. We had paper resumes and letters of reference. It sounds like they already know you before they interviewed you.” Diane shares.
“Right?” Olivia agreed.
CAREER/WORKFORCE LEARNING IN 2025
Olivia’s work skills have changed over time. When she entered the workforce, she had studied literature, which had little to do with developing eLearning. Then she acquired managerial skills and became a learning manager. Recently she has been learning executive skills for her next career step. When she was in school, she was preparing for a single focus. However, today’s K–16 education (elementary through college) focuses on preparing students for the workforce of the future, one in which they will need to adapt and change. According to the World Economic Forum (2018), 53% of companies need to reskill and upskill their current workforce to meet the changing demands of the workplace, and that trend is only expected to increase. In light of these data, many schools have shifted to develop students’ skills and mindsets (such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration) to do anything, rather than a particular something such as engineering. Instead of just acquiring a college degree about the hard skills in their area of expertise, students create a profile of their skills that are soft or transferable across jobs.
In the business sector, companies are also shifting toward identifying a profile of transferable skills that are reflective of their high potential (HiPo) employees, which then can be matched to profiles of current and prospective employees. To capture this profile, companies develop game-based simulations that are aligned to their organization’s work activities. These simulations can be taken over a period of time in short, episodic intervals (microlearning) in which workers generate demonstrated performance data. Doing so is more reliable and valid than traditional methods of data collection such as focus groups, interviews, and surveys. Because the simulations are powered by Artificial Intelligence and are accessed on any device via the cloud, they are better than using work samples to create a worker profile because deploying and analyzing simulations can be accomplished at a scale and speed unimaginable a few years ago. Using the behavioral people analytics from these simulations, companies are able to drive business results with a data-driven approach in new ways, such as:
- Identifying current state behavioral capabilities such as strategic thinking within the organization, function, department, team, or individual within a matter of days
- Providing custom tailored learning and development opportunities support for workers based on their capabilities profile
- Identifying areas of excellence and gaps across the global enterprise and measure worker development by real-time trending data
- Increasing retention by identifying at-risk turnover populations by mindset
CAREER/WORKFORCE LEARNING NOW
At Providence, we have been piloting a simulation for clinical executives to generate and validate the usefulness of a new category of people analytic data. Using the Recurrence Gamulation® platform, we co-developed simulations based on current, real-world situations that our clinical executives face, such as reducing costs. This will enable us to gain behavioral insights from these contextual work samples. We will then match their profiles to other performance metrics to establish a correlation, as well as identify areas of excellence and gaps. After the pilot, we plan to deploy it to all of our key executives, as well as expand the skills and competencies assessed. We will also begin leveraging this data to move, promote, and acquire employees with deeper insight.
- What percentage of your current workforce do you think will need to reskill and/or upskill within the next five years?
- How valuable would it be to your organization if you could match profiles of current and prospective employees to those of your high potential/high performing workers?
Olivia’s story has explored how the future of microlearning will be influenced by the Internet of Things, adaptive learning, workforce placement, worker skills, and nano-learning. However, there are some other issues that are worth considering when exploring the future of microlearning.
When you learn things in an informal or social learning setting using a workplace tool, your activity is being tracked. This can benefit you as you can document the learning progress you are making toward your career goals. It can also uncover some unconsidered issues including:
- What actions can/should be taken if an algorithm predicts your behavior/performance will become problematic?
- What and how much can you opt out of in terms of your learning/work behavior that is being tracked?
- As backend systems are integrated, what information of yours can be shared between them?
Is Learning Paid Work Time?
As microlearning becomes more ubiquitous, informal, and a part of daily work life, the lines will become blurred between what is formal and informal training. Traditionally, training time was easy to discern because workers enroll in an in-person or online course that had a defined, set time associated with it. You were either working or you were learning – you did not do both concurrently. Companies typically designate a set number of hours per year allowed for paid training – anything above that is not compensated.
However, as described in this chapter, many microlearning experiences in the future blur, if not erase the line between formal and informal learning, which raises a number of interesting questions, such as:
- How do you compensate workers when their learning lasts less than a minute?
- Is reading an article or sharing an insight in a group discussion compensated?
- Do you get compensated for using your own device if using it for learning?
Integrating Microlearning into a Learning Ecosystem
How does learning happen in the workplace? Workers are learning formally outside the flow of work – and this happens typically on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis. In between those formal events, workers are informally learning, in the flow of work, every day, week, and month (Degreed + Harvard Business Publishing, 2019), as shown in Figure 3.
How Workers Learn in and Outside the Flow of Work
(Degreed + Harvard Business Publishing, 2019)
This is not either formal OR informal learning: This is the power of AND. This is balancing formal AND informal learning. We are bringing learning into the flow of work and life. Learning is about having a robust ecosystem in which all of these activities are included.
Beyond the format of a learning asset, another important distinction to consider in a learning ecosystem is the intent of each asset. For example, when workers read an article, they may be doing so to seek knowledge, assess their understanding, see how to apply their skills, or sharpen their understanding of a topic. The SAASS framework (Hamilton and Hamilton, 2020) describes how learning ecosystems can provide self-directed learning opportunities to:
- Seek (acquire knowledge)
- Assess (determine understanding)
- Apply (practice skills)
- Sharpen (refine skills)
- Soar (track progress)
Rapid Technological Advances
We are living in a time of rapid technological advances. Gordon Moore, the cofounder of Intel, famously predicted in 1965 that the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years (Schaller, 1997). That prediction, known as Moore’s Law, continues to stand the test of time through 2020 – not only for microprocessors, but for a computational power as well (operations per second). As it relates to microlearning, this phenomenon means that devices will continue to become smaller and more powerful, opening the door for the Internet of Things which support learning experiences beyond traditional computers and mobile devices.
However, in some areas of technology, the rate of change is increasing. In these cases, the growth rate is not linear – it is exponential. Consider the progress in human flight, the cost of sequencing the human genome DNA, or the total number of computers in the world. In each of these cases, the changes that have recently occurred in a short amount of time (1-5 years) can equal the total amount of change attained until that point. This is the power of disruptive technologies and we can expect more of these to occur as the pace of innovation speeds up.
Some areas that show promise in the near future include:
- Brain-computer links
- Smart clothing
- Ubiquitous worldwide Internet
The Dawn of the 4th Industrial Revolution
We are all familiar with the Industrial Revolution. It happened when the steam engine changed the world and brought an age of mechanization in the 1700’s. That was actually the first revolution. The second revolution centered on mass production in the mid 1800’s and was driven by electricity and fossil fuels. The third revolution happened in the mid 1900’s and brought automated production which was supported by electronics and information technologies.
Today, we are at the dawn of the fourth Industrial Revolution. New technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, big data, cloud computing, and how they connect Internet of Things and other physical systems are changing the world we live in. This is uncharted territory and we will experience many advances and innovations previously in the realm of fantasy and science fiction.
Imagine what will happen when you are able to implement one or multiple approaches explored in this chapter to architect and implement your own learning. Although many of the tools and technologies are new, the fundamentals of learning and design have not changed. Our core knowledge set of instructional design is still valid and essential.
However, the world is changing. Our authoring tools and people’s expectations of what a good digital experience is are vastly different and will continue to evolve. Are you going to change to keep up with the world? You can choose to either get in the game now to stay relevant and thrive or you can choose to keep doing what you’re doing and watch as other companies pass you by. In business, there will be winners and losers. Continuing to do learning in traditional ways may have been a safe approach until now – but not anymore. To be successful in the new world of business, we need to lean in to better, not safer. The point is, when it comes to innovation in learning- it doesn’t matter how you get in the game, it matters that you get in the game.
Claim your seat at the table. In this new learning landscape, how can you get in the game to stay relevant and thrive? Here are a few ideas:
- Reach out to a new network and start a discussion
- LinkedIn Group: The Future of Workplace Learning
- LinkedIn Group: Microlearning with Augmented and Virtual Reality
- Medium: The Future of Workplace Learning
- Explore and experiment with some of the solutions explored in this chapter
- Launch a pilot project
- Act now
This last point is the most important. Do something in the next 24 hours- even if it is small, just do something. Then build on that momentum and do the next step.
Share your experiences with your network and reach out to us. We cannot wait to see what you build.
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