Motivational Clichés Blog

Perspectives on leadership, learning, and technology for a time of rapid change

  • Ryan Panzer

In today's talent development circles, everyone wants "microlearning," but it seems that so few actually know what "microlearning" means!

As companies cut training hours and professional development budgets amidst a lengthening economic recession, more cash-strapped people leaders will demand more microlearning to meet employee skill development needs.

But these people leaders won't really know what they are asking for.

What is microlearning? Is it merely shorter learning? Is it the same learning in less time? Or is it the same amount of learning that's stretched out into smaller increments across a long period of time? Why has it become so popular? Does microlearning even work?

These are among the many microlearning demystification questions that Karl M. Kapp and Robyn A. Defelice set out to answer in their 2019 book, "Micorlearning Short And Sweet." Succinct and approachable, Kapp and Defelice's work is a useful survey of the microlearning landscape, one that connects this trendy buzzword to theory and research.

While their recommendations and prescriptions are ocasionally vague ("it depends" appears to be a favorite response of theirs), their work lifts microlearning from a platitude to practice, from jargon to meaningful job support.

"Microlearning Short And Sweet" rescues this rising instructional design practice from the gutter of ambiguous corporate-speak, making the book an important read for instructional designers, talent developers, and HR leaders of any organization.

Kapp and Defelice begin by tracing the origins of microlearning. While educational researchers have explored the principles of microlearning under various names for decades, the concept has only recently gained popularity within talent development circles.

Google Trends: Microlearning's 4x search volume growth since 2013

Accordingly, the book is a high-level survey of the microlearning landscape: when it's best used, how it's best designed, and even where it's least effective. The book is strongest in its warnings against microlearning mismanagement: using it as a "panacea" to the learning needs of a resource-constrained organization, or using it as a shortcut to skills development. Microlearning might be small, but it's no silver bullet. Throughout the text, Kapp and Defelice remind the reader that the time to master a skill remains constant, whether you teach that content in an eight-hour workshop (meso-learning) or 48 ten-minute simulations (micro-learning).

As an instructional designer, I was most intrigued by the book's suggestions on using microlearning to "augment" educational experiences. By strategically spacing interactive content, the instructional designer can eliminate forgetting, increase buy-in, and facilitate practice. While I took much away from this short book, my most immediate insight is to build post-workshop microlearning campaigns that combine quizzes, videos, and other pieces of digital content to reengage the learner's attention and memory after the learning event concludes. I look forward to soon deploying microlearning as a means of mitigating the "forgetting curve."

Other instructional designers may find intriguing the ideas of using microlearning to enhance buy-in around a change. In effect, microlearning can be used as a tool for change management, provided the content is high-quality, persuasive, and collaboratively produced. As we continue to navigate the pandemic with all its disruption and volatility, organizations will be forced to make major changes to their operations, mission, and vision. Microlearning can motivate learners to rally behind such changes, by communicating the need for change and by enabling team members to develop new competencies.

At times, "Microlearning Short and Sweet" wanders through unnecessary contextual detail, for example, expositions into theories of Cognitivism and Behaviorism. This tends to be the case with many well-intentioned business books. It's simply more ironic and noticeable when such contextualizing ladens a book on truncated learning techniques! And at times, the reader is left to wonder when the authors will move from the theoretical to the practical. If the book suffers from any deficiencies, it is a lack of concrete recommendations on how to immediately put microlearning to use in one's organizations. Still, the authors provide valuable tools and templates that any instructional designers and educators of any skill-level can use. The templates keep the book at a sufficient level of applicability, providing just enough urgency and transferability to retain the reader's attention.

"Microlearning Short and Sweet" is an important contribution to the field of talent development, one that invites further study, conversation, and debate as more business leaders are drawn to this increasingly popular concept.

This is the latest in an ongoing series on digital marketing for church leaders - be sure to check out the companion post on advertising with Google!

"You can't manage what you can't measure."

-Peter Drucker

If you're a church leader, you've likely grown accustomed to measuring some key numbers in your church. You likely know (approximately) how many attended a worship service, or more recently how many watched an online worship service. You might know how much money you have in your budget, and how much you received in tithes and offerings last Sunday. It's likely that somewhere in your career you were trained to think about the"butts and bucks" numbers as the key performance indicators for your congregation (for more on how to move past "butts and bucks," check out Katie Langston's blog on Faith+Lead).

Doing church online requires a new approach to measurement. What matters in the virtually distributed church is the effectiveness with which your church's digital presence (ie, its website and social media) connects with your community. We can measure this level of connection with free digital tools, the most insightful of which is Google Analytics.

Google Analytics is an application that automatically collects data on website traffic, instantly organizing that data into reports and dashboards. Fully customizable and completely free to use, Analytics is a must-use tool for determining whether digital efforts are achieving the intended results.

When you start using Google Analytics, you'll be able to measure how many visited your website, what they did there, whether they stayed and engaged or quickly "bounced," if they viewed multiple pages or just one, and if they eventually returned. This data helps church leaders to determine when, where, and how communities are coming together on the church website. All of this data, of course, is aggregated and anonymized to protect user privacy. In this post, we'll look at some of the first steps you'll want to take as a church leader during COVID.

To get started, you'll need to sign up for Google Analytics with a Gmail account. Once you've signed up for your website, find and add the Analytics "Tracking Code" to your church website. The code snippet is what sends website data to Google Analytics, enabling you to view important reports on site visits and user activity.

Installing the "Tracking Code" tends to be the most confusing implementation step for new Analytics users, so don't be alarmed if takes you a moment to complete the implementation.

Simply copy the code from Analytics and paste the tracking code beneath the <head> tag of your website.

What's a <head> tag, you might ask? It's the "header" of your website, appended to all pages on your domain. If you can find the HTML for your website, all you'll need to do is paste the code near the top. Google Analytics will do the rest.

Once the tracking code is added to your website, you'll start to see site data in Google Analytics, which will look something like this:

With the code properly installed and site data showing up in your Analytics accounts, it's time to start measuring. While Analytics offers millions of datapoints and segmentations for you to analyze, a beginner Analytics users should focus on users, session duration, and pages/session.

"Users" measures the number of unique visitors to your church website as determined by the date range in the upper-right corner of the Analytics UI. A key question for a church during COVID is the number of users relative to the size of your congregation. If your website is effectively connecting to your community, the number of users in a 30-day window should be similar to your unique monthly attendees. If a church saw an attendance of 350 on a typical pre-COVID Sunday, it should strive for 350 monthly website users.

"Session duration"is the average time spent on your webpages during a single visit to your site. If I visit your homepage for 60 seconds and then leave your website, my session duration is 60 seconds. If I visit five different pages on your website for 10 seconds each, my session duration is also 60 seconds. Since all churches and all websites are different, there isn't a benchmark "session duration" that we ought to strive for. Rather, session duration is a metric of directionality. A key question for today's church leader is whether session duration is trending upward or downward. When church communities find relevant, spiritually-edifying content on a site, session duration increases. As you build out your site and add new types of content like blogs and video pages, see if session duration increases.

"Pages/Session"is the average number of pages a site visitor views per each unique visit to your site. If I visit your site but remain on your homepage, my Pages/Session is 1. If I visit your site and view your Worship page, your blog, and your Contact page, my Pages/Session is 3. Pages/Session is a helpful metric in evaluating whether your website is efficiently funneling traffic to key pages within your site. As a church, you'll likely have a page for worship times/streaming, a blog/videos page, a giving page, and many other pages that are vital to your ministry. Your site should make it easy for a user to switch between pages. A key question for today's church leader is how to maintain a Pages/Session average of 1.5 or more, indicating that the average user connects to more than one resource during their session.

Google Analytics can be overwhelming to those without backgrounds in tech or marketing. If you're feeling like there's too much data and it's hard to know where to get started, take a step back and review some of Google's self-paced learning materials.

Then, identify two or three key performance indicators (KPIs) that you will commit to tracking over the course of four weeks. At the end of four weeks, consider what these numbers might tell you about the quality of your website.

What changes might you make based on this data? That's fundamentally what using Google Analytics is about - not numbers, not graphs, but deriving insight from data. With enough practice and sufficient patience, every church leader can use Google Analytics to strengthen their connections with the community, particularly in an era of disruption.

The way we're learning isn't working.

And conventional wisdom about learning is wasting our time.

Whether we're a student, a business professional, or a lifelong learner, we likely aren't succeeding at the type of intentional skill development that will lead to lasting impact, at school, in the workplace, or in our personal lives. Cramming for a test might make us feel as though we've mastered something. Attending an expert presentation at a conference might help us to feel more adept at a career-related skill. Even reading a book may lead us to feel more intelligent in a particular domain. These sentiments are common, but they are illusory. We feel like we are learning, but in actuality, we are wasting our time. New advances in neuroscience and psychology, the subject of "Make it Stick," reveal that true learning requires a different tact from what is commonly practiced in our schools, workplaces, and organizations.

In "Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning," Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel dispel the most pervasive "learning myths" of our time. Seeking to disprove the patently false assertions that we have come to believe, Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel tactfully deconstruct learning myths so that we might become more wiser, more skilled, more adept at the art of learning.

The book begins with a blistering attack on the notion that learning ought to be "easy." Citing numerous peer-reviewed studies alongside compelling anecdotes from real-life learners, Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel establish that all learning is effortful. Through science and story, the authors describe how most information only makes it into our short-term memory. When learning is easy, the brain doesn't encode information into longterm memory for future retrieval and application. When learning doesn't include "desirable difficulty," it is quickly forgotten. Easy learning, though desirable to some learners, is in fact not learning at all.

After deconstructing "easy" learning, Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel proceed to establish a framework for learning with "desirable difficulty," the level of challenge needed to transfer information in short-term memory to long-term intelligence. While the book introduces several strategies that are specific to schools, organizations, and life-long learners, their framework consists of three insights that scale to any learning exercise: quizzing, spacing, and reflection.

Of the three, quizzing (a.k.a. self-testing) is perhaps viewed as the least favorable in today's learning communities. Still, the authors convincingly argue that recalling information in response to a topical question is the surest way to encode information in long-term memory. While corporate trainers (myself included) tend to view quizzing at times as somewhat juvenile, the research data proves that no method is so effective at cementing skills for future application. Today's instructors have an obligation to quiz their learners and to quiz them frequently, but the authors don't leave the burden for learning with the instructor. They argue instead that learners ought to take responsibility for their own learning, committing to self-quizzing after readings, lectures, conferences, and meetings if they want time spent learning to turn to be time well-invested.

The spacing of learning material, specifically the spacing of quizzes and effortful recall activities, is also critical to crystallizing our knowledge as intelligence. When we effectively space learning materials, we repeatedly return to review important subject matter. The authors contend that learning is never a one-time event. If we want to teach a skill in a college lecture or a corporate classroom, it ought not to be a one-time event. We need to follow-up on the event with micro-learnings and quizzes so as to eliminate the "forgetting curve." Similarly, today's learner is most efficient when they study multiple subjects simultaneously, so as to "interleave" study materials. When we explore multiple topics at the same time we naturally space out our study, and we remember more of what we sought to learn. For example, if we want to teach computer programming, we would do well not to teach programming languages in bulk, but to trade-off between content areas. Rather than teaching all of HTML before teaching CSS, we would teach some HTML, then some CSS, then quiz on and learn more HTML, before returning to CSS and beginning the cycle anew.

Of the ideas in the book, I found their thoughts on reflection to be the most compelling, particularly for adult learners. Reflection is a process of elaborating on experience that asks us to remember what happened, evaluate what happened, and plan for improvement during subsequent experiences. While reflection is important to all learners, it may be especially critical to busy workplace professionals, who likely need fewer lectures and conferences and more opportunities to debrief and discuss.

The book isn't perfectly applicable to life in 2020. It avoids the subject of equity in education. If quizzes and test are so important in our schools, the authors should have suggested how to use them in a way that does not disadvantage those with less frequent access to technology or study materials. The book also describes a case study in which police learn to use lethal force to stop perpetrators, a passage that comes off as callous and upsetting after a summer of racial injustice. Future editions of the book would do well to omit this example, focusing instead on how we can learn to make our organizations more inclusive and equitable.

Still, the book offers an approachable, science-based framework for learning more effectively. Whether we are a student or someone who makes their living teaching others, we would do well to read "Make It Stick" closely and carefully. We would do even better to quiz ourself on its subject matter, read it alongside other books on learning, and reflect on how we might transfer its contents to our daily practice.


Leadership developer for digital culture. Writing a book with Fortress Press, coming in December 2020!

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