How can HR use "microlearning" to maximise the impact of D&I training?

For many people, properly understanding diversity and inclusion (D&I), and learning to navigate D&I issues in a business context, can be overwhelming. Staff are often tackling unfamiliar ground and have to work hard to retain what they are being taught. Stuart Affleck, Director at D&I consultants Brook Graham from Pinsent Masons Vario, looks at how "microlearning" can help to improve that retention.

The information retention problem

When thinking about how to boost employees' retention of D&I learning, we need to consider the following questions: What do people respond to most in training programmes? How can we help delegates remember the things they are being taught? How can we bring them on a fun and interesting journey, beyond just taking notes from a PowerPoint?

We have found that, in most cases, people are not willing to spend large amounts of time trying to digest long-form content. We live in a digital age - people are used to flicking through Instagram stories and watching short-form YouTube and Tik-Tok videos on their phones. People have become used to switching from one piece of content to another relatively quickly.

A pioneering German psychologist from the 19th Century, Hermann Ebbinghaus, did extensive research into the subject of memory, creating a now-famous illustration called the "forgetting curve", which expresses how much information the brain can retain over time and how quickly new knowledge is forgotten.

Ebbinghaus found that learners forget 80% of what they learn within a month of learning something new - unless they use an aid to help retention. He said the most powerful and simple technique to improve retention is repetition.

So, with the knowledge that, even before the mobile revolution, people were still forgetting 80% of what they learned on average, we have a problem. Most of what is taught in training sessions - through lectures, seminars, PowerPoints etc - is being forgotten. When this is the case, why bother doing the training in the first place? And what is a solution to this problem? This is where HR can make use of microlearning.

What is microlearning?

Microlearning is all about communicating training through bite-sized chunks of content (rather than long form), and presenting that information in varied ways. For example, that could be through a quiz, a game or an interactive film. It is about displaying the information in a way that is engaging and memorable, rather than just through a presentation or bullet points.

The idea is that learners are much more likely to absorb the information if they are encouraged to learn in stretches of three to seven minutes (which is designed to match the working memory capacity and attention span) than if they were given the content in longer, less engaging bursts.

Microlearning can help employees retain the information that is being given to them and can therefore increase the impact of D&I training, ultimately cultivating more inclusive workplaces. Improving the effectiveness of training can also have a massive impact on professional development and career progression within the organisation.

Microlearning has been a part of traditional learning for some time, and while it is still underutilised by most businesses, it is starting now to influence the corporate world.

Utilising on-demand remote learning

There has been some recent research on microlearning. One review, for example, found that the trend for on-demand training is increasing: more employees are now taking control of their learning, with the expectation that they will be able to learn from anywhere they want, and at any time.

An added benefit of microlearning is that it can be more easily accessed remotely. It enables users to progress through training where and when it suits them, allowing them to be more productive during working hours and times of rest. One research project found that 76% of participants chose to complete modules away from their regular pace of work - a further example of how microlearning is better suited to modern-day habits.

Our recommendation to HR professionals is to wrap microlearning into all training programmes they run, to boost engagement and better suit the needs and habits of a modern workforce. They should be looking to deliver bite-sized training material to employees, allowing them to reinforce key learning points and start to build new habits and behaviours. One way of doing this, particularly in the context of D&I, is through real-world stories. Brook Graham's Conscious Inclusion Hub is an example of a resource based on these principles.

A business that continues to run the same types of training sessions they have done for years is really missing a trick. HR professionals need to sit down and think to themselves: "How can we create a training programme that really engages our staff?", rather than treating it like a tick-box exercise. Incorporating microlearning into those programmes is a great first step towards achieving this goal.