Millennial workers require on-demand, on-the-job learning; microlearning meets the need

U.S. companies spend tens of billions annually on training, yet businesses large and small struggle with teaching employees the skills they need to do their jobs. One recent survey found 72 percent of respondents reported they needed to learn new skills, and more than a third said lack of skills is holding them back.

Brandon Hall Group has identified 5 Key Trends for the Future of Learning and Development that companies should employ, including mobile technology, social learning tools and adaptive learning principles. Only 10 percent of companies are leveraging mobile learning solutions, while 59 percent are using social learning activities, according to BHG’s 2014 Learning and Development Benchmarking Study.

“In today’s world, organizations that fail to adjust their learning management practices and solutions often struggle with organizational growth or productivity,” say the authors, David Wentworth and Mollie Lombardi. “As a result, leading companies are abandoning traditional methods of learning in favor of more effective solutions — often involving technology innovation — that engage talent and improve performance.”

Last year, millennials surpassed Gen X as the largest cohort of the U.S. labor force. Younger workers are generally enthusiastic, connected, mobile and often eager to boost their skills, yet frequently distracted and overwhelmed.

These workers and those coming into the workforce in years to come will not tolerate traditional training programs ­— the old school “death by PowerPoint” style of classroom training. They want and require learning experiences on the go, at all times and on their terms.

To better meet their needs, successful companies are revamping their training programs to deliver short, targeted information in smaller bites across multiple media. This trend toward microlearning is reshaping the way companies deliver training. Here are some tips for success:

  • Offer Flexible Learning Options: Learners are no longer tied to their laptop or PC. They use Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest and other social media to get information. Effective learning today is all about access and rich content — giving learners specific skill-building content in a moment of need, available on multiple media.
  • Blend Short and Longer Learning: A successful training program should allow employees to access both short and longer learning opportunities, from a 30-second video available on their phones that addresses a specific job challenge, to in-depth e-learning courses and one-on-one coaching.
  • Make it Interactive and Practical: To master a skill, an employee must be able to learn it, practice it, and get feedback and coaching. Training is no longer a matter of sitting in a classroom and checking a box. It has to be practical and connected to specific skills and information employees need to do their jobs. Effective training shows employees the connection between what they are being asked to do and why, such as the benefits it holds for customers, the company and the employee’s own advancement.

Finally, one other important element of effective training programs today is fun. If there is a social aspect to learning, like community sharing and gaming, learners will be intrigued to return again and again to refresh their skills.

One fundamental dynamic of training has not changed ­— the need for managers to support and enthusiastically promote training before, during and in an ongoing way. Managers must be equipped to provide feedback and coaching, and have tools to measure how well employees have adopted new behaviors and become proficient in new skills.

However you choose to use microlearning, make sure your team knows the “how” and the “why” of the exciting new learning opportunities that are just a click away.

Amy Fox is president, CEO and founder of Accelerated Business Results, a consultant to Fortune 500 companies on leadership development, sales and service excellence, and customer experience training deployment.  For information, visit