Contextual Microtraining? Guiding Employees Inside Their Workflows

Contextual Microtraining? Guiding Employees Inside Their Workflows
Summary: Traditional employee training doesn't work. Have you ever wished there was a better way? Well, there is! Provide employees with the knowledge they need in the flow of their work with contextual microtraining.

Contextual Microtraining: Give Employees The Knowledge They Need

Microtraining, also referred to as microlearning, is the practice of providing "bite-sized" pieces of content that assist digital workers in learning how to work within a specific application or to discover what needs to be done to comply with policies, regulations, or rules.

The content is provided in the workspace, so users don’t have to access third-party content, visit a separate wiki or knowledge base, attend training sessions, or search to find answers to complete their daily tasks.

What Is Microtraining?

So what the heck is microtraining? The term "microtraining" is a fairly new concept. Here is how Wikipedia explains the term:

The microtraining method is an approach aimed at supporting informal learning processes in organizations and companies. Learning in this sense means that an active process of knowledge creation is taking place within social interactions, but outside of formal learning environments or training facilities.


This process can be facilitated by well-designed and structured systems and by supporting ways of communication and collaboration…A microtraining arrangement comprises a time span of 15–20 minutes for each learning session, which can activate and maintain learning processes for a longer period if bundled into series. A microtraining session can be held face-to-face, online or embedded in an eLearning scenario.

What Is Contextual Microtraining?

Further still, there is the concept of contextual microtraining, which refers to user help and support that is delivered in the moment of need [1] within the employee’s workflow inside the application being used.

For example, someone wishing to learn how to merge cells in Microsoft Excel can open a menu of training options specifically for that task, which takes the user through the steps necessary to merge the cells.

Contextual microtraining extends and amplifies the concept of microtraining as it has been traditionally known. This is important because it typically leads to better learning outcomes.

What Are The Challenges To Traditional Training?

You may be thinking: “We have been hosting classroom training for years. Why should we change now?” Well, contextual microtraining solves some of the most fundamental challenges to providing employees help with new experiences.

New employees often have learning curves when it comes to a company’s systems or apps, culture, and workflows. In situations where a new or updated system is put in place, formal or informal training must be applied. There are many scenarios where training or guidance is needed to onboard employees.

So why does it remain challenging for companies to effectively train and support employees?

Studies have shown that in many cases traditional classroom training for employees just doesn't work. 43% of workers in one survey indicated that formal training is "ineffective." The fact is classroom-style training was developed for factory workers, not today’s "digital information workers."

And as HR Dive puts it, “The classroom-style approach may work for young learners, but adults learn differently.” Adult learners just don’t respond as well to classroom-style training.

One of the challenges is that training is often not delivered in the format employees want. When employees were polled in 2018 about what type of training they preferred, one eLearning provider found the following:

  • 93% want training to be easy to complete/understand
  • 91% want training to be personalized and relevant
  • 90% want training to be engaging and fun

Part of the challenge related to classroom learning is that humans have shorter attention spans [2] than goldfish, which the US magazine Time showed to be approximately nine seconds. Nine seconds?! How can we expect typical training methods to really sink in?

A major part of this issue is that there is a steep “forgetting curve” where knowledge gained gets lost fairly quickly. Unless employees apply the newly found knowledge within 24 hours after the training, it gets lost very quickly.

Another challenge is that most employees are not inherently motivated to learn new technologies for the sake of mastering those applications. They simply want to be able to get their jobs done. Contextual microtraining helps them accomplish that goal faster.

What Is The State Of Corporate Training Today?

So many companies still focus their training around event-based sessions such as seminars, webinars, lunch-and-learns, and traditional classroom-style presentations. In 2018, $87.6 billion dollars were spent on corporate training and development [3] across the United States.

Things got even tougher when the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted in-person training, introducing another challenge to effectively educating the workforce. All training was moved online through Zoom meetings and other digital venues.

While remote learning sessions have increased in recent years, there is little evidence to support that such sessions are super-effective—especially for new hires. Employees must still overcome the challenges mentioned earlier.

What Is The Solution To Poor Employee Training?

In order for employees to be as productive as possible, they must learn and adopt better systems. Even further, they must onboard quickly. This requires a learning (training) model that is effective, efficient, and "sticky."

Contextual microtraining accomplishes that goal because it addresses those 3 requirements.

1. Effective Training

Traditional software training can be lengthy and, if the courses are too long, learners tend to tune out at times. Offering contextualized microtraining allows employees to learn at their own pace, providing a personalized learning experience that becomes more effective.

2. Efficient Training

The pace of adoption speeds up when employees are able to learn just what they need to do to complete their jobs. The flexibility of contextual microtraining offers various learning paths that accelerate onboarding for the entire workforce.

3. Sticky Training

Users that learn in the flow of work in small, bite-sized pieces—where they can apply their new knowledge immediately—is better than long-form or in-person learning which don’t stick as well.

Contextual microtraining can be delivered in various formats. This is important as not all workers properly learn in the same way. This type of training can be displayed via walkthroughs, popup documents, annotated screenshots, brief videos, and more. Training modules are short, focused, and easily accessible in the workspace. We call that “Just-In-Time learning.

What Contextual Microtraining Is Not

While the application of contextual microtraining has proven to be a more successful learning modality in many instances, it is not a complete replacement for traditional methods of training in certain scenarios. Complex tasks, such as programming or projects that require multiple systems, are not perfectly suitable for microtraining in context.

It's also not a process of parsing large training courses into smaller sections. Training in sections still requires time, focus, and retention that are not hallmarks of contextual learning.

The Future Of Contextual Microtraining

Contextual microtraining is quickly becoming recognized as the answer to employees being more productive when adopting new technology, a system, or an app. eLearning has already become a huge component for traditional educators, and microtraining extends that application to the workforce. Better still, some predict that in the future many newly adopted systems will deliver training in the moment of need—Just In Time.


[1] The 5 Moments of Learning Need

[2] Training employees efficiently and effectively to help them do their jobs

[3] The Wasted Dollars Of Corporate Training Programs