Learning How To Swim...

Microlearning: Learning How To Swim...
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Summary: Satirical short story about learning doing vs. learning about doing in a short time.

Microlearning: Be Careful About The Value Of Speed

This is a short script about a mother, her son, and a swim coach exploring the prospect of learning how to swim very fast (via microlearning). Feel free to read it out loud in character for your entertainment.

Ext. Scope Creep Creek Swimming Pool—Day

A hands-on swim coach stands in the pool, helping kids to practice the right moves. A mother drags along her skinny teenage son to the pool. She keeps her distance from any splashes.

Mother: "Are you the coach?"

Swim Coach: "Yes, ma'am. I am."

Mother: "Good! So, you're an expert at how to teach kids to swim?"

Swim Coach: "I'm doing my best..."

Mother: "I need my son to learn how to swim."

Swim Coach: "Perfect place to be. (To the son, smiling) Hi, I'm Coach. What's your name?"

Mother: "Do you need to know his name in order to teach him to swim?"

Swim Coach: "Well, I usually like to know a little bit about my audience..."

Mother: "Elmo!"

Swim Coach: "Elmo is his name?"

Mother: "No. Elmo stands for: enough, let's move on! How long does it take, usually? To learn to swim?"

Swim Coach: "It depends on how you measure..."

Mother: "You don't seem to be an expert at this thing."

Swim Coach: "It depends on prior skills, and..."

Mother: "Not even a bath."

Swim Coach: "No problem. Usually, twice a week for four weeks is a good base..."

Mother: "No, no, no! We're going on a river cruise, and he needs to be able to swim by then."

Swim Coach: "Okay. When is the trip?"

Mother: "We're actually on the way there. I heard about this thing: microlearning. Can you do that for 15 minutes?"

Swim Coach: "Wow. Then let's hop in and maybe we can work on some survival basics?"

Mother: "Hop in where?"

Swim Coach: "Into the water."

Mother: "No, no, no! I don't want him to get wet."

Swim Coach: "Then how do you want me to teach him to swim?"

Mother: "It feels like I'm not getting value for my money here. I was thinking of a show-me, test-me micro approach. You would swim a couple of laps, commenting on what you're doing, and then my son would answer five multiple-choice questions. Or do you have a free tip sheet to take away? Only if laminated!"

Satire Aside: Microlearning Is Not About Speed

In the last two decades Learning and Development has done a good job teaching business that we can build course content very fast. We can measure completion, either by forcing everyone to view all content or throwing some questions at the end as a confirmation of learning. We can even report on time spent in the course. Whether it was a mistake to focus on the speed of content creation or not, I'm not sure. But it led to some consequences:

Consequences Of The Focus On Speed

  1. We get requests at the last minute (because we can do it fast)
    Soon we'll be out of business if that's the value we promote and that's the measurement we hold ourselves accountable for. Artificial Intelligence will be much faster. (Hint: it already is.)
  2. We get requests for non-training issues (things like bad design, UX problems, broken processes, etc.) but we do our best.
    We need to rethink our value proposition again. Using action mapping or similar processes, we should clearly articulate when training/learning can make an impact and when it is a waste of effort.
  3. When we stop measuring at course completions because it's hard to get performance data.
    Our goal is not to be right. It is to make a difference. We're not here to prove that people are learning. If that learning is not applied, we failed. Let's focus on impact and not content.
  4. We come up with pretty dashboards on level 1 happiness.
    Let's measure what counts: effect of learning and the impact on the job. If we had a magic wand and asked the workforce if they wanted to have the best learning experience ever or the skill itself, guess what they would go with.
  5. When we present time spent in training proudly as an accomplishment, the business sees time invested.
    We need to tell a better story, in the language of business. In fact, if you cut down time spent in training and you don't make any difference on the job, you've already saved hours of waste. But again, it is not about the duration. It is about what happens during that time.
  6. Because of point 5, we offer microlearning and measure the speed we build it and consume it.
    This is one side of the coin: efficiency. The other side is effectiveness. You can be pretty efficient at the wrong things.


So, next time someone comes to you with a request to learn about something, ask them if they want to be good at talking about it or doing it. And if they ask you whether they should mandate the course you're creating, tell them no. Do not mandate the course. Mandate the expected outcome of the course. Remove obstacles, make it a priority, set expectations, and hold people accountable. Then promote the course as a way to get there.

Originally published at www.linkedin.com.