As the learning and development coordinator tasked with training your nonprofit’s staff and volunteers, you’ve likely encountered microlearning. Maybe your supervisor heard of the trend and wants to incorporate it nonprofit-wide. Or, maybe you were researching a way to jazz up your training, and this was the first suggestion that popped up.
Before you contact a nonprofit e-learning consulting firm and begin adjusting your training, take a step back.
What is microlearning?
And, most importantly, how can it be used to train your team?
We believe custom microlearning courses can be valuable in training nonprofit staff and volunteers. But, we also know that there are many misconceptions about the format. So, let’s make sure you have a strong understanding of microlearning before investing in any new courses.
What is microlearning?
Let’s say you’ve been tasked with creating microlearning courses.
If your team has existing e-learning training in place, and you started your microlearning development there, did you simply “chunk” the longer courses into smaller, bite-sized pieces and call it a day? That seems like a straightforward solution, right?
Not quite. There is a common misconception that microlearning courses are simply shorter in length, but that doesn’t cover the full picture. We prefer this definition:
“Relatively short, focused course content with a single learning outcome.”
Okay, let’s break that down. Not only are microlearning courses short, as discussed, but they’re laser-focused on one learning outcome. So, rather than providing your team with:
- A microlearning course on navigating your CRM, it’s a five-minute game on standardized donor data entry.
- A microlearning course on how to solicit gifts, it’s a quick, interactive simulation to practice responding when a donor says “no.”
So far, we’ve discussed microlearning conceptually. Now, let’s look at how you can incorporate bite-sized courses.
How can your nonprofit use microlearning?
At this point, you may be thinking “Microlearning sounds great. But, how can it help my nonprofit?”
If you’re using e-learning in the professional development of your team already, you might have long-form courses covering all of the main training topics of interest. And as we’ve discussed, “chunking” those courses into smaller pieces helps no one. (Emphasis: If you’re preparing to take metaphorical scissors to your long-form courses—stop right there! There is a time and place for these longer courses.)
In this scenario, you might use microlearning to supplement your existing training, rather than replace it.
That said, your nonprofit might choose to take a different path: training fully done via microlearning. We’ve recently encountered a project that involves building 27 microlessons, training on each role in a nonprofit’s operations. Some of the roles have multiple microlessons, each focusing on a specific role-related subject. Remember, the goal is to have one subject per microlesson.
This nonprofit was led to a microlearning-driven approach because they value creating unique learning paths for each individual learner. So, your approach to microlearning really depends on what your nonprofit wants to achieve.
Let’s look at a few examples of how your nonprofit might implement microlearning.
Teach Specific Concepts
Consider the last movie you watched or novel you read. Do you remember each small detail you encountered? If you do, please, teach us your ways.
Long-form training courses are valuable. But, if we’re being honest, it can be easy to forget the small details along the way. While you come out of the course understanding the main point (how the movie ended), you’ve probably forgotten some of the intricacies leading to that point (what the main character ate for breakfast mid-way through).
In your nonprofit’s training, there may be a few small details that are too important to gloss over. Microlearning is a great way to bring those details to the forefront.
For example, let’s say you’re the volunteer coordinator at the local humane society. You provide volunteers with a long-form e-learning course on dog handling, but the section on recognizing the signs of frustration in an animal is buried in the middle.
A short, animated explainer video might be key to making sure Valerie the Volunteer isn’t bitten by Fido, the sweet but rowdy pup. For this strategy, remember:
- Avoid overloading the video with text. Because video is a more passive experience, it’s important to keep things visually engaging so viewers don’t tune it out. Big blocks of text are the quickest way to lose interest.
- Capitalize on the unique advantages of video. For example, rather than using audio to list out the signs of animal frustration, show them. Volunteers will remember the angry animated dog visual and know to respond accordingly when Fido begins behaving in the same way.
- Avoid distracting visuals that pull from the content. While it’s important to create visual interest, you don’t want readers to be so focused on characters in silly costumes that they gloss over the educational material.
Microlearning is perfect for highlighting what’s most important for your team to learn.
Encourage Staff to Practice
Have you ever needed to make an important phone call, and then put off the task for as long as possible? With email, text, and social media dominating communications, we’re all guilty of this.
Phone etiquette isn’t taught as regularly as it once was, and this is especially challenging in nonprofit settings. We’d bet there is some variation of phone banking in your organization, where staff or volunteers call prospective donors and ask if they would like to make a donation.
Talking on the phone with strangers and asking them to give you money? Talk about nerve-racking.
In this situation—and others where your nonprofit’s staff and volunteers need to improve their skills—microlearning takes the cake. Gamified microlearning courses allow your team to practice these skills in a consequence-free environment until they’re prepared to tackle the real deal.
When creating microlearning games, keep this in mind:
- Draw on the power of repetition. Repetition is key to solidifying a new skill. Create microlearning games with two or three rounds of practice to ensure the lesson sticks.
- Allow learners to experiment with different pathways. For example, storytelling is key when calling donors, but there isn’t one correct way to do so. Allow learners to experiment with different dialogues and see what the outcome will be.
- Provide explanations for all outcomes. When you tell learners that their answer was correct (or incorrect), explain why. This helps them avoid making the same mistake going forward.
Want to test scenario-based microlearning for yourself?
Take a look at this Call Center Training demo course on E-Learning Uncovered, where you can test your call center skills. If they’re not up to par—no judgment here!—this sample course lets you practice and improve them in a risk-free environment.
Provide Effective Job Aids
Remember how we said that microlearning is great for supplementing existing training? This is especially true when it comes to refreshing your staff’s memory with job aids.
Have you ever sat through a once-a-year, mandatory training? These typically span one day to a week long and revisit concepts that you’ve already encountered before in previous training. Because it’s familiar, you might pay less attention.
Let’s say this training covers the essentials of navigating your nonprofit’s CRM effectively. It’s the key to ensuring data is entered accurately, cleanly, and standardized across the team. By three months later, much of the information has left your brain in the wake of day-to-day work—and you’re left with messy, nonstandard donor data.
How can microlearning solve this challenge? By providing effective job aids, such as infographics, that your staff can revisit on a daily basis. Rather than retaking a full course, they refresh their memory.
Keep these best practices in mind when creating microlearning job aids:
- Recognize when a job aid is the most effective option. There are moments when your staff needs to hit the books and other times when they could just use a quick refresher. Recognizing which is needed is key. Microlearning isn’t always the best answer!
- Ensure content is mobile-friendly. Your staff members aren’t going to be lugging a laptop around with them, and they’ll likely need these quick job aids while on the go. Make sure every job aid can be viewed through mobile phones for quick access whenever needed.
- Keep text concise and informative. Consider the most common challenges that arise, and provide straightforward solutions. This isn’t the time for drawn-out explanations.
Microlearning is great for quick scripts for donor interactions, CRM guides, and more. Where can it be used to refresh your team’s training?
Microlearning isn’t just short content—it’s short content that achieves one specific learning outcome. For your nonprofit, this could mean working with a content development company to create gamified courses or printing and laminating a few refresher guides.
Whether you’re teaching specific concepts, creating a space for learners to practice, or providing job aids, microlearning can be a powerful tool for nonprofit training.
Guest Author: Amy Morrisey, President and Sales & Marketing Manager of Artisan E-Learning
Amy Morrisey is the President of Artisan E-Learning and serves as Sales & Marketing Manager. Amy started with Artisan as a contract writer/instructional designer. She was our Production Manager for four years and helped the team to double its capacity. As President, she stays focused on maintaining the high standards our clients have grown to expect. She believes that staying close to our clients, our people, and our work is a smart way to do that. One of her favorite things to do in the e-learning world is jump in with a client to write a storyboard that is creative and application-based. Before working with Artisan, Amy spent 17 years in corporate training and development predominantly teaching leadership development and coaching teams and executives. She currently serves on the board of ATD Detroit.