Ideas for employee learning and development

What is the right size for learning? A microlearning lesson from Ant-Man

Posted by Jon Peters on Sep 8, 2017 5:49:40 PM

Over the years my learning career has traversed both classroom and online learning. As one of the forerunners of e-learning Athena has created CD-based courses that ran for 4 hours and online courses that took an hour to complete. These types of learning interactions are now referred to as macro-learning. With our MyQuickCoach platform we pioneered microlearning and m-learning, before anyone had coined the terms.

Since I have worked delivering various kinds of learning content people have sometimes asked me “what is the best length for a learning event?” I think the character of Ant-Man from the Marvel comics and the later films might offer a perfect analogy.

The Ant-Man character was created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby at Marvel comics in 1962. It was the superhero alias of scientist Hank Pym. His superhero power (actually it was more of a scientific feat) was the ability to change size, shrinking to the size of an ant while retaining his full human strength.  By shrinking in size he is able to get into places that no other hero can. In the Marvel Ant-Man film we see how useful this ability is in pulling of a heist at a well-guarded laboratory.

In Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War film Ant-Man once again shrinks down to try and disable Iron Man’s mechanical suit with mixed results. When he realizes that being small no longer holds a strategic advantage for him Ant-Man reverses the controls of the suit and turns into Giant-Man. We won’t delve into why he has super-human strength as a giant, but is not weaker when ant-sized.  Sometimes you just have to go with it…

How does this apply to learning? I believe we need to view learning events for how they make sense from the learner’s standpoint as well as the strategic goals behind the learning. What works for giving someone tips to help close a sale is probably not going to effective for negotiating union grievances or understanding how to apply firewall rules in your company. Those activities take more time and require deeper learning experiences. There is no one size fits all learning experience. Josh Bersin breaks this down in his March 2017 article on The Disruption of Digital Learning: Ten Things We Have Learned.

Microlearning is great in a support role. It uses repetition of message to help make learning 'sticky.' Classroom events can make learning stick through role-play or other group activities. To make the right decisions about whether to use macrolearning, microlearning or some combination of the two you should examine who your learner is, what they will be learning, how much time they have to learn it and how long they need to retain the information they have learned.

So, be more like the Ant-Man. No, don’t break into a heavily guarded science lab. Think about what works best in your learning environment. Put together a strategy for your delivery that takes into account the variables and design a learning experience around them.

Topics: learning, HRtech, heroes, microlearning, macrolearning, Ant-Man