With shortening attention spans in the age of social media, learning new skills in small doses can prove a winning strategy. This type of training is called microlearning—but how well does that work for core tech skills such as software development and data analytics?
“Using microlearning supposes relying on concepts that can be realistically presented in the form of short, stand-alone modules,” explained Kate Udalova, cofounder and chief product offer at 7Taps, a microlearning platform. “That's not the case with software development and data analytics.”
These skills are just not conducive to short mini-courses, according to Udalova: “Just as you can't learn the nuclear fusion process from mini-courses (even the most compelling and enlightening ones), you can’t utilize microlearning to train someone how to code in C++ or Python.”
With that in mind, what type of skills can you attain using microlearning? “If you want to specifically learn how to use certain platforms because you need that for your role, certainly microlearning could be a solution,” said Shivani Dhir, assistant dean of digital learning at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering. “But if you're looking to leverage data analytics or business intelligence to make decisions, that's going to require a depth or a level of understanding that may not be always possible through a microlearning solution.”
Here are some ways that learning skills in short bursts may be useful.
Reinforcement of Key Concepts
Although you can’t learn a whole software language in a burst of microlearning, the technique works well for reinforcing concepts that you’ve already learned, according to Udalova.
“For example, you can create recaps, follow-ups and share examples to make knowledge stick,” Udalova said. “Because without this reinforcement, people can forget almost 100 percent of what they learned after 30 days.”
Users turn to 7Taps to reinforce sessions on coaching skills, people development and instruction on how to conduct effective one-on-one meetings. Tech companies that use 7Taps for microlearning include digital analytics company Amplitude and Cisco Systems.
NYU offers asynchronous learning opportunities that help busy students brush up on topics like cloud computing, Dhir said.
Intermediate or advanced technologists can use microlearning to brush up on a topic in small modules and then apply what they have learned at their job, said Suneet Dua, products and technology chief revenue and growth officer at PwC, which offers an upskilling platform called ProEdge.
PwC calls its microlearning modules “Read, Watch, Listen.” They consist of articles, videos and podcasts from leading content providers. “We call that ‘upknowledging.’ You're upknowledging the person through micro learning on some topic that they don't know about that they want to go deeper in,” Dua said. “Think of it as a guide on what you're interested in to give you a snippet, a taste. Then you can go deeper if you would like.”
Microlearning is a key part of HR compliance modules such as cybersecurity and ethics training. Technologists could use microlearning for training in how to use a corporate employee portal, submit a day off, or set career goals for the quarter, Udalova explained.
“One of our clients used 7taps to deliver mini-courses to their junior-level mentees as an addition to the obligatory companywide training,” Udalova said. Microlearning also works well to learn soft skills such as effective communication, how to manage conflicts and provide feedback.
Project Management Tools
Although learning how to code might be too much for microlearning, you can learn how to use a tool like Jira, Udalova suggested. IT departments use Jira to track issues and automate workflows.
Continuous Learning and Upskilling
Learning in short spurts could help technology professionals who are looking to upskill. For example, microlearning is a part of the NYU Tandon School of Engineering’s CISO program, which caters to professionals with 5-10+ years of experience. It’s geared toward security professionals who are looking to advance into the role of a decision-maker, Dhir said.
“I see microlearning as being an approach to almost every part of continuous learning,” Dhir added. “It's just one way of going about it.”
But if someone is looking to move into cybersecurity from a different field, students would need a more rigorous program than microlearning. “If someone's mid-career and looking to pivot, they probably want the technical know-how of deeper learning,” Dhir said. “And so they might consider a degree program or a more in-depth certificate program as opposed to a shorter course that focuses on one area.”
A Tool for Corporate Partnership
If companies come to NYU Tandon wanting to upskill their employees, the university will work with the company to come up with a suitable learning program, Dhir said.
“I think businesses are really thinking about how to tap into these more expedited learning solutions,” Dhir said. “Certainly we're also looking to partner more closely with corporate partners to bring our faculty and their deep subject matter expertise and research to support those short-term skill-building needs.”