How Microlearning Boosts “At the Moment Performance” – Tip #114

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At work, how many times in a day does someone ask you “How do you do this”? I bet several times. You answer it in the shortest possible way and go back to what you’re doing.
Now, how many times in an average day do you check something online? So many times that we lose count. It’s like breathing; it’s become a part of you.
Essentially, we are performing something at every moment.

For the sake of our discussion here, let’s define “at the moment performance” as acting instantaneously in response to a situation that needs to be fixed or changed.  It happens within seconds or minutes or hours. The action is immediate and occurs quickly. It’s a natural thing to do. Everyone in one way or the other,  do “at the moment performance” everyday.

We can say with confidence that the goal of leaders, managers, and learning professionals is to help workers achieve optimal “at the moment performance.”  Then as learning professionals we converge at the moment of performance.

I think the two hurdles to shifting our minds to “at the moment performance” are momentum for traditional practices and active inertia. Donald Sull describes active inertia as “an organization’s tendency to follow established patterns of behavior—even in response to dramatic environmental shifts.” He further explains that “market leaders simply accelerate all their tried-and-true activities. In trying to dig themselves out of a hole, they just deepen it.” We are a function of our past. Before we plan to make changes in the future and when we achieve these changes, we hang on to the momentum for traditional practices.

Specifically, in the past, our momentum in learning and training is “teaching something.” Teaching was based on rigid curriculumstestingdesignmultimediapresentationsretentiontrackingtraditional learning styles and many more. What was at one time solutions to problems are today barriers that hinder us from focusing on “at the moment performance.” Tests to prove knowledge retention delay performance of an action and “curriculums and certifications often focus on the eventualities (aimed at the future) when skills and knowledge are needed.”

I propose that much of what we currently know and do are old solutions that do not support today’s “at the moment performance.”

An example of old teaching practices that can hamper learning is “rote learning”. A learner has to memorize information by repetition. Ben Orlin calls memorization “a frontage road: … It’s a detour around all the action, a way of knowing without learning, of answering without understanding.”
How do we break the momentum for traditional practices and focus on “at the moment performance”?
We Are the Big Experiment in “At the Moment Performance”
We, as learning professionals, are the experiment in “at the moment performance.” It is an experiment we do each time we move from one momentum stream to a newer momentum stream.
Are we recalibrating our goals and focus, seeing the trends or watching people learn? Are we thinking of a snapshot or novel? Can we focus on a moment of need and moment of performance?
Someone sends you an email requesting your help. What is your instant reaction?
[   ] Write an explanation and email it back.
[   ] Find a link and send it to the person.
[   ] Tell the person to use keywords and search online.
Your answer provides insight into your habits and your frame of mind.
Look at the illustration below. (I used an oversimplified example to stress the smallness of actions.) The requester sends an email and the response was a link.
What is the nature of the conversation?
This exchange of emails probably happened in 1–2 minutes.
I (Ray in the email) made the request by doing a screen capture of the problem. It was faster for me to use Monosnap, a tool that allows me to instantly capture screens, annotate them and get a URL. The image explained the context of my need.
Ed, my team member, responded only with a link to a YouTube video. Ed had no other words.
To further dissect this illustration, let’s compare what we do today with what we would have done in the past.
A few things are happening in this small illustration.
The need is specific
My problem is small and my need is specific to that problem only. I may not know all other aspects of the FTP software, but at the moment, the help for my specific problem is all I needed.
Doing work
I was in the process of uploading a file to the FTP, so I was actually doing work, performing a task. I stopped since I recognized a gap in my skill and knowledge. I could not perform.
Asked Ed
Ed was the techie in the team. So I asked Ed.
Screen captured my request
Instead of a long explanation, I just captured my screen and stated my need. With the image, Ed instantly knew it was about the FTP software, and I described my need. No other words were needed.
Ed responded with a YouTube video
Ed sent me a link. No explanations. No “Hi or hello”. Ed was probably busy, or taking his lunch or using his smartphone. So he saved his keystrokes and only provided what was needed.
In Microlearning, “At the Moment Performance” Covers Doing, Using Tools, Experiences, Defining Needs
Although this may sound like splitting hairs, bear with me for a moment as I discuss what was going on in the previous illustration.
The new learners of today are seekers – they know how to look for and find answers
The new generation of learners comprises those who boldly ask questions. Inquiry is “a seeking for truth, information, or knowledge — seeking information by questioning.” The new learners built the habits of freely asking others when in need or searching for the answers themselves. Sources of answers may come from one’s own experience, from others (like Ed) or from a documentation (the YouTube) video. The purpose is very clear—get the job done. The seekers look for  instant answers. They may find more sources of answers for more complex problems, but more often than not they seek immediate solutions and fixes to the issues they face.
In what ways are you a seeker? In what ways are your learners seekers? Do they know how to define their needs, format their requests, look for answers to support “at the moment performance”?
The ability to define needs, format requests and look for instant answers are key elements of Microlearning. (see more on Instant Learning).In Microlearning, we help workers and learners fix or change something instantly. We help them find the answers they seek so they can continue “performing at the moment.”
How is this approach different from teaching them in a classroom or in an elearning or coaching situation?
If we change our definition of learners from a captive audience to individual seekers, then we will need to design our learning in a different way.
Tools that enable “at the moment performance”
To make the request easily answered and save time for both the requester and responder, the seeker uses tools (e.g., screen captures) to convey the message.
How many times have you used Google Docs because it is faster to exchange ideas and comment at the same time? There are many tools that support quick conversations and instant collaboration that speed up our tasks. Some examples are: Google Docs ,Tilda, Dropbox, Facebook, Slack, Snagit, Maptitude, Adobe Acrobat XI, Google Sketchup and Wordle.
These tools are enablers. They are also continuous learning tools. They make it possible for “at the moment performance” to happen faster, easier and cheaper. These tools empower the learners to expand their capacities to help others and learn faster and continuously. Microlearning helps learners and workers perform faster with the aid of tools.
As a learning professional, what tools do you consider part of what your learners should learn?
I propose that in every training you design, you include tools that enable you to do “at the moment performance” and continuous learning.
Do we change behaviors and tools at the moment of performance?  I wrestle with this question:
Tools are provided “to generate performance and learning at the moment of need” (Gerry, 1991 cited by Stephen Desrosiers and Stephen Harmon). Tools do not dictate our actions. “At the moment performance” is an immediate decision to act in a concrete situation. Tools are provided to assist us in fixing or changing the situation.
Imagine the popularity of Fitbit. It is a device that measures personal metrics including the number of steps taken, heart rate and sleep quality.
The goal is for 2,000 steps a day, for example. Your body tells FitBit to count. Then Fitbit regularly alerts you how and when you need to do more steps. While we want to think that we accomplish 2,000 steps due to our own will power, we also know that FitBit has a role in this.
“At the moment performance” is made possible as we keep allowing workers and learners to use these tools. In the case of Ed, do we allow workers to access YouTube references or do we still bar them from accessing such resources from our corporate firewalls? Inside our firewalls, do we encourage workers to share their experiences by allowing them to use tools like video sharing, drawing, collaboration, instant messaging and many others?
Changing behaviors and helping learners build high levels of confidence with their tools are at the heart of Microlearning.
Microlearning is learning by doing. It enables learners to understand what needs to be done in a concrete situation and to act instantaneously. Put another way, Microlearning propels “at the moment performance.”
Sull, Donald. Why companies go bad. Harvard Business Review. July–August, 1999
Orlin, Ben. When memorization gets in the way of learning. The Atlantic. Sept. 9, 2013
Educational Broadcasting Corporation. Inquiry-based Learning
Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
“Helping Learners Learn Their Way”