Learning & Development Today: Microsized, Personalized and Really, Really Short

By Sarah Fister Gale

Jul. 26, 2017

In today’s on-demand world, employees want training at the moment they need it, and they want it to align with their learning style and knowledge. That’s driving many learning technology vendors and content providers to build analytics tools that can match learning content to the needs of employees.

learning and development
Social media platforms are helping employees personalize the learning experience by giving them access to experts and shared knowledge.

“It’s still early stages, but analytics in training is not a fad,” said Elissa Tucker, principal research lead for APQC in Milwaukee.

She’s seen several companies investing in tools like knowledge maps that overlay individual’s skillsets with the learning needs required for a role, then using machine learning algorithms to recommend or assign courses based on those models to close skill gaps.

“Cutting-edge learning organizations with a lot of resources are at the forefront of this trend,” she said. “But others will soon follow.”

Some content providers are also beginning to implement analytics and machine learning technology to make their content more relevant and efficient for customers. PeopleSEC, for example, uses analytics to identify which employees need training based on their response to phishing emails. Those who follow security protocols don’t need to take additional classes, while those who click on phishing links generated by the software are automatically signed up.

Analytics tools can also customize the type of training suggested, based on a learner’s previous course selections, preferred format or access capabilities. Where one employee might prefer a classroom course or MOOC, another might prefer mobile-enabled self-paced learning, Tucker said. “It is giving organizations a way to make learning more personalized.”

Little Bits of Learning

Social media platforms are also helping employees personalize the learning experience by giving them access to experts and shared knowledge, and letting them share and rate content. They can also find content from external sources, like YouTube and, and share that knowledge with their peers.

Social learning is a powerful trend in the learning space, said Barry Stern, senior vice president of Development Dimensions International’s accelerated development solutions in Pittsburgh.

“Companies want to unleash the vitality of their peer-to-peer community,” he said. Social platforms give them this capability.

However, learning leaders need to pay attention to the quality of these engagements. “What people like and what they need is different,” he said, noting that just because a video gets 200 upvotes doesn’t mean it adds value as a learning tool.

This trend has become important as employees seek a more diverse collection of learning opportunities, and prefer lots of small bites of training rather than one big multihour course, said Bill Pelster, principal with Deloitte Consulting in Seattle.

“The microlearning trend is going mainstream,” he said. While 15-minute chunks of learning may not deliver an entire skill set, they are valuable tools for busy employees who use them to solve problems at the point of need. But tracking this knowledge acquisition is tricky, Pelster said. “Companies need tools that help them certify the learning is taking place.”

The challenge for vendors is providing companies with technology to manage all of this curated content from all of its many sources, agreed Stern. “There is no clear answer, but it is definitely on their minds.”

Some learning management systems vendors, like Saba Software, Totara Learning Solutions and Cornerstone OnDemand are adding tools to help manage more types of content, rate their relevance and track who is using them as a way to rein in this trend. Several niche software companies have also emerged, including Degreed and Pathgather, which help companies and employees find, share and track learning from multiple sources.

“There is a world of content out there that is available to learners,” Pelster said. “Organizations need visibility into how this content is being used.”

As millennials and Generation Z employees take over the workplace, and the need for new skill development constantly evolves, these microlearning curated-content trends will only continue. “Anything that facilitates employees sharing knowledge, collaborating and connecting to learning will add value,” Tucker said. “And the vendors who provide these options will resonate with their customers.”

Sarah Fister Gale is a writer living in Chicago. Comment below or email

Sarah Fister Gale is a writer in Chicago.

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