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There’s no mistaking the value in lifelong learning, but training courses – whether they last a few hours or a few days, can sometimes seem daunting to anyone enrolled in them.

A 2015 Microsoft study found that the average person’s attention span is about 8 seconds. While that finding and others like it might suggest that any productivity or safety message at work is playing to a sold-out crowd at Short Attention Span Theatre, a new trend known as microlearning seeks to capitalize on that apparent shortcoming.

As the name suggests, microlearning courses are shorter than traditional training: A single microlearning session aims to teach one particular lesson in a concentrated way – a single presentation typically ranges from 2 to 5 minutes. Such sessions are typically more convenient than traditional classroom settings, too: Most microlearning formats are easily accessed from smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers, while organizations can choose to offer courses either at specific times or an on-demand basis.

Considering the time many people spend watching video – one recent study found that many Millennials spend upwards of a total of three hours a day gazing into the electronic ether – the concept of brief, targeted lessons with clear-cut goals seems like a logical progression in eLearning.

In the few years since such courses have been offered, there is evidence to suggest that putting forth the effort can bear fruit. As chronicled in the 2016 Fortune magazine article "Corporate Training Gets an Upgrade for the Facebook Generation," Walmart developed an app for its warehouse workers comprised of three-minute instructional videos on performing common tasks safely. Each lesson was followed by a short test. Following a trial period of six-months, injury claims at the company’s warehouses fell by nearly half. The magazine also looked at a private Facebook group created by PayPal aimed at helping its employees help each other troubleshoot by watching videos of short classes. One major takeaway was that the number of workers who finished at least two training courses every six months doubled. During that same period, PayPal was able to reduce its training expenses by nearly a 25 percent.

It’s clear that such a method – taken by itself – has its limits. For example, a two-day personal protective equipment training course cannot adequately impart all its lessons in a single five-minute video, no matter how motivated the student and concise the course material. And instructor-led courses have the versatility of responding to students’ learning pace and questions in an organic way. However, when microlearning sessions are incorporated in the framework of a longer course in complementary ways, such as when some lessons are transferred to video as prerequisites for attending a brick-and-mortar course or when they are used in conjunction with one to introduce or reinforce concepts, it appears that the sky (or the Cloud) is the limit.

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