When new technology enters our lives, it often follows the same pattern. First, the function changes, then the form. Early automobiles looked just like horse buggies because that was our only concept of moving vehicles. The next generation made cars that are aerodynamic and added safety features.
When television was first invented, the content was basically radio shows with video. Then, we invented sitcoms and modern programming. When email was first invented, the content was structured exactly like traditional letters with formal greetings and signatures. Now we chat with half-sentences, memes, and emojis.
First the function, then the form. In the past few years, training went from in-person classrooms to digital, but the content was still basically lectured in a digital format. What will the new form of training look like? One only needs to look at the recent shift in consumer content to see there are three major factors at play that will also shape learning programs of the future.
No doubt the transformation has started and is being driven by consumer-focused technology. The convergence of mobile, micro, and social, has created a new generation of media business models and an incredible pace and scale. “Influencers” or media creators on Tik-Tok, YouTube, and Instagram now influence consumer behaviors from beauty to cooking to home improvement.
The corporate learning landscape is ripe for a similar disruption and will be shaped by these same forces of mobile, micro, and social.
3 Evolving Learning Content Design Models
Each day, people in the US spend an average of 5.6 hours on their mobile device, a platform commanding more attention than any other type of media device or technology. And the rate of interaction will most likely continue to grow as both personal devices (watches, Fitbits) and home devices (cameras, security systems, lighting) are accessed with smartphone apps. Apple recently announced their plans for iPhones to control more of your car’s features, including temperature.
With the pandemic proving the viability of remote work, businesses will continue to move more applications to the cloud and enable access through mobile devices, including learning and training. Some companies offer mobile access to their learning management systems, but most content is not yet formatted to be effectively managed, consumed, or interacted with through a mobile screen.
Learning program designers should be adopting a “mobile-first” approach: building learning content through the lens of small, interactive touch screens accessed through the public intranet. Issues like streaming quality and bandwidth consumption, factors largely ignored when working through a corporate intranet, are now key elements when thinking about media use with learning.
Microlearning is the concept of breaking down learning into small pieces of information that only require a few minutes to process so that it is easier for our brains to understand and store. Microlearning is gaining in popularity due to growing research that suggests it is a better learning format than a lecture, presentation, or more traditional, longer-form learning methods. It doesn’t hurt in that it is similar to the way we consume social media content.
A recent microlearning-specific study by the University of Dresden tested students and compared test results for the same information presented in two different learning formats: traditional (long format) and microlearning. Students who learned in small chunks answered questions in 28% less time and did 20% better on answers than the students learning in a more traditional format!
Think about how our brains process numbers. When we break up a phone number into short 3- or 4-digit chunks, we can remember many phone numbers. Try remembering a 50 digit phone number; for most of us that would take an enormous amount of time and concentration if it could be remembered at all.
Learning programs need to adopt a microlearning format with all content, breaking down concepts into short 1- to 3-minute videos with quizzes or some sort of knowledge verification throughout. Conveniently, microlearning is also well suited to mobile consumption, as the short format helps address bandwidth issues and accessibility.
Social media apps have become the primary source of information and knowledge in our daily lives. People in the US spend on average 2 hours and 3 minutes on social media each day. 53% of people also get some or most of their news from social media sites and only people over 60 still report television as the primary source for the news . This growth is in large part is due to the curation and behavioral science designed into social platforms.
Social media does not provide a library of millions of videos and then asks the person consuming content what they want to see. Instead, algorithms analyze how other people interact with the content, then score that interaction to provide each person with a feed of content that will maximize each individual’s level of consumption resulting in more time spent with social content and giving these companies more opportunities to sell ads. These same concepts could be applied toward a goal of learning impact and business value. Learning content can be scored in a similar way to organize content and maximize the learning impact for each individual. This is not only empowering for people but helps drive business growth.
The human need to feel connected and a sense of belonging are behavioral science concepts leveraged throughout social media in the form of liking, commenting, and sharing. These actions can trigger small dopamine releases in our brain that train our bodies to want to engage more with that behavior. This release can occur for both the giver and recipient of the reaction.
Learning platforms can leverage both curation and social connection to improve the experience and drive better learning outcomes. They are powerful tools that have helped build companies worth hundreds of billions of dollars and should be applied for more noble purposes like helping people succeed versus selling more advertising.
We are living in an attention economy  requiring businesses to produce more engaging learning content and deliver that content through technology that is relevant to people. Companies that make smart investments in people and giving people the learning tools to succeed will accelerate ahead of the competition. This differentiation of learning investment is amplified in an economy that is short of skilled talent, as better learning opportunities make a company more attractive for new talent and can reduce turnover of existing talent by as much as 68%.
Mobile, social, and microlearning offer powerful new capabilities for companies to create more value from their most valuable asset: their people, and at the same time, empower people to be more successful in their lives.
 More than eight-in-ten Americans get news from digital devices
 Attention economy