Examples of Microlearning in Action
Microlearning’s strength comes from its versatility. You can apply it in different configurations, for different reasons, and at any point along your trek from learning to performance. Microlearning equips your people with durable knowledge, which gives you a distinct competitive advantage in our increasingly information-centric business world.
In this ongoing series, Examples of Microlearning in Action, we will bring you real-life case studies we have encountered while working with a diverse range of organizations. Organizations of different sizes, with different goals, in different industries.
Let’s begin with a major car company, which, after failing with a recent training attempt, turned to Surge9™ to fill a mission-critical need: to make sure 10,000 staff in its dealer network were thoroughly prepared to move tens of thousands of units of a new luxury sports sedan.
How a major automaker used Surge9’s microlearning platform to ramp up 10,000 sales staff across America for a mission-critical 2018 product launch.
Automobile manufacturers depend for their success on the quality of the sales and service staff at their dealerships. The sales skills of these employees, and their grasp of the features and benefits of the latest car and truck models, impact the company’s profitability and performance metrics every single day.
The company we’ll look at here is a household name. The challenge they gave us: help them equip 10,000 sales and service staff in their American dealer network to move tens of thousands of units of a brand new 2018 luxury sports sedan.
This exceptional company believes in the pivotal importance of talent management and direct investments in dealership sales training. And their convictions square with the research. A 2007 study by McKinsey&Company®, on how to build top-performing auto dealerships, confirms that effective talent management is a key differentiator separating high performers from average ones. This is because employee turnover at car dealerships is extraordinarily high. Average dealers, by McKinsey’s measure, face the shock of seeing 71 percent of their employees walk out the door every year! On the other hand, dealers that practice effective talent management hold on to 17 percent more of their staff. It sounds like a small number, but it makes a big difference in dealer profitability and is an important source of competitive advantage for automobile manufacturers.1
On the learning side, 57 percent of top dealerships provide formal training for employees and offer long-term incentives to high-performing salespeople. But among the average dealerships, six out of ten try to squeak by without any formal training at all.
It should come as no surprise that high-performing dealerships rake in more than three times the profits of the average seller.
A recent sales training program on a different subject had failed to deliver on its promise, leaving the company in the lurch. That program used a blended learning approach, which combined web-based training (WBT) modules with instructor-led training (ILT) classes at each dealership. The disappointing results, the company determined, were due to the inability of their salespeople to remember and translate into practice what they had learned in these formal courses. The program also pulled staff off the sales floor for too long.
This time the stakes were higher: the new sedan was introduced to challenge the competition’s entrenched position in this segment and it had to succeed. They needed a better solution before the new model arrived at the dealerships.
The car maker opted for Surge9’s mobile microlearning and training reinforcement solution to fortify its blended WBT and ILT program. The program began with the online course. When each sales representative finished it, they received login credentials for the microlearning app. The software was painless to distribute, because each employee had done it a hundred times before. They simply looked it up on the Apple® App Store®, or found it at Google Play®, and downloaded it to their smartphone.The app presented them with a quiz, which they took in advance of the classroom program at their dealership.
For a deeper discussion on microlearning, read our article: A Definition of Microlearning . . . and Why We Need It.
A special version of the app presented the quiz results to the class instructors. This meant they could discern in advance the topics their incoming cohort might find difficult. It gave each instructor lead time to tailor their one-day classroom program to give special focus to the most challenging subjects. The quiz also revealed that many of the company’s salespeople didn’t know how to recognize a potential purchaser of the new car when one walked through the door. This was a huge problem, an indication of inadequate customer profiling skills, which might have been overlooked without the aggregated analytics of the microlearning app.
An Optimal Classroom
During the one-day ILT course, the app’s real-time quizzing and polling features enabled instructors to take the pulse of their class and unlock quizzes and polls in the app at the right moment, simply by writing a passcode on the whiteboard. Most of the in-app activities took less than five minutes to complete. But because the instructors received the results and analysis in real time on the same app, they could pivot instantly to subjects that required more focus. They could even unlock self-paced learning resources, which participants could use immediately—right there at their desks—to plug learning gaps that the trainer had identified only seconds before. The Surge9 App, in short, granted the instructors flexibility, unparalleled control of the classroom, and the ability to optimize every student’s learning experience.
Surge9 demonstrated its full power after the class was over.
Training reinforcement combines an optimally designed schedule of learning interventions with the core features of a mobile device to deliver a continuous learning experience that fights the natural human tendency to forget. It rests on the scientifically proven conviction that periodic recall exercises, spaced out over time, are the best way to interrupt the process of forgetting. Without it, no matter how much you spend on training, your participants are virtually guaranteed to forget most of what you taught them in just a few days.
Training reinforcement works best when we ask excellent questions to force our brains to recall new knowledge, instead of cramming or going over the same learning material again and again. This practice, which can include quizzes—used as retention exercises, not for evaluation—and other strategies, strengthens the cognitive pathways our brains use to retrieve what they have learned. Find out more about how questions drive innovative microlearning programs.
The Reinforcement Program
The automobile manufacturer’s learning reinforcement program was built by our learning specialists and addressed five employee competencies. Microlearning brings a rich variety of training content formats to the learning enterprise. Their program consisted of several different examples of microlearning: two quizzes, three retrieval practices, three short microlearning modules called “primers,” seven flashcard decks, and one gamified challenge that included award badges, which the reps would earn when they reached milestones on their learning journey. We repurposed the most important material from the WBT and ILT courses into bite-sized lessons, videos, and practice. In microlearning it’s often unnecessary to build the content from scratch.
The questions comprised images, videos, audio clips, animated graphics, and a variety of multiple choice options. These formats didn’t only make the learner experience more engaging, but they also empowered the company to ask questions they never had before. The sales representatives, after answering each question, received onscreen feedback about their correct and incorrect responses. The company opted to provide the learners with feedback immediately after they answered each question, but it is also possible to instruct the system to deliver a delayed response, which is a common technique in learning reinforcement. The app’s AI-powered engine selected different questions for different learners, based on its analysis of their responses to previous questions.
Every day at a predetermined time, each salesperson received a push notification from the app on their smartphone to remind them that it was time to complete a five-minute retrieval activity. The AI engine would then present the learner with their unique mix of questions for that day. A sales representative who was struggling to retain what she had learned in the classroom about the car’s safety features would receive more questions about safety in her daily practices. A salesperson who was unable to recall how the new model compared with a competitor’s luxury sports sedan received more practice on competitive intelligence. At the end of each five-minute daily practice, the app prescribed a group of videos, primers, and flashcard decks that could help the reps to strengthen their memory of the material that the app had determined they were struggling to remember.
Business Intelligence and Metrics
Frontline managers used their own tailored version of the Surge9 App to keep abreast of their salespeople’s progress throughout a four-week training reinforcement period that began after the classroom course. Dealership management could use the app’s extensive business intelligence reporting to view learning analytics at the personal or dealership level. They could correlate learning metrics with sales performance at different stages of the sales cycle. Surge9’s offline usage mode permitted the employees to take advantage of all the program resources when they didn’t have a network connection, and managers to keep up with their progress from anywhere.
- Carlos F. Caicedo, Mark D. Mitchke, and Jon Vander Ark, “How to build top-performing auto dealerships,” McKinsey Insights, June 2007, https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/automotive-and-assembly/our-insights/how-to-build-top-performing-auto-dealerships/.