Microlearning: How Educators Can Learn From Athletes

Microlearning: How Educators Can Learn from Athletes

It’s time for the education industry to catch up to the field of athletics when it comes to understanding the impact data can have on human performance. For decades, athletes have been using microlearning, technology, and data to train effectively and perform better. As a child I grew up with a passion and love for sports which led me to major in Kinesiology at the University of Maryland many years ago and is the jumping point for this blog post.

In 1989, technology in athletics was basically non-existent and the concept of studying the human body to drive peak performance was still in its infancy by today’s standards.  An example of this would be a lab project that a few of my fellow students and I undertook to understand the perfect release point from a pitcher to throw a curve ball at the optimal velocity and spin rate. Back then our choice to execute this project was a gigantic video camera used mostly by folks in Hollywood, a notebook, pen and a VHS tape recorder/player rounded out the “high tech” tools. We leveraged this equipment to capture video of University of Maryland pitchers throwing in a cage and kept notes to reflect and summarize our findings. We then presented the results to our professor and the baseball coach and went on our merry way.

In today’s world that same study would be done using a smart phone, tablet, video editing software which would have allowed it to be delivered to each pitcher’s inbox within hours of completion vs having never been seen. I could keep these examples coming as we now know more about how to impact human performance from a physical standpoint then we have at any time in my lifetime. These tools are being used everywhere from the household, to the local gym, professional and amateur athletics.

But in the field of education, data and technology aren’t viewed in the same light.  Let me tell you why:

I don’t believe that educators aren’t smart enough to understand the value of being able to see what people do and don’t know to help them learn and overcome these challenges, but I do sense they are afraid of change. At the very least, they don’t know how to change. Change is hard, change can be painful, change is risky, but change is also inevitable. Educators and corporate training departments are in harm’s way as the venture world, entrepreneurs, and consumers have set their sights on making this change happen. mLevel is glad to be at the forefront of that impending event.

For too many years the standard measure of success in the classroom or the corporate arena has been course completion.  With no correlation between grades or test scores and performance success, the gap between cause and effect continues to grow. Just because I get a passing grade on an exam or compliance quiz it doesn’t mean I comprehend or can apply that information in my day-to-day world. And while I may never become a chemist, the assumption is that grade means I can leverage that knowledge later as you advance towards completing your degree.

Simply put, it is time for the test score to only be a measure of comprehension not a measure of understanding. It is also time to bury completion as a measure that matters and alternately make it just a small component of the overall journey towards subject mastery.

course completion should be the beginning of mastery and we treat it like the end

Course completion should be the beginning of mastery and we treat it like the end.

When a machine reports that I watched a video, it doesn’t actually know that I did. Either way, I get a completion credit. The camera watching me can’t see the distraction going on inside my head while the boring irrelevant e-learning video plays. There is a pervasive feeling in L&D that something is broken and it is past time for a significant shift.

At mLevel we started addressing this issue by building a data driven microlearning platform instead of adopting industry standards like SCORM. Today I remain convinced that this was the right approach. Microlearning has been endorsed by professors, governments and corporate training departments alike. The focus changed from completion to on-the-job performance which is the way it should have always been.

Athletics had the objective right from the beginning. Can you imagine if the filter for inclusion in major league baseball was a written and oral test on the theory, history and practical application of the sport?

That sounds silly but it is exactly what is carried out in corporate America every day.

What we value at mLevel is the ability to help our clients, partners and other learners to be able to see what they do and don’t know in near real-time to truly help them impact their performance just like an athlete can. Athletes never stop training and getting feedback to improve their performance so when the big game arrives they are prepared for any situation.

At mLevel, we get excited at the idea that a call center employee or a business student can take our data and improve upon their performance by honing key topics or data points they struggle to understand on the job, where it counts. All they have to do is visit a personal dashboard and review their scorecard. We get jazzed when we talk to corporate learning professionals who can share analytics with their business partners that help drive and improve performance instead of just sending a completion report.

Our promise is to continue to innovate and invest in this area.

In the coming months, we will be launching a new version of our dashboard leveraging MSFT’s PowerBI technology which will be embedded into our platform. Our goal with this change is to allow the learners of our clients and partners to easily manipulate and view data while appending it to 3rd party sources. This allows for a true ROI to be placed on the investment in learning, be it in the corporate classroom or the one at your local university or elementary school.

It is time for all of us to unlock the power of data. It is time for us to evolve beyond participation and final score as the gold standard measurement for success.

I welcome your comments, thoughts and ideas on how together we can help everyone embrace the change, because it is coming whether we like it or not.