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Benefits of Microlearning: An Interview with KPA’s Shawn Smith

Benefits of Microlearning: An Interview with KPA’s Shawn Smith

In this episode of The Safety Meeting, we’re joined by Shawn Smith, KPA’s Product Director of Training, to discuss microlearning, and how this targeted approach can help improve the effectiveness of your safety training programs.

Today we’ve brought back KPA’s Product Director of Training, Shawn Smith, to talk about microlearning and how this targeted approach can help improve the effectiveness of your safety training programs. 

Thanks for joining us. Shawn, why don’t you start by giving us the definition of microlearning? What exactly is it, and how does it differ from other training?

Yeah, so I think the simplest explanation is short, easily digestible information that can train staff on the go or quickly. It’s not really limited to a specific type of training. It could be a course, and it could be a video or a group exercise. Really, I think the key there is being as creative as possible and trying to make an impact. 

To me, that’s the number one thing about microlearning. It’s trying to reiterate and support these really important concepts that you want people to understand, and you want to save time. They should be easy to put together and easy to actually execute and train. 



So how might a company incorporate microlearning into its existing training program? 

Microlearning shouldn’t be a replacement for all training. The way I really like to think about it is that you have training, especially compliance-based training, that needs to be a certain length in order to really be effective.

So sometimes you’re gonna have training that takes 20 minutes, 40 minutes, three hours, and those topics need to be done in a certain way to get through the required content. So the way I would think about microlearning would really be to supplement that training and to help it prove its effectiveness, following up after the fact, versus trying to take a really long, complicated subject and break it up because that could cause a different issue if you’re not covering all of the things necessary in that right timeframe for people to fully understand it. 

You don’t want to come back a week later, you know, “Oh, stop here. We’ll come back a week later and pick up,” because then you’re having a whole other problem of people remembering where they began, and then you have to refresh on where to start.

So you want to break it into things you can have in a couple-minute conversation and try to make it interesting and fun. Use stories where you can, things that really help people, attach them to their memories, and make them come up when they need it. 


So this is in addition to the other things you’re already doing, and I imagine it probably helps with retention over time.

Definitely, that’s the goal for sure. 


So let’s talk a little bit about delivery. What would you say are the best practices or the best ways to deliver this type of microlearning? 

Well, one really great thing I think about microlearning is that it’s very flexible and can be done in groups, in person, or by individuals online. It can be games you play together. It can be trying something, simulating an environment. Lots of different ways to do it. 

I think the key is you want it to be in shorter spurts of time that allow people to get a lot out of that little bit. And then I really think the key is space-repetition, which is basically that you want to come back to these topics regularly to make the most impact.

So in a lot of cases, you could cover a topic once with a short microlearning, and it would probably be effective for that, but it gets really powerful when you’re trying to improve ongoing issues that are occurring in certain areas or with certain activities. You want to help people avoid a specific kind of injury. Then approaching that three different ways over a couple of months really helps with retention and understanding. 


So we’ve talked about this from a broader perspective. Let’s bring it down to some specific examples. Are there any particular clients you think have done this well as an example of what microlearning looks like in the real world?

Yeah, so I go back to where we started with it, which was years ago, actually. We had a client who had a series of serious injuries, and I believe they had multiple minor injuries and one major injury very similar to each other in the same area, using the same equipment.

And they came to us because we had provided their refresher, annual OSHA training, and said, could you help us make a recreation of this to help people understand what happened and how they could avoid it in the future? So that’s really where we started with it. We made a three-minute animation of that.

And one thing when we were going through that, that we thought was really important and something we still do to this day with the incident animations and near-misses is that we put corrective actions at the end. So it’s a short video that shows you exactly what happened, and then at the very end, it just has two or three corrective actions – here are the things you need to know to help you avoid this kind of incident. 

So from there, we actually got permission to use that training with all of our customers. So we shared it with all of our subscribers, and it was pretty much immediately widely accepted, and multiple clients actually reached out to produce more, and we just continued to grow this offering within our catalog.

And it also morphed into some other topics as well. We started to do incident recreations as well as near-miss recreations, employee interviews, family interviews, and working safely at home. All of these micro topics, toolbox talks, serious injury, and fatality prevention topics. So all of these came from us realizing that the shorter format was a great way to help people understand and also filled a need for a lot of clients wanting more material to talk to their employees about.

Wanting to have something for a toolbox talk or for a quick huddle in the morning. Maybe they’ll stretch real quick and talk about what they’re gonna do for the day and then look at a really quick video. So we just started to really grow our library based on that.

But I think the key for us was working with our clients. And also just a key in general, and this is really more of all training, but especially training that you want to be effective. I think it needs to be real, feel authentic, and be something that the user and the learner can identify with.

If you think about throughout your life, the lessons that you’ve learned, that you’ve carried on, that you’ve learned from another person, I feel like most of those have a story attached to them, and that story is what has that impact. And that’s what we try to do with the microlearning we create.

But we’re going even further with it as we’re looking at different ways of doing interactive exercises and gamifying, and again, trying to find ways just to make these things stick and really make an impact on the learners. So they are constantly thinking about it. 

When I see an incident occur, the thing that always stands out to me, and I’ve seen lots of incident footage from security cameras and production cameras over the years, and the thing that really always sticks out to me is how fast it happens and how little time they have to really think about what they can do at that moment.

And so if these little pieces of information can help them think about how to prevent that from occurring in the first place, how to put themselves in a better position that it doesn’t happen. Then they don’t have to try and react in this unbelievably short amount of time. That’s almost impossible to react to when a really serious injury typically occurs.


It sounds like microlearning is specifically well-suited to help with the effectiveness of an existing training program. What about tracking and measurement, knowing that’s important as well? Is this a type of learning that can be tied into the other tools that you’re using to track your training programs?

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you need that tool to help you measure how much you’re doing, and it does also help you in seeing how effective the training you’re doing is, especially when you’re comparing it to your injury rates and your incidents and especially your non-incident, near-misses, and close calls, so I think you do want to keep track of it in that way.

Also, there’s a lot of just really exciting stuff going on now in learning management systems where you can take content like this, and you can gamify it, as we like to say, where you can create leaderboards and get people to sort of compete in a healthy way, to learn more and more, and also making content accessible basically all the time. 

So when an employee has a moment, they’re thinking, “I’m not really sure what the best way to do this is.” If they know that you have that resource available to them, they will go look at it when they need it. And having it at their fingertips, I think, is huge. So having that mobile accessibility, online tracking and reporting, and live notifications to tell them when they need to do things or haven’t done things.

All that I think is critical when you wrap it into the entire program. Ultimately, you just want to have as well-rounded, thorough of a training program as you can in order to make it effective. 


It’s great that you don’t have to sacrifice that tracking and measurement component when meeting learners where they are.

And the last question, you’ve covered this a little bit in talking about seeing what’s really effective with one client and being able to apply it in other places beyond that. Can you talk about how KPA goes about developing microlearning? 

So yeah, as I said, we work with our clients to help identify the best subjects for creating microlearning topics.

Another thing that we do that I think only a few others do is our videographers, and our script writers are actually experienced safety professionals. So they’re bringing experience as well into what we’re doing, and they know from their experience how to talk to clients and people affected by these different types of injuries and near misses.

So we’re also applying all of that, but we’re trying to expand it. Because we don’t want to only focus on incidents that have occurred. We want to prevent possible incidents from occurring, maybe even things that weren’t as obvious as leading indicators. So that’s an area where we’re constantly working on different approaches, both in using data and then using different tools for creating different interactions and types of microlearning or even full-length learnings that we think will be effective.

Really, our goal is to arm the safety manager with the tools in order to keep track of where they’re at and where their employees are, but also the employees themselves with everything they need in order to keep themselves and their coworkers safe. 


Well, Shawn, I think that’s a perfect place to end. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Yeah, you’re welcome. Thank you. 

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Toby Graham

Toby manages the marketing communications team here at KPA. She's on a quest to help people tell clear, fun stories that their audience can relate to. She's a HUGE sugar junkie...and usually starts wandering the halls looking for cookies around 3pm daily.

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