How retailers can benefit from microlearning

and the 3 things you absolutely must do in order to see results.

January 13, 2023

If you’ve sniffed around the latest employee experience tech offerings these days, no doubt you’ve come across several vendors claiming to have the secret for frontline success. They call it microlearning, and it’s been lauded for its ability to cut training time in half and boost employee retention and morale.

But is microlearning right for retail? In a world where the traditional 9-to-5 doesn’t exist, where no two days are the same, and where hurdles like outdated processes and low technology adoption are the norm… is retail ready for this newfangled way of onboarding and training? 

The short answer is: yes, absolutely. Retailers can, and should, deploy microlearning strategies across their fleet to reduce training time and boost frontline engagement. 

The retail environment is an “interrupt-driven” environment: a workplace where unforeseen interruptions – customer requests, unplanned deliveries, technology outages, and more – are the rule, not the exception. Naturally, the average retail employee’s attention span is shorter, and their free time more precious. Learning in small doses is a more realistic endeavor. 

However (and this should come as no surprise), it’s not just enough to push out a bunch of bite-sized trainings and call it a day. There are specific guidelines you’ll need to follow in order to see success with your microlearning strategy. Fortunately, we’ve corralled them below.

Read on for everything you need to know about microlearning in retail:

What is microlearning?

Let’s first back up a second: what is microlearning, anyway? Most vendors define microlearning as a series of “small learning units” or “bite-sized trainings.” These trainings are most often delivered via short videos, but can also run the gamut from text-based instructions to interactive games or quizzes.

Microlearning modules typically take only minutes to complete (the industry standard is around three minutes). These modules are based on a single concept or skill, and are easily searchable or indexed so employees can find the specific piece of training they are looking for at a moment’s notice. Ideally, these modules are also contextual (we’ll dive into why in a moment.)

Examples include:

  • Watching a short instructional video
  • Reading additional contextual information in a tooltip
  • Participating in a brief guided tour of a new technology feature
  • Taking a three-question multiple-choice quiz

Why is microlearning important?

The way we consume information looks dramatically different than it did ten, twenty, or thirty years ago. Today, employees – especially younger employees – are used to a constant barrage of pings, apps, notifications, and texts. With attention spans shrinking, it’s harder and harder to set aside time to consume and understand training material on a deeper level.

And in an industry like retail, where employee time is always precious and attention span is low, microlearning seems like even more of a guaranteed good decision. Chopping up training content makes learning more flexible – employees can slot bits and pieces into their day, whenever they have time. And repeating that training over and over again drives retention and consistency.

Microlearning can also help retailers reap the benefits of stronger onboarding. Without proper training support to follow up initial onboarding efforts, employees can lose confidence and feel less engaged, which leads to high attrition. But by reinforcing the effectiveness of their onboarding through microlearning, companies can improve new hire retention by 82% and productivity by over 70%. 

Finally, frontline associates are being asked to do more than ever before. They’re now shipping merchandise from stores, supporting customers with BOPIS, processing online returns – in addition to doing their day-to-day jobs. This new generation of frontline workers need access to guides, information and tutorials that help them learn in the flow of work. 

What does successful microlearning look like in retail?

In theory, shortening training content into snackable pieces makes a lot of sense. Consuming this content takes less time, and therefore is more apt to keep employees’ attention. In other words: workers are less likely to lose interest and zone out.

But effective microlearning in retail isn’t just about chopping up your learning content into smaller chunks. Just because it’s shorter, doesn’t mean it’s more accessible.

Sure, we’d all love to believe the average retail employee is eagerly awaiting that short-lived downtime between helping customers so they can drive into three minutes of microlearning. Maybe there actually are workers out there who want to use their precious minutes in the breakroom to review a few new gamified learning modules.

In reality, most retail workers want to use those minutes to take a breath, grab a sip of coffee, and share a laugh with their coworkers. (And what’s wrong with that? Nothing.)

That’s why there are a few important caveats to guarantee the success of a microlearning strategy in retail:

Retail Microlearning Rule #1: It must fit naturally into an employee’s flow of work. 

Effective microlearning must be part of a larger “just-in-time” learning strategy. In other words, the training content needs to show up at the employee’s exact moment of need.

Which scenario is more effective: Participating in an online Visual Merchandising course six months prior, then trying to remember exactly how to steam a button-down shirt? Or – watching a 30-second instructional video on how to steam a button-down shirt at exactly the moment you’re about to start streaming?

By delivering microlearning content at the moment of need, employees aren’t forced to retain information or memorize complex procedures. Instead, they can learn (and practice) necessary skills in the moment they need to.

Think of it like baking along with a YouTube tutorial, rather than reading a recipe up front and then relying on your memory to successfully bake a cake. The former approach gives you a feeling of confidence and empowerment. The latter is stressful and error-prone.

Picking the right technology partner can dramatically increase opportunities for microlearning across your field organization. One of our favorite features in Zipline is called the “acronym dictionary” – a simple way to define organization-specific terms in a way that doesn’t remove employees from their immediate flow of work. 

Retail Microlearning Rule #2: It must be integrated into the apps an employee already uses.

There are plenty of standalone solutions out there that claim to make integrating microlearning into your employees’ day-to-day routine easy. But there’s nothing easy about logging onto different apps, or juggling different hardware.

Before you leap at the chance to add yet another layer to your teams’ (already overloaded) tech stack, think about how your frontline employees will physically access your microlearning content. 

Ideally, microlearning moments exist within the platform(s) your employees already use. They shouldn’t have to navigate to a different application, or worse, use a different piece of hardware. Running to the backroom’s manager workstation in order to watch a two-minute training video kind of defeats the purpose of “in-the-moment” learning, right?

Microlearning content doesn’t have to exist in a separate program or app for it to be successful. In fact, even the simplest bite-size training is effective as long as it’s accessible at an employee’s fingertips right at the moment they need it. In Zipline, it’s easy to augment simple tasks with training information – employees need only tap once to reveal instructions.

Retail Microlearning Rule #3: Not everything can be “microfied.”

While microlearning is a terrific antidote to cumbersome, outdated training modules, it’s not a silver bullet. There’s still a subset of employee training that benefits from a more traditional approach. Instead of bite-sized and sprinkled throughout an employee’s day, some training really should exist within multi-chapter courses with built in quizzes that can be tracked. This type of training is usually important for compliance and legal and includes:

  • Training related to information security, including cyber security best practices and customer information management
  • Training related to asset protection and active threat management, including safety procedures and active shooter training
  • Training related to the company’s code of business conduct, including sexual harassment and diversity and inclusion training

Traditionally, these types of learning modules are developed by Learning & Development professionals and deployed regularly throughout an employee’s career to ensure their knowledge is up to date. 

If you’re looking to improve test scores and compliance on these types of trainings, microlearning might not be the best place to start. Instead, we recommend ensuring your traditional LMS – or even simply your SCORM files – are properly integrated with your frontline teams’ communication hub. 

In addition to microlearning features, retailers using traditional learning management systems (LMS), like Docebo and others, can integrate the platform with Zipline so that associates can see course progress and next steps within the Zipline dashboard. 

When implemented correctly, microlearning reduces onboarding time and boosts employee morale.

An industry with sky-high turnover rates, retail is no stranger to the loss in productivity and high costs that come from recruiting, hiring, and training (not to mention retaining) new workers. What’s more, this disruption does more than hurt your business’ financials, it also impacts your customers’ shopping experiences. 

That’s another reason why distilling complex onboarding into bite-sized and engaging consumable microlearnings can benefit retailers – by ramping up employees with a better, more effective onboarding experience, retailers can ramp up performance and execution too.  

The best part? Microlearning opportunities enable continuous learning in-the-moment, which contributes to employees feeling like they’re learning and growing – so they stay with their company longer. 

Retailers who develop continuous learning programs and upskilling opportunities for their workforce are investing in the best asset they have- the people who keep it all running. 

An effective microlearning strategy can help to enhance the frontline retail associate experience. By streamlining retail training processes and delivering learning concepts in snack-sized portions, brands can distill messages so that they better resonate with employees, and so that employees can retain them more easily. 

Zipline is how best-in-class retailers bring brand strategies to life in stores. A unified platform for operational excellence, Zipline brings together frontline communications, task management, resources, insights, and more—so everyone feels connected to the brand and inspired by their work. Today, nearly 80 brands like Rite Aid and Sephora depend on Zipline to align and empower their store teams worldwide. Reach out to learn how Zipline can help you kickstart your microlearning strategy in stores today.

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