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Microlearning Videos vs Simulations

ELearning simulations, or computer-based trainings (CBTs), have been around for years. The theory behind them is to allow students a way to practice in a simulated environment that mirrors a real system. Students can practice steps and procedures in a simulated space. In practice non-scored simulations, students are often given alerts when incorrect actions are taken. Then, after so many incorrect attempts occur, the correct answer is usually provided, and the simulation moves on.

While I’ve created simulations in the past and understand the main concept, I believe that CBTs or simulations have some challenges.

Answers Provided Eventually

As mentioned above, there’s almost always a limit to how many times a student can perform a non-scored simulation incorrectly. This is so a student can eventually move on to the next simulation or exit it at some point. However, students may begin to realize this the more they take these types of courses and find ways to skip through these types of exercises.

Too Rigid

There may be many ways to accomplish the same task. Some CBTs may be programmed too rigidly and not provide alternative paths to performing the work. This can cause confusion and frustration, which immediately shuts down learning.

Not Enough Time

I’ve been in many classes where the instruction took the entire time allotted, leaving little to no time to practice the CBTs. This is compounded when students leave training and go back to their desks, as managers expect their employees to start working assignments, and may not provide additional time to run the simulations.

I remember watching MythBusters‘ Unfinished Business episode, where Adam Savage was taught how to golf by a real instructor on an actual golf course. Meanwhile, Adam’s co-host, Jamie Hyneman, used a golf simulator to try and teach himself how to golf. According to their results, “When they re-played the same four holes as in the control test, Adam scored 33 (a 10-stroke improvement), but Jamie’s score fell only two strokes to 45. Analysis of their swings before and after training revealed that Adam had learned much more than Jamie about the technical aspects of the swing. These results led them to classify the myth as busted.” I share this because being able to immediately apply what you’ve been taught in a real environment is much more impactful than practicing in a simulated environment.

Microlearning Videos – An Alternative

The adage is true, “There’s nothing better than the real thing.” Microlearning videos like our Self-Help Online Tutorials (SHOTs) are not simulations at all, but instead are live demonstrations. We record and narrate the steps, actions or processes in real-time while using a real application, system or site. This way employees can see how the system responds when buttons are pressed, fields are entered or drop-downs are selected. These videos can increase learning retention by 22%, according to a Grovo article.

Learning by Doing

Aristotle once said, “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” Instead of working in a non-real environment as with CBTs, with microlearning videos you can play the video in one window or screen and have the actual system/application/site open in another window or screen. Because you are performing actions in the actual program, your “buy-in” is extremely high. Making a mistake matters, which means you’ll pay even closer attention to the microlearning videos. Employees launch our SHOTs videos mainly because they want to know exactly the steps needed to perform a specific action, so they get it right the first time.

For example, I recently launched a video on YouTube on how to wire a new motion-sensor light switch. I did so because my kids have no concept of turning off the lights in their bathroom. With this new light switch, the lights will shut off automatically after 15 minutes. Because I was working with actual electricity, I paid close attention to the video and followed all the steps so I wouldn’t get electrocuted or cause damage to my home. After following the video, I was successful in adding the new light switch, and saved some money in the process.

Available 24×7

Since our SHOTs videos are available via a video library website, there’s no learning management system (LMS) to log into. Our videos are also searchable just like on YouTube and are available at any time, any day. So, when it’s been a few months since an employee has performed a certain action, they can launch the video and instantly refresh on the specific steps, when they need it.

I welcome you to contact me for more information on the SHOTs program that I started at the IRS. Also, please leave a comment if you found this article informative. I truly believe that microlearning videos are the way of the future for more effective training.

Interested in becoming a Featured Contributor? Email topics you’re interested in covering for GovLoop to [email protected] And to read more from our Winter 2021 Cohort, here is a full list of every Featured Contributor during this cohort.

Kelly Barrett has worked for the IRS for over 22 years, starting as a Data Entry Transcriber and worked his way up to a Human Resources Education and Knowledge Management Specialist. Kelly has over 12 years of training project management experience with expertise in eLearning course development and is a certified Instructional Designer (ISD) and Online Training Professional (COTP).

Seven years ago, Kelly began researching microlearning videos and how they can increase retention of training, and, using his Bachelor’s Degree in Broadcasting, he started a program called Self-Help Online Tutorials (SHOTs). He has since grown the program to an enterprisewide initiative with over 500 SHOTs videos for all 80,000+ IRS employees to view, anytime they need to.

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