Language Training Programs

And how they use microlearning to increase memory retention

For many Learning and Development (L&D) professionals, it can be difficult to encourage employees to really commit to training programs. This is especially true when it comes to language training programs and the modern learner. This new generation is motivated to learn—but they’re also easily distracted and short on time. For many modern learners, soft-skills development (like foreign language training) can seem like an overwhelming task with uncertain results. But if HR professionals begin to embrace new L&D methods, like microlearning, these perceptions can change.

Microlearning has been proven to increase a learner’s memory retention. In the field of language training, measurable progress is vital, as it prevents the learner from feeling discouraged and ultimately leads to a more fulfilling training experience. Moreover, microlearning can provide a great ROI for the learner. With small but regular lessons, significant improvements can be made without the task ever feeling overwhelming.

By working with (instead of against) the inherent realities of our cognitive processes, microlearning has the ability to increase short- and long-term memory retention, both of which can drastically improve the learning experience for both employees and L&D professionals—here’s how.

Information “Chunking” for Short-Term Memory Retention

It’s easy for us to be distracted in the workplace: between checking emails and social feeds, chatting with coworkers and managing phone calls, we may only be able to focus for 40 seconds at a time. In addition to affecting productivity, these distractions may also reduce happiness and empathy among employees—so what can we do to make sure everyone is properly engaged with their language training programs? For starters, we can introduce new methods of learning to the workplace. In contrast to traditional classroom settings and hours-long lectures, microlearning takes employees’ short attention spans into account by delivering information in smaller, more manageable packages.

According to George A. Miller’s information processing theory, the human cognitive function can best digest information in “chunks” (dividing content into five, six, seven, eight or nine pieces is optimal). In language training, these chunks may refer to new vocabulary, conjugations or phrases. Languages can’t be learned in a single day; we need to gradually build our knowledge and understanding of specific concepts day-by-day, and microlearning is a great way to do so.

The takeaway: Our brains prefer to deal with new information in small, digestible chunks. Microlearning aids short-term memory retention by working with our cognitive capabilities and capacities rather than against them.

Spaced Repetition for Long-Term Memory Retention

Once you’ve begun to deliver small chunks of information to your learners, you can use spaced repetition to help increase long-term memory retention. Spaced repetition involves learning the same information more than once over an extended period of time.

Memory consolidation, the process by which short-term memory is converted into long-term memory, plays a major role in this method’s ability to improve retention. After all, memory is not a single function of our brain, but rather, a series of processes and actions that allow us to remember something over time.

According to a report published in Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, “hundreds of studies in cognitive and educational psychology have demonstrated that spacing out repeated encounters with material over time produces superior long-term learning, compared with repetitions that are massed together.” This point illustrates the key difference between traditional learning and microlearning. In traditional classroom settings, information is often recalled at one time (e.g. pre-exam review periods); with microlearning, small chunks of information are repeated and recalled frequently to help the learner retain information over the long term.

The takeaway: Microlearning aids long-term memory retention by keeping new material at the top of learners’ minds for extended periods of time.

How Microlearning Benefits Trainers and Learners

For modern learners, microlearning provides an interesting, engaging and fulfilling language training experience—information is presented in a way that’s easy to digest and recall. Aside from increasing memory retention, this training method also has a low barrier to entry and accommodates learners of all levels because it doesn’t require long periods of focused attention. Microlearning even feeds into the daily demands of the workplace. Looking up an unfamiliar term when responding to an email or writing a proposal becomes more than just an important work-related task—it becomes an opportunity for microlearning.

For L&D professionals, microlearning can save costs by reducing the need for instructors and classrooms—these days, information is often delivered online, allowing learners to work at their own pace. This isn’t to say that instructors should be done away with completely. Some form of blended learning (virtual or otherwise) remains crucial to success, but microlearning-based L&D programs provide a level of accessibility that makes the process of teaching a new language far less daunting.

This combination of efficiency and flexibility in the workspace will deliver fast results and foster a talented pool of employees who are interested in developing their skills, which ultimately leads to one thing: on-the-job training success.

To learn more about why micro-learning in language training appeals to the modern learner, check out our eBook: “The Power of Engaging Learning Experiences”

About the Author:

Armin is the co-founder and president of Speexx, the world’s leading online language learning and business communication skills training service. He writes and occasionally speaks about learning languages online and the secret of the Perfect Blend and global talent management, Speexx, e-learning and generally believes in the power of communication. Follow Armin on Twitter and LinkedIn.