Retail Microlearning

No matter how powerful a learning experience is, the bigger question on the minds of today’s retail executives is this: What do we have to show for it?

When it comes to retention of key concepts, we know that people are up against the forgetting curve. Without effective reinforcement, what’s here today could easily be gone tomorrow. But we also know that people don’t just need to retain what they’ve learned. They also need to consistently apply it and continue to learn and grow. After all, retail managers, buyers, and associates aren’t operating in a static environment where everything’s going to remain unchanged a year down the road. Things might even look dramatically different a week from now. It’s one of the reasons the ability to lead change and continually grow has become so important in retail leadership.

Which takes us back to those executives and their questions: How do you know if they’re leading change successfully and staying on a growth path? And how do you track knowledge, performance, and application in terms of business impact you can measure in the stores today?

Well, to be honest, it hasn’t always been easy. Test scores, completion rates, “smile sheets”…they represent snapshots of moments in time, offering only a surface-level view. They don’t give you the full story or the data to pinpoint performance and results. And even at that surface level, tracking and reporting the data can be a time-consuming job. Who wants to deal with an even more complex set of data points?

Enter continuous microlearning.

This has been a game-changer for many of our clients, particularly those that have been looking for better ways to:

  • demonstrate L&D’s impact on the business
  • seamlessly incorporate learning into the daily habits of very busy retail managers

Continuous microlearning generates infinitely more data than traditional reinforcement methods, and it then translates that data into a new set of learning and business metrics. That means L&D leaders and business executives can get immediate line-of-sight to how knowledge and performance are growing in real time.

Here’s how our microlearning partner Axonify describes it: “Instead of a single-assessment data point (for example, a score on a test), microlearning leverages proven brain science to continuously measure question responses at multiple time intervals and across varying degrees of difficulty, all while tracking an employee’s confidence in their response to each question.” On top of that, Axonify’s platform includes simple but powerful dashboards that provide leaders with a real-time view of progress and easy-to-generate reports that drill down into specific granular areas of focus.

Of course, for it to be worth anything, people have to participate. Many retailers think that’s going to be the biggest hurdle, but they’re usually pleasantly surprised. With casual gameplay embedded into the learning, people actually want to practice their skills and focus on achieving learning outcomes. The gamified approach also releases dopamine that stimulates memory paths and promotes greater knowledge retention. Since participants know it’s going to be fun, challenging, and quick, they’re willing to engage and stay in the game. Add in a rewards element, and it doubles the voluntary participation rate.

In fact, according to Axonify’s key performance indicator benchmarks, engagement among retail organizations is among the highest of the industries it focuses on, with 85% Participation rates (percentage of people engaged in a training session at least once in a 30-day period) and 9.0 Frequency rates (how often people are training in a 30-day period). Retail also boasts the highest Current Knowledge and Confidence rates. We can vouch for those numbers. One of our clients is getting almost 95% engagement on daily use of our Retail Store Leadership RSL+ program by their 120 store managers, with some managers chalking up a 25-to-30-point improvement in knowledge growth.

Beyond the microlearning approach itself, we’ve specifically designed our “Plus” programs to ensure learning — not just memorization — by repeating questions at specific intervals, even if the person got the right answer before. As they proceed through to higher levels, the questions get tougher and more nuanced: More than one answer might be correct, for example, or they’ll be tasked with solving a real-world problem. These short “bursts” of learning may be quick, but they give the brain a serious workout.

Here are two great examples of how retailers are using microlearning to achieve their objectives:

One chain is using RSL+ to reinforce and grow new store managers’ knowledge. Their learning activity is reported out via an app on a smartphone to the supervisor so that they can either celebrate success or do additional coaching/training in the store. Because it’s a totally integrated solution, it’s saving them money in off-the-floor time and payroll, and it also enables the district manager to play a key role in the onboarding process, instead of relying on regional or company HR teams.

The story of another brand is typical of many of our clients. Store managers who’ve completed classroom training are now working through microlearning via the “Plus” programs to practice their skills and compete as teams against their peers in other locations, with a friendly rivalry going a long way to keep engagement levels high. In addition, the DM checks in regularly to see who hasn’t logged in for a while so he can send them reminders when they “fall off the wagon,” as he puts it, adding, “The app really helps me keep an eye on them.” His experience echoes that of another client, who told us, “It literally takes minutes, and I set aside time every day to log on and answer questions. Our retail team is very competitive, and I’m impressed with the results I’m seeing.”

At the next level, leaders can begin to look at store results and performance metrics in the context of their managers’ knowledge and confidence improvements to get a clearer picture of how their L&D investments are impacting the business.

Get in touch with us to discuss how to best integrate microlearning into your learning and business strategies.


About Michael Patrick

Michael held positions in retail management, merchandising, and human resources before joining MOHR Retail’s predecessor in 1986. In 1990 he purchased the retail division of that firm to form today’s MOHR Retail. Michael holds true to his retail roots by delivering learning that changes behavior—providing both immediate and lasting business impact. In addition to facilitating MOHR Retail training programs, he offers executive-level coaching in one-on-one sessions dealing with critical strategic issues such as succession strategies and executive team development. The author of “The New Negotiation Mindset: Guarantee A Bigger Slice,” Michael is a longstanding member of NRF as well as ISA: The Association of Learning Providers. He has a B.A. from San Diego State University, completed Master’s level work at Arizona State University, and lives with his family in New Jersey.