Micro-Learning: An Effective Way to Enrich Food Safety Training

By Brita Ball

Research shows that people forget 90% of what they learn in “once-and-done” learning events if it isn’t reinforced within 30 days. This has dramatic implications for food safety training, and a lot of companies are turning to micro-learning programs to boost the results their food safety training programs are generating. Although the concept has been around for decades, the application of information technology to this effective approach to learning makes it even more powerful than ever. There are a lot of misconceptions about what micro-learning is and what it can do, however.

What is Micro-Learning?
Micro-learning presents bite-sized chunks of information to learners in a way that gives them a chance to process the information, then put it into action. What makes micro-learning different from traditional learning and online approaches is the duration and spacing of content, and the fact that it involves a customized program to improve retention.

The length of micro-learning sessions varies: one topic might take three minutes, while another one might require 33 minutes. Duration depends on:

A lot of companies are turning to micro-learning programs to boost the results their food safety training programs are generating

  • What needs to be covered to meet learning objectives
  • The complexity of the content
  • How easily the content can be broken into meaningful sections

The process avoids the “information overload” common in long training sessions. Information is repeated to the learner at intervals and in different ways. Within a month of the initial learning, learners typically retain more than 90% of the original content.

Micro-learning ties in well with any food safety training curriculum but should not be seen as a replacement. Some complex topics need to be explained in ways that do not suit the approach. In addition, some approaches to micro-learning will not work where mobile devices are not allowed in work areas.

Micro-Learning at Work
Here’s an example of how a micro-learning approach could be applied to the topic of food safety hazards:

  1. The topic could be divided into the micro-learning topics of biological hazards, physical hazards and chemical hazards.
  2. Breaking it down further, the biological hazards topic, for example, might focus on pathogens of concern in a specific workplace, rather than all major foodborne pathogens.
  3. During the 30 days following the first exposure to content, employees could learn about outbreaks associated with those specific pathogens and areas or products where they might be found in their workplace.

Micro-learning is not just

  • Online learning in shorter sessions, as it can be delivered through email or text messages
  • Technology-based only: it can also be low tech, taking the form, for example, of regular team huddles for planned food safety messages
  • Self-directed learning, because it can include required content, as well as topics that interested learners can explore if they’re interested

Enhancing Food Safety With Micro-learning
Micro-learning has the potential to reduce training time, increase knowledge about food safety and make a positive impact on behaviour.

Before investing in micro-learning, a company should determine if its food safety training program is producing anticipated results. Ideally, food safety and training departments need to:

  • Strategically balance micro and macro learning appropriately
  • Be clear about the “need to know” information for various positions
  • Identify measurable outcomes and behaviour expected from training
  • Ensure follow-up support is available

To support this, food safety professionals can:

  • Create a clear business case based on a specific problem to solve
  • Identify the behaviours needed to solve the problem and the knowledge employees need for the correct behaviour
  • Design the training by considering objectives, content, exercises, assessments and the like.

A micro-learning approach combined with appropriate monitoring, coaching, job aids and performance measures can be powerful. The challenge is to plan, and execute, effectively.

About the Author
Brita Ball, PhD, CTDP, supports food businesses wanting to improve their culture of food safety and bottom line. She is a food safety and training specialist, principal consultant at Brita Ball & Associates, and Chair of the Food Safety Education professional development group for the International Association for Food Protection. Brita is a regular contributor and an Industry Advisor to Global Food Safety Resource.

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