Northpower - overcoming the ‘forgetting curve’ through microlearning

When Northpower took up an invitation from one of its safety training partners to trial innovative continuous microlearning technology, the outcomes were exceptional.

Not only are staff from the trial areas showing evidence of embedded safety learnings in their behaviours, but the programme has also proved so popular that other parts of the business are asking to use it too.

Now Northpower is steadily rolling out the microlearning app to its wider business, and developing further content to extend the learning programmes.

“We have had incredibly positive feedback from our people who have already used it,” says Project Manager Lian Passmore.  “These are early days but participants are routinely using the language and learnings from the programme in conjunction with initiating safety conversations.”

“It is about embedding the language and tools – so people feel confident to use those tools and put their learning into practice.“

Microlearning is a brief and targeted learning approach. Each module takes between three and six minutes to complete. The app is designed to reiterate and embed learnings from more traditional workshop sessions and can be used on a phone, ipad or laptop.

“Microlearning uses the concept of adaptive learning,” says Janine Wagstaff, Health and Safety Manager for Northpower’s Transmission team.

“There are powerful analytics behind it.  If a user gets any questions wrong, they’ll be asked them again, in a different format, a few days later. People have to demonstrate they know information multiple times, before moving to the next level.”

Users watch a one to two minute video or read new content and can then play a short 30-second game, designed to make learning fun and to set up the brain chemistry for learning. They then move on to answering a few microlearning questions.

Participants are arranged into teams and the more questions they get right, the more points they earn for their team. To encourage people to engage regularly with learning, teams are rewarded for the amount of time each member logs in to learn or the combined number of points they accumulate over an agreed time frame.

“Research (based on the Forgetting Curve work of German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus) has shown that within one day of watching a training video or attending a training event, most learners will forget 50 per cent of the information, then over 60 per cent by day two and over 80 per cent by day seven,” says Dr Kirstine Hulse, Group People, Performance & Safety Culture Manager for Northpower.

“We were looking for a more sustainable health and safety learning system and one of our health and safety training partners asked if we would be interested in trialling this app for microlearning.

“Using microlearning targets users to help retain knowledge. It’s a way of overcoming the ‘forgetting curve’. The gamification, which is not part of the health and safety learning, prepares the brain to be more receptive to receiving information and the testing increases learning more than any other study method. Long term memory is increased by returning to the required information. It’s about using technology to facilitate a change in our culture.

“We started it with our Network team in Whangarei, which went well. Then we put on a health and safety culture workshop and asked if anyone would like to trial the technology and our Auckland contracting team put their hands up. That went very well, so we extended it further into the business, to Fibre, Fleet and Transmission.

“We ended up with about 100 people participating in the first trials, with a good cross section of people from managers through to supervisors and front-line staff across different parts of the business.  People tell us they like being in control of their learning and we found most people used it at the start of the working day.”

Richard Harding, a Senior Maintenance Technician in the Auckland Contracting team, says he’d like to see other in-work learning delivered by microlearning.

“My team was among the first to trial it and we were a bit hesitant at first and not sure what to expect but willing to give it a go,” he says. “I immediately found it really engaging. With traditional learning, there’s the risk of tuning out, as a lot of information is delivered at once. This way, we were individually learning small bits of information, in a repetitive but very interesting way. It readies your brain for learning so you are receptive to the information. The material is all really relevant and having it delivered in short bursts really resonates with me.

“The competition between different teams was also very enjoyable. From a leadership point of view, I think it will be a good vehicle to deliver many different kinds of information.”

The response of staff participating in the trial has been so enthusiastic that the teams ran through the 36 content modules supporting safety psychology faster than anticipated. The expectation had been that people would use it up to three times a week but a lot of people are logging on everyday.

Northpower operates and maintains the electricity distribution and fibre networks in the Whangarei and Kaipara regions with more than 60,000 connected customers. They also provide specialist contracting services to their partners, other network owners and operators, across the North Island.

Northpower's critical risks include live electricity, working at heights, moving vehicles, public safety, fatigue, personal security, confined spaces, falling objects, substances hazardous to health and mental health. Their in-house designers are now developing further microlearning modules to cover these areas.

“People who have trialled the app are keen to get back to it and others are asking to use it,” says Dr Hulse. “The response was summed up for me by a comment from one of our frontline team, that it was an app he would use in his private life, because the user-experience was so good.

“People like this way of undertaking learning in an adaptive environment with the modules and gamification being available on demand. The application is easily accessible and they are in control of their learning in terms of content and timing.

“We are looking to build on the content and there is future potential to expand it to other areas of our learning curriculum – such as leadership or onboarding or technical competencies.” 

Janine Wagstaff says the app is producing much better outcomes around retained learning.

“The ability to be competitive and see how teams rank has got healthy competition going between teams to see who is learning the most,” she says.

“There is space repetition, embedding mechanisms, multi choice questions and you can progress through different levels.  For us it is about building capability in our people, and their ability to adapt. Learning is fundamental to our ability to adapt.  We are a people-centred organisation and microlearning puts people at the heart of what we do.”