Why Microtraining is More Effective

An administrator at a law enforcement agency wants her officers to be more empathetic and fairer in their community dealings. She decides to mandate training in this area.

One of her officers wants to better himself and seek additional training that will increase his emotional intelligence to connect with his community better.

Until recently, these two people would search through lists of standard trainings from their state’s training commission or search through law enforcement-related websites and journals to find trainings that would meet their goals. But with the development of the microtraining methodology, they now have another option.

Standard Training

The standard training method is to gather officers for several hours and have a trainer give them the information they need. Good trainers can make this engaging while still delivering important messages, giving officers tips and strategies to help them take the knowledge learned in training and apply it to their job. Standard training is delivered to the on-channel (conscious brain).


Almost everything about the microtraining methodology is different from standard training. (1) Officers train on their own, away from groups. (2) Microtrainings are spread out over an extended period, not delivered in one setting. (3) Information is broken down and delivered in chunks rather than all at the same time. (4) Officers train when they are ready to learn, not locked into a specific training day and time. (5) Microtraining focuses on creating back-channel (nonconscious) habits while still delivering on-channel knowledge. The only similarities between these methodologies are the purposes and content of the training.

Choosing the Best Methodology

Which training methodology is most effective? It depends on your goals.


Goal: Increase knowledge in a specific topic area.

Best training method: Microtraining. Research has shown that chunking information in small bites over a more extended period leads to better retention. In the learning literature, it is referred to as distributed versus mass practice. Distributed practice has a decided advantage.


Goal: Change an officer’s attitude towards a specific topic area.

Best training method: Standard training. Both training methodologies meet this goal, but traditional training methods produce a quicker shift in a person’s attitude by delivering the information in one sitting. Something to note: the long-term effects of attitude change has not been thoroughly researched. In other words, microtraining may be better at creating a more permanent change in a person’s attitude, which is different than creating a quicker change.


Goal: Assure the community that the agency has heard their concerns.

Best training method: Both. When the community demands change and accountability, any type of mandatory training will be positive. Training effectiveness is secondary to requiring the training. But if the community is highly involved in this process and demands training effectiveness and accountability, microtraining has the advantage because of its roots in research and neuroscience.


Goal: Officer satisfaction with the training.

Best training method: Microtraining. In multiple research findings, microtraining increases learner engagement by more than 50% over standard training. Research also shows that engaged learners, not surprisingly, learn more and better transfer that learning to new situations.


Goal: Limit an agency’s exposure to litigation.

Best training method: Both. Whether microtraining or standard training, mandatory training checks a box for agencies to show they are doing something to prepare officers for what they will face on the job and to protect their officers and their communities better. In this case, the training methodology is not as important as the requirement to train. But suppose training methodology and effectiveness are important to you, and you dig a little deeper into this matter. In that case, you will find that microtraining is far superior to traditional in-service training for keeping officers safe and professional.


Goal: To change an officer’s behavior.

Best training method: Microtraining. Hands down. Not only is microtraining the superior method for behavioral change, but science also shows that it is the only method that indeed changes behavior. Since behavior initiates in the back-channel, a back-channel training technique is needed to affect real behavioral change.


Your Decision

Microtraining is new. In fact, it is so new and unique, most people are not even aware it is an option. When something new creates a paradigm shift in how we think about training, it takes real effort to understand. It requires us to step out of our comfort zones and think about something in a different way. It can be uncomfortable.


Here is a way to think through the differences between standard training and microtraining:

  1. With standard training, an officer sits in class three to five days a year, training his or her on-channel. The officer spends the other 360 days on the job engaging in unstructured back-channel training.
  2. With microtraining, the officer splits his or her shift schedule between some on-channel training and a lot of structured back-channel training. Structuring training over time provides weekly reminders of the real essentials in policing, creating officer safety habits over time.


Whether you are a department administrator or a line-officer looking for additional training, which of these options would you choose? The data show unequivocally that the microtraining method is the superior choice.

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