What is Microlearning?

Microlearning is the latest buzzword in learning and development and course creation. But what does it mean and should you shift my content toward microlearning? 

Learning and development professionals, according to the 2020 LinkedIn Learning Workplace Learning Report, are expecting to spend 57% more budget. Conversely, 49% of employees in the same report shared that they don’t feel they have time to learn at work. With L&D pros trying to find a consistent metric to measure the adoption of their learning programs, I guarantee that increasing the number of employees who are able to learn quickly and effectively while on the job will lead to an increase in L&D pros shifting their strategies toward microlearning content. 

We’ll dive into what microlearning is, it’s benefits and weaknesses, and efficient strategies to transform your existing content. This blog post will be an exercise in microlearning (even if it isn’t great for SEO). 

What is Microlearning?

Microlearning is a learning approach that breaks up your online learning content into bite-sized, concise modules. Each module contains only the most necessary information for the learner to accomplish a goal, whether it be refreshing a skill they already know or learning a new one for just-in-time learning. 

Microlearning is engaging, less time-consuming for the learner (making them feel more accomplished), and best of all for you – it’s cheaper to produce than longer form eLearning content. 

Have you come in contact with microlearning before?

Probably. DuoLingo makes a great case for microlearning. Though their main demographic may be younger than your average corporate learner, DuoLingo has embraced the rapid fire, quick retention model of microlearning (though they lean quite heavily on gamification, but that’s a topic for another post). 

Microlearning isn’t the best solution for every training topic, but it’s especially effective for corporate and commercial training. As with any course development, always know who your target audience is. 

Now let’s dive into some facts surrounding microlearning and the latest corporate learning landscape.

The Benefits of Microlearning

Microlearning makes the transfer of learning 17% more efficient.

According to the Journal of Applied Psychology, bite-sized pieces of learning make transfer of learning from classroom to desk 17% more efficient

Mark Clare, adjunct professor of cognitive design at Northwestern University and founder of New Value Streams Consulting, says microlearning is more in line with how our brains perceive and store information. “Part of the popularity of blogs, tweets, and YouTube is that they provide the microlearning content that is more properly sized to the limitations of learning processes. They fit how our brains naturally work.” 

Microlearning is more efficient than traditional longer-duration courses.

Bite-sized courses are more focused so learners don’t have to sort through the clutter of irrelevant information for what matters. This increases the learners ability for retention and the chances that L&D departments will ask for more of your content. 

8 out of 10 L&D pros favor microlearning because their learners prefer it.

Bite-sized content is easily and readily available to meet learners where they are. Learners can go at their own pace, wherever they are, and learn valuable skills when they are necessary. Smaller sets of information make comprehension easier, and allow for each course to yield 4-5 takeaways. 

Microlearning creates 50% more engagement. 

Learner boredom and disengagement destroys the changes of success in an eLearning program. Microlearning is the solution you’ve been looking for, and learners themselves agree.

According to Software Advice’s report on the Top LMS Features to Drive Employee Engagement, 58% of the employees indicated they would be more likely to use their company’s learning tools if the content was broken up into multiple, shorter lessons. 

3-7 minute learning sessions match the working memory capacity and attention span of humans.

Gloria Mark of the University of California, Irvine found that individuals experience an interruption in their work every 11 minutes. Within that 11 minute span, they engage in multiple short and quick tasks that average about 3 minutes each. If the task involves consuming digital information, they spend only 20 seconds browsing one piece of content before moving on to the next.

Millennials are the largest generational group in the workplace, making up about half of the typical corporate classroom by 2025.

Compared to their generational predecessors, Millennials have been found to switch to social media 27 times in one non-working hour. 

Microlearning sessions should embrace this. Take a note from advertisers: upon learning that millennial attention spans for ads were 6 seconds, they produced 6 second ads to capture attention. While 6 seconds is too short and impractical for a training session, utilize this sentiment by moving away from lengthy, dense training sessions. 

Reduce costs to develop and increase the speed of development.

In his book 3-Minute eLearning, learning architect Ray Jimenez, PhD says that by creating microlearning courses developers can reduce development costs by 50% and increase the development speed by 300%. Here’s why:

You don’t need to pay an instructor for their time, buy or rent physical classrooms, or spend money on classroom equipment. (You don’t even have to pay for a human talking head or star in your own videos; contact our team to learn more).

It’s less time- and resource-intensive to update digital information as opposed to reprinting training materials or conducting supplementary classroom sessions. Plus, going digital is good for the planet and helpful for learners on the go.

Because of their modular nature, microlearning courses are easier and less time-consuming to roll out microlearning courses. 

The Limitations of Microlearning

It’s not suited for complex concepts. Bite-sized courses are great for high-level overviews of complex subjects but getting into the nitty-gritty can be difficult for microlearning to do well.

Microlearning is not ideal for in-depth training. Any topic that requires in-depth study is not a good fit for microlearning. Like Duolingo showed us, it’s great to learn conversational Swedish, but not to study Swedish literature.

Best Practices

Cut to the chase. Get rid of the history, background information, and theories. Immediately deliver the ‘how-to’. Learners are looking for just-in-time solutions. 3-7 minute sessions best match the way our brains work and remember things. 

Keep it short. 3-7 minute learning sessions match the working memory capacity and attention span of humans. 

Switch it up. Text alone will bore your learners. Use relevant multimedia assets like videos, photos, illustrations, and animations to keep their interest.

Make it interactive. The largest generational group in the workforce and in the corporate classroom, Millennials embrace multitasking and have a 6 second attention span. Use mix-and-match exercises or micro-assessments to keep learners engaged and assess their retention.

Ready to Microlearn?

Now you know what microlearning is, some benefits of it, and a couple of downfalls to it. What better way to fully understand it than to test it yourself? Try microlearning, and get a feel for the opportunities to use microlearning within your own content offerings. Let us know how it went by leaving a comment below.


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