What is Microlearning and Why is it Becoming More Popular?

March 31, 2020

While there’s no strict definition of what microlearning is – it could be short learning activities or individual modules – as the name implies, the focus of microlearning is on providing learners with brief, bite-sized chunks. Whatever the media (text, video, animation, audio, etc.), microlearning delivers material to learners in an easy-to-consume, less time-intensive way. So is this something you should look at when you need to provide training or is it just a buzzword? 

The Benefits of Microlearning

With more learners relying on smartphones and more “on the go” media consumption, it’s easy to see why microlearning continues to increase in popularity. It’s a quick way to fill a skills or knowledge gap and is very helpful for focusing on one learning objective at a time, usually delivering material in roughly 3-7 minute units*. Material can be delivered in text format, short audio clips, video clips, quizzes or knowledge checks, email, or even text message, i.e., any media or format that is easy to consume and short.

microlearningMicrolearning is also cheaper to produce than longer form eLearning as it usually involves less writing or content development and shorter production times, and it doesn’t generally need special tools outside of normal eLearning production tools or software. Shorter content pieces are also easier to replace when updates or changes are necessary, which adds to the cost-effectiveness of microlearning. 

Microlearning tends to be self-contained and easy to download, consume, and go back to. This can increase retention and is often more engaging for learners. Although more in-depth studies are likely needed, as Nikos Andriotis says, “According to microlearning research, when you study something repeatedly and revisit it when you are close to forgetting it, you retain it much better. Such repeated study fits nicely with microlearning units since they are small, self-contained, and easy to return to.”

You can use microlearning as a tool pre-training, during training, and post-training, and it is flexible in that you can create standalone units or feature microlearning as part of a bigger training module.  

Microlearning Has Its Limits

Microlearning is usually most effective for skills-based or compliance training, so it doesn’t necessarily work for every context. If you’re dealing with in-depth, complex, or more technical topics, for example, then microlearning may not be the best approach as it tends to be more narrow or granular. 

You also need to look at whether the delivery will ultimately solve the learner’s problem and help them do their jobs better. It also may not work for every learner, as it may feel distracting or not in-depth enough. Just like being technology agnostic is important, you don’t want to use microlearning just because it’s the “latest” technique in eLearning; it needs to suit your audience and purpose.  

How to Approach Microlearning the Right Way

In order to offer learners the best possible user experience, you still need to analyze their needs, understand their potential stumbling blocks, and have a very clear picture of the purpose of the training and what the desired learning outcomes are. Will smaller nuggets of information that learners can return to often be helpful, or do they need more immersive learning experiences, or a combination of both? 

It may make more sense to embed microlearning elements into a broader training program or eLearning course, allowing learners to return to these “nuggets” when needed but also giving them access to more detailed knowledge and resources for when the “nuggets” aren’t enough. 

Microlearning, therefore, is not a cure-all. It needs to be used very intentionally and still takes careful analysis that aligns with an organization’s challenges and needs. Always keep your users and the user experience in mind, and when in doubt, ask an expert

*opinions vary on the “right” length of time for microlearning, which isn’t surprising given how many variables there are with training and learning overall