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May 16, 2023

There’s nothing bigger right now in the eLearning field than microlearning. But what is it, and why do you need it?

Microlearning 101

There’s no official definition of microlearning, but there is one key attribute: brevity. The idea is to find ways to give learners targeted access to targeted learning nuggets where and when it makes the most sense for them. It’s an important weapon in fighting off the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve, which estimates that within a week of a formal learning event, people forget about 80% of what they learned.

Microlearning happens either in small learning units or in short-term activities. Micro-training happens in short bursts and at your convenience. While the content can range from text to fully interactive multimedia, the form is always short:

  • Short paragraphs or phrases
  • Photos or illustrations
  • Short videos
  • Snippets of speech or music
  • Tests and quizzes
  • Games (e.g., simple single-screen challenges)

However, not all microlearning apps support every content type.

Bite-sized training has always been around, even before computers, but with the ever-improving as well as variety of technology available, it has become more popular since the advent of the modern smartphone.

Microlearning is a near-perfect training model in this era of busy schedules and short attention spans. And it can be used for all kinds of training, e.g., employee onboarding, compliance training, and skills training.

Microlearning Benefits

LinkedIn conducted a study recently that revealed 94 percent of employees would stay with a company longer if it invested in their careers. The problem is that traditional talent development programs take time and money to be created. Once created, program delivery takes time–big chunks of it–and employees these days just don’t have that much time to spare. In fact, the study reported, “The number one reason employees say they are not engaging in workplace learning is because they don’t have the time.” Executives and people managers agree, the study said. “Getting employees to make time for learning is the number one challenge for talent development.”

This is where microlearning shines. Of the many benefits, you can expect:

  • Shorter delivery. Because there is not a lot to write, course delivery is faster; you can build a course with dozens of units in a short amount of time. This has the side benefit of allowing you to respond faster to changing business goals and new training demands.
  • Affordability. Shorter courses are less expensive to produce because they require fewer resources and instructors. “Microlearning tools” aren’t needed, either; a regular learning management system (LMS) will do, though a specialized microlearning-based platform like Schoox would make the process much easier.
  • Flexibility. Because the courses are bite-sized, microlearning courses can cover any subject regular eLearning courses do as a broad overview or in a complex of modules.
  • Engagement. Traditional training has the feel of serious study, but because microlearning can happen on smartphones, tablets, as well as computers, the experience is more like checking your favorite social app. It’s easier to sit through training when you know it’s not going to take a long time.
  • Better retention. According to microlearning research, when you space out your learning and revisit it when you’re close to forgetting, you retain it much better.
  • More freedom. Microlearning is not text-heavy, so learners can enjoy casual learning whenever they have the time. Plus, small courses are easy to download and take with you when you’re offline.
  • Personalization. Because the courses are small, it’s easy for learners to create their own curriculum to achieve a more specialized outcome on their own schedule.

Microlearning Limitations

While microlearning is not better or worse than conventional eLearning and has some definite pluses, there are some drawbacks.

  • Not ideal for complex concepts. Microlearning is best suited for simple information delivery or high-level views of a subject. It’s possible to create microlearning units for complex concepts, but it would require more effort because you’d need to break down the concept into simple parts. 
  • Not well suited for in-depth training. For example, microlearning would be a good fit for learning conversational French but not French literature. Short, self-contained courses would work best.
  • It takes work and resources to maintain. You may already have courses and training materials available; splitting them into smaller segments isn’t always effective. You need to take time to plan out microlearning modules, make sure they’re relevant for learners, and ensure each session makes sense on its own as well as fits into a sequential part of learning.
  • Scaling personalized content can be a challenge. Personalizing millions of pieces of content so they are relevant to every individual is a daunting task. A full, traditional course could be split into many dozens of microlearning courses. With a whole library of training materials, that would result in thousands of different modules. Instructional designers need to figure out how to organize that information and direct it to the appropriate individuals.

Microlearning Best Practices

Even though microlearning courses are easier to start creating and faster to complete, you still need to follow some best practices to get it right.

  • Confirm it’s right for your use case. If your subject matter is complex, requires in-depth study, or calls for in-person training, microlearning is probably not the right fit.
  • Trim the fat. Write short and focused content that captures the essence of what you’re trying to teach rather than paste chunks of your regular eLearning material into a microlearning unit.
  • Spice it up. Too much text will bore learners. Where relevant, add multimedia such as animations, videos, photos, and illustrations to keep their interest. Choose wisely. The media should add to the subject, not just make it pretty.
  • Boost engagement with gamification. This can be even more engaging when combined with a mobile-based microlearning experience.
  • Assess progress with micro-assessments. Mini-tests and short quizzes ensure your learners are progressing with the training tools.
  • Rework or reuse. If you already have training courses and materials in place, ease your workload by reworking or reusing your curriculum. 
  • Add recurring content. Remember Ebbinghaus’ memory retention concept. At the end of a series of microlearning segments, include tools for learners to review what they’ve learned. You could also have a quiz or a list of main takeaways and include references to previous learning modules.
  • Provide access anytime on any device. Make sure there are no restrictions that prevent learners from being able to access resources whenever they get the time.
  • Encourage social and collaborative learning. Encourage people to learn and grow their skills from the people around them. Social learning would focus on imitation, and collaborative learning would focus more on brainstorming with peers, sharing perspectives, and learning as a result. Allow for comments and discussion on modules to further engage learners, motivate them, and alert you to knowledge gaps.

While traditional learning will never go away – it has its place – microlearning is an answer to getting learners motivated to engage. It meets employees’ preference to learn at their own pace and learn at their points of need. It also solves employers’ need to show employees and recruits they want to invest in employees’ futures. 

Are you ready for microlearning?

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