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All About Microlearning: How Training in Small Bites Can Have a Big Impact

Tara Parachuk | April 30, 2020

Multicoloured blocks positioned around the branches of a small craft tree

There are many styles of learning that content creators and training directors can tap into, but one that they are turning to more and more is microlearning.

An alternative to the traditional model of learning that revolves around comprehensive, one-off courses that cover every aspect of a concept over a longer period, a practice that the education industry has been employing for hundreds of years, microlearning enables learners to take bite-size courses and training modules that target specific needs. You might be surprised to discover the degree to which training content delivered in short bursts can have a lasting impact on a learner — countless studies have shown that microlearning increases learner retention

In this article

  1. What Is Microlearning?
  2. Why Use Microlearning?
  3. Benefits of Microlearning 
  4. Microlearning allows for faster course delivery times
  5. Developing microlearning content is relatively inexpensive
  6. Learners find microlearning flexible to their needs
  7. Microlearning is ideal for engaging learners 
  8. Microlearning boosts information retention
  9. Microlearning offers the ability for personalized training 
  10. Training picked up through microlearning can be instantly applied 
  11. Microlearning modules are easy to update
  12. Incorporating microlearning into your daily routine can contribute to better health
  13. The Limitations of Microlearning
  14. Microlearning isn’t equipped to tackle in-depth content
  15. Microlearning isn’t optimal for in-person training
  16. Learners may be left feeling that they’re missing something 
  17. Too many courses may leave learners feeling overwhelmed 
  18. Best Practices for Developing Microlearning Content
  19. Employ scenario-based learning
  20. Gamify your material 
  21. Use leaderboards
  22. Craft courses that resemble social media
  23. Hit the ground running
  24. Build connections between microlearning and deep-dive training
  25. Offer real-life rewards
  26. Program push notifications
  27. Encourage peer learning
  28. Take the Three S approach: 
  29. Incorporate voice over to increase learner retention
  30. Learning in Short Bursts Can Have a Long-Lasting Impact

On top of being more effective for learners, delivering training through microlearning is more convenient, accessible, and attuned to 21st-century attention spans and learner preferences.

Whether you’re developing training modules for a corporate environment or producing commercial eLearning content to take to market, and whether your target audience is expansive or small-scale, microlearning is an effective method for getting through to learners. 

Read on to discover how you can benefit from creating microlearning content, and learn about the best practices for building microlearning courses that your target learners will gravitate toward.

What Is Microlearning?

Microlearning is learning content administered in small units, or bite-size ‘nuggets,’ that teach a specific skill or concept. Microlearning is perfectly suited for just-in-time learning — i.e. briefly explaining a new product that you want to train your employees on in the very moment preceding its launch — or for stimulating a learner’s brain during short windows throughout the day — i.e. during transit, or right before going to bed. 

While microlearning and theories surrounding its effectiveness came about well before computers did, the advent of smartphones has facilitated a boom in the use of microlearning and its capability to be instantly accessible and engaged on the go. Microlearning content is generally designed to last between a few seconds and 15 minutes, and it can be made up of text, images, audio, videos, quizzes, and games. 

This LinkedIn Learning course defines microlearning as a “highly focused, flexible, and extremely targeted approach to teaching and learning.” Whether the method of instruction uses push notifications, flashcards, mobile games, or instructional videos, “microlearning assets are focused on one topic, designed for quick consumption, and designed for mobile devices.” 

In fact, you may have observed forms of microlearning in your everyday life without even realizing it.

If you’ve heard of dictionary apps that provide a ‘Word of the Day’ or mobile apps that deliver fun facts via push notifications, these adhere to the same bite-size methodology behind microlearning. When you enter a quick YouTube search such as “how to tie a tie” or “how to order a coffee in Swedish,” you’re essentially engaging in the process of microlearning, because you have a specific need that is being met by a brief, focused instructional video. 

Why Use Microlearning?

Given the modern learner’s jam-packed schedule and reduced attention span, microlearning has never been a more optimal approach for delivering training content.

Think about it: the majority of people today already experience the world in bite-size pieces, whether through the videos they consume, the tweets and status updates they scroll past, the items they search for and order online, and the text messages they send and receive. All of this information is interactive and available on demand. It only makes sense that learning content is specifically tailored to the way most people already engage with content. 

The learners of today have also grown more distracted than they ever used to be. Training Industry reports that “the average person switches between gadgets up to 21 times an hour,” and studies have found that “human memory can only hold up to five new pieces of information before the info starts getting lost or overwritten.” 

For millennials, learning in quick bites using mobile technology is completely natural. The average attention span of a millennial has adapted to the fast-paced, on-demand modern world, and shrunk to a meager length of about 12 seconds. In Elucidat’s profile of a modern learner, it is reported that 96% of people learning nowadays turn to their phone in moments of need, and the average modern learner checks their phone 10 times an hour.

This is crucial knowledge for those producing training content in corporate contexts because by the year 2025, millennials will make up 75% of the workforce

Whether you’re building training content for use in the workforce or the educational sphere, you most definitely don’t administer training that learners won’t finish.

EdApp reports that “typical eLearning courses have completion rates under 20%,” while “microlearning courses regularly hit 90%.” The completion stats for microlearning fare much better and have convinced copious producers of training content to pivot their approach from building long-form, comprehensive courses toward compact microlearning content that feels more achievable for the contemporary learner. 

Benefits of Microlearning 

Microlearning has grown so popular due to the number of benefits associated with administering content this way. To convince you why you should consider microlearning the next time you’re developing learning material, here’s a list of the benefits that delivering training in this form enables: 

Microlearning allows for faster course delivery times

Since microlearning units are intentionally succinct, they take considerably less time to complete, and this means you can train a large number of people in a short period. This is particularly advantageous when you need to respond to evolving business goals and new demands placed on your team. Using microlearning production software, you can author a module in the morning and circulate it to your entire team for completion by the afternoon. 

Developing microlearning content is relatively inexpensive

Far fewer resources are required to produce bite-size microlearning units than your traditional eLearning course, and this results in them being up to 50% cheaper to develop. You need less material, they take less time, and fewer instructors are required. 

Learners find microlearning flexible to their needs

You can customize your microlearning course to meet the specific needs of a wide variety of learners. Modules can offer broad overviews or provide in-depth instruction on niche topics. Since this style of learning is generally more casual, microlearning training can easily be tackled during periods of downtime throughout the day (commutes, work breaks, before bed, etc.). Microlearning is often liberating for employees with otherwise busy work schedules and the courses can be downloaded for offline use.

Microlearning is ideal for engaging learners 

Microlearning is best suited to small screens and mobile-based studying so you can present it in an engaging, interactive manner that combats the boredom associated with traditional learning. When done right, a microlearning course should feel more akin to checking an app than the more rigorous, disciplined study of regular training.

Microlearning boosts information retention

German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus developed a theory entitled the ‘spacing effect,’ which found that we remember at better rates when we revisit information in spaced periods after initially coming across it. The opposite of pulling an all-nighter to cram before an exam, repetitive study over extended periods has been found to maximize retention. 

Microlearning offers the ability for personalized training 

Microlearning training can be personalized based on a learner’s particular needs. When courses can be easily accessed by searching keywords or asking questions, then learners will be directed to exactly what they require. When learners can take quick, relevant courses at just the time they need to, their interest will be higher and they’ll be more likely to apply the knowledge on the job. 

Training picked up through microlearning can be instantly applied 

Whatfix writes that “employees learn best when they encounter challenges in their business processes that they have to solve. Every time a challenge arises, employees are curious to find out effective solutions.” One of the greatest benefits of microlearning is that it allows learners to apply new knowledge and skills immediately after they have picked them up. When progress is tangible and rewards can be earned quickly, instead of after protracted periods of strenuous effort, learners are more likely to feel a sense of accomplishment. 

Microlearning modules are easy to update

When microlearning content is primarily hosted via cloud computing and mobile software, courses are a lot easier to update when new training necessities come along. Once you have made an update you can simply send out an alert to learners that notifies them to complete the updated version of the training.

Incorporating microlearning into your daily routine can contribute to better health

People who are always learning new things are happier, healthier, and more productive than those who aren’t. Keeping your brain stimulated, even in short spurts every day, can go a long way toward improving your mood and cognitive health. 

The Limitations of Microlearning

While the benefits of microlearning should now be evident, it is worth noting that miniature units aren’t necessarily suited for all types of educational instruction. Some concepts just can’t be captured in bite-size pieces and require the wider scope that comprehensive training, carried out in chapters and multistep units, allows. These are a few of the shortcomings of microlearning that are worth keeping in mind when you are building out your training content. 

Microlearning isn’t equipped to tackle in-depth content

While microlearning’s bite-size nature makes it a fantastic way to learn how to perform certain tasks or comprehend the basics behind an idea, it isn’t as well-suited for complex analysis or extensive study. For example, microlearning might be wonderful for learning how to speak conversational Russian, but not so much for studying Russian literature. 

Microlearning isn’t optimal for in-person training

Some tasks just need to be learned experientially — that is, learning by doing a task in a physical space. Microlearning is far more suited for instruction via computer programs and mobile applications than in-person training.

Learners may be left feeling that they’re missing something 

Microlearning isn’t always the strongest method for capturing the big picture. When you’re trying to guide your learners through an expansive concept, breaking it up into more digestible ‘nuggets’ of information helps tackle individual facets, but perhaps distracts from the overarching subject at hand, leaving it hard to identify how the disparate bite-size modules all fit into the greater whole. 

Too many courses may leave learners feeling overwhelmed 

Microlearning often involves courses that must be revisited and continually worked on over some time. While this has been shown to work wonders for learner retention, some learners prefer to focus their energy on a single topic so that it can be completed in its entirety and then set aside for good. Occasionally, depending on the subject, a series of smaller courses may prove more effective when they are all combined into one larger, more holistic course. 

Best Practices for Developing Microlearning Content

Creating effective microlearning content doesn’t simply consist of taking traditional training content and breaking it up into smaller, more digestible pieces. There are several strategies you can implement to create content that is specifically suited for microlearning. 

Employ scenario-based learning

This is a strategic form of role-playing that puts your learners in an individual’s shoes within a certain scenario, and tests how they would react. This style of learning is particularly useful because it allows learners to imagine applying their learning to a real-life scenario. 

Gamify your material 

What better approach for immersing your learners in a microlearning module than by presenting your instruction as a fun game? To gamify your material, you draw on components of gaming (scoreboards, levels, point systems, etc.) to foster an entertaining learning experience.

Use leaderboards

Using leaderboards so learners can compete with one another is an aspect of gamification. This will allow your learners to see where they rank compared to others who have completed the same microlearning course, and perhaps influence them to put more effort into their work. 

Craft courses that resemble social media

One valuable tactic is to build your courses to resemble the typical social media experience, especially because learners will be engaging with microlearning material on their mobile phones. This emphasizes the casual nature of microlearning, lending it a more accessible feel than hitting the books for academic study.

Hit the ground running

Engage your audience from the outset of the module and hold their attention through to the end. This is important to focus on, especially because the content is already so brief, so you don’t want to lose their attention at any point throughout the learning experience. 

Build connections between microlearning and deep-dive training

When necessary, connect microlearning content with more in-depth training that learners can seek out to augment their training. 

Offer real-life rewards

Say you run a company and you want all of your employees to take part in a microlearning course. Offering small real-life incentives, like gift cards, can go a long way toward incorporating some friendly competition and adding some fun rewards into the training that will pay off.

Program push notifications

The use of push technology and push media can remind learners to complete a course at scheduled intervals, or the push notifications themselves can be the medium through which the learning is administered — e.g. daily questions sent to your phone by text.

Encourage peer learning

This strategy involves employees teaching colleagues by crafting their own micro lessons. Who’s more equipped to train a staff member than someone who has real experience on the job and can address specific situations they’re certain a colleague will encounter?

Take the Three S approach: 

Situation, seek, solution. Focus on and orient your courses around specific solutions that resolve certain situations.

Incorporate voice over to increase learner retention

Using voice over narration in learning content can cause your learners to become active listeners and more easily consume an abundance of new information. Blending visuals with audio narration aids learner retention, especially when the voice over narration is read with a natural, human voice, as opposed to an artificial, robotic voice.

Learning in Short Bursts Can Have a Long-Lasting Impact

The amount of time you spend immersed in uninterrupted study doesn’t necessarily translate to increased retention rates spending a few minutes learning each day, over a longer time, is a far greater method for encoding new information in your brain. This is the reason that learning and training content creators are moving away from traditional eLearning models, and toward the most convenient and effective way to impact learners’ lives: microlearning. 

Cast the voice of your next microlearning course on Voices today.

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