A Micro-Look at Microlearning: Designing a Learning Experience

Microlearning is training that delivers bite-sized pieces of information to learners.  Together, several microlearning courses can be combined to create a larger training program – but each should be able to stand on its own as well.  In this article, we focus on how to construct a microlearning that is no longer than a couple of minutes.

Designing a Microlearning: Core Principles and Approaches

Link to Mission and Organizational Needs. Microlearning is a tool that supports broader employee development efforts as the organization works to achieve its goals.  Creating a fun engaging experience is not an end in itself. What mission areas are you working to bolster or develop?  What skills or behaviors are you trying to change for what audiences?  It’s easy to get distracted by cool ideas for interactives ideas when designing microlearning – always keep the performance goal in mind.  When designing a microlearning, find easy and fast ways to explicitly state the why behind the content, so the learner understands the meaning behind the exercise.


Learning Philosophy.  A key principle of microlearning is providing content in an interactive way that enables learners to engage with content, not just consume it.  Adult learners need to feel empowered, in control, and safe when learning.  This means that microlearning content should allow for trial-and-error learning and self-paced experiences.  In other words, learners should have full control over their environment, should be able to repeat interactives with no consequence and should see how the content directly relates to a tangible task or needs.

Concrete Experiences.  Microlearning should have a clear structure, providing a “safety net” that bolsters empowerment.  This structure should include an explicit statement up-front of the “what’s in it for me” – what the audience can expect to gain from the short experience.  What concrete practical skill or task will the next few minutes help them master?

Technology Tooling. Microlearning is facilitated by the many advances in technology, which enable content to be delivered in an interactive way – with videos, interactive scenarios, or branching alternative pathways based on responses.  These technology-based microlearnings can also be served across an array of devices, from computers to mobile phones to tablets.

Components of a Microlearning Engagement

Using these principles, here are common elements of a microlearning experience:

  • Category of learning and audience – The heading or lead-in content should place the microlearning in its broader context – the WHY and how item fits within a larger work area or subject.
  • Specific question or task addressed – This establishes the specific topic at hand for the specific microlearning.
  • Desired outcome that helps establish the “what’s in it for me” – This is a short statement that states what learners can expect to know at the end of the short experience.
  • Content and Interactions – This includes the actual material taught to achieve the desired outcomes, designed in interactive formats. Content may include steps or a sequence that a learner needs to master; technical content or terms that an employee needs to understand; components of a product, service or workflow; or criteria that drive alternative decisions.  Interactions may include short videos, lists with layered information (allowing user to click through to more information as they deem necessary), scenarios, games, questions that invite a choice, a sorting exercise, sequencing interaction or forced choice questions that require the learner to reflect on steps or to select certain behaviors or actions.
  • Assessments – Questions or exercises that assess learner understanding and retention of the content. These are often variations on interactions, but have specific correct or incorrect answers, and provide feedback.  Assessments may be scored or unscored, and logged or unlogged in a learning management system.
  • More resources – Links to other training or source materials with more information, or related topics.

Tips for Designing and Writing a Microlearning

Microlearnings include condensed experiences, content, and interactions that squeeze a lot of material into a short space.  Here are some design tips when writing or constructing such a learning tool:

  • Calculate your snippets of content – a 2-minute microlearning may have a quick Introduction, 3 30-second learning points and a final interactive or assessment to pull it all together
  • Write with questions or phrases instead of full sentences – your reader will fill in gaps. Use I, you or we to make text more active. Fewer words will have greater impact.
  • Use headings and subheadings with a clear structure to transition between topics and to enable skimming
  • Don’t use text when a graphic or picture illustrates the point – asking learners to click on a section of a graphic to choose a path or answer a question adds a choice and level of interactivity that text alone does not offer.
  • Close with some type of assessment activity that allows learner to reflect on the learning. Unlike some interactives, the final assessment should be somewhat evaluative – with right or wrong answers to give learners feedback about whether they successfully mastered the content or not.


Examples of Microlearning Interactives

Here are some examples of interactives to give you a sense of how they might be constructed in a microlearning:

  • To teach a soft skill, provide a short scenario and then different short videos illustrating possible responses. Ask learner to select the one they would take, and then show follow-up short videos with the impact of those choices.
  • To teach a multi-step process, show the steps and then allow the learner to click on each for more information. For the assessment, as them to match content statements against the appropriate steps or to order the steps in the correct sequence.
  • To teach technical skills, show a picture of the product, tool or location involved. Using “hot spot” links, allow learner to click on different parts of the graphic for more information or questions for the learner to answer.
  • To teach location-based information, such as appropriate rules or cultural norms for different countries, show a graphic of a map with click-throughs to guidelines or videos illustrating specific practices.
  • To teach a process, provide a form or checklist and ask user to pick from options to fill in the correct information – such as correct responses or choices for a specific step in the process.

Here’s an image of a microlearning to help capture its intent and power – Think about the elders sitting around a fire, teaching important stories and skills to the next generation.  Perhaps it is a song to sing together. Perhaps it is a dance that illustrates how to complete an important activity. Perhaps it is a game that is played to teach critical thinking, with a test the next morning to assess progress.  While a microlearning may be a short song, dance or picture, when constructed properly, it can truly have the power to change the game.