Microlearning: An Overview

A brief video . . . a quick game . . . a job aid . . . Microlearning is a short lesson on one topic. Since these lessons take only 30 seconds to a few minutes each, they fit well in even the busiest staff members’ schedules. With some careful planning, you can piece together several microlearning sessions to create a larger unit of training. This lets employees take the training when they are available, rather than making them leave their work spaces and sit in a training room for several hours at one time.

Though some think microlearning is a fad to reach Millennials in the workplace, it has always made sense from an adult learning standpoint.

Malcolm Knowles, the psychologist who came up with adult learning theory back in the 1950s, says that adults do best when they feel some control over what they are learning. Though traditional education and training has forced students to sit in rows, listening to hours-long lectures in classrooms, adult learners do better when given shorter bursts of information that are mixed in with hands-on, real-world application. Adults want to be a part of the training’s content, sharing and demonstrating their knowledge and experiences while they learn new ideas and skills. They like to be able to take things at their own pace and focus on the areas they really need. And adults want practical, goal-oriented lessons that help them in their real-life situations.

Microlearning is based on the well-researched idea that our short-term memories hold around seven pieces of information at a time.  To that small number, add the fact that we forget quickly when something else grabs our attention. Repetition helps us remember, as does using information immediately.  Microlearning offers the opportunity for both.

Advances in technology have made microlearning easier than ever. Learners can access training content on smartphones, laptops, or tablets at any time of the day or night. They can play a video or a game as many times as they need to in order to fully understand a lesson. They can self-edit, watching only the content that they need. And they can practice what they have learned in the safe space of virtual scenarios. In other words, they can mess up in a game and try again without hurting anyone or having any impact on the business.

Take advantage of microlearning’s flexibility. Consider using it as part of your next training session’s design, and you’ll notice how much more interested employees are in what you are trying to teach them.