What is Microlearning? Training in Less Time than a Coffee Break

What is Microlearning? Training in Less Time than a Coffee Break thumbnail

National Coffee Day is in September, and the event raises an interesting question: What could you teach someone in the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee?  This is not just a theoretical question – for learning and development professionals, that question is at a heart of a new training approach: microlearning.


Defining Microlearning and Its Benefits

Microlearning is a short package of learning content focusing on one specific topic or task. Each microlearning is designed to take only 30 seconds to a few minutes each. This makes it easier for audiences to complete them.  Here are some benefits of microlearning:

  • Provides focused instruction on specific tasks or activities
  • Requires little time for audiences to learn a new skill and feel successful
  • Allows organizations to push out instructions in an engaging way to highlight new practices or improve performance in a specific area
  • Maximizes principles of adult learning, by giving the audience control over the experience and forcing content developers to stay practical and concise
  • Provides interactive content to test mastery immediately after exposing learner to new information
  • Effective way to introduce deeper resources, like a longer training course or instruction manual or procedure
  • Constructed thoughtfully, microlearning activities can be grouped together to provide a larger training experience

Both employees and customers can benefit from microlearning.  For example, an employee may need to learn a new skill or task at work, or a customer may want to take an action involving a specific product or service.  A microlearning can be designed as a fun and interactive way to meet both needs.


Microlearning as a Component of Content Strategy

Training is often considered separately from an organization’s broader information or content strategy approach.  However, microlearning content can exist at the intersection of different information tools and even provide a bridge between them.


For example, many organizations have public webpages, an intranet for internal communications, a training center or system, handbooks, policies and procedures and templates and checklists.  A lot of this content is likely designed to teach something or develop a skill – and therefore, could be candidates for microlearning content.  Viewing content as possible candidates for microlearning can also highlight opportunities to make static content more interactive.


Here are some examples:

  • A company launches a microlearning to teach employees about its new procurement policies. The microlearning is linked to in an organization-wide announcement, allowing easy access.  At the base of the microlearning, readers can click through to the procurement policy itself. The microlearning also links to other general training courses on the general topic of procurement.
  • An organization wants to engage its customer base in some product education. It launches a public microlearning page that includes an interactive graphic of the product, with pop-up videos illustrating product use.  The microlearning includes a quiz about the product features at the end – if the learner completes it, they receive a 5% discount coupon if they purchase the product.
  • A non-profit has launched a new training program in project management. Embedded in the course is a stand-alone microlearning on what the term “critical path” means and how it is used to manage the timeline of a project.  The organization then uses this microlearning as a short “teaser” for the broader course.


These descriptions can make it sound like microlearning is more of a communications and outreach tool than learning – and it is true that microlearning can serve multiple purposes.  The key criteria is that the microlearning should instruct someone on how to do something specific for some concrete purpose.



Thinking Big and Small About Microlearning

When starting to think about how microlearning could be used in your organization, think big!  Here are some key questions to consider:

  • Who are your main audiences and how do you currently reach them and with what tools?
  • What specific concrete skills or knowledge would your audiences – including your internal team, clients and customers benefit from developing?
  • What skills-based content (policies, procedures, checklists, product guides, website content and training) would you like to amplify or augment with interactive tools?
  • How could microlearning fit into the broader communication, training and outreach portfolio and tool set?
  • How would you let people know about these new learning resources? Can they be distributed as links in preexisting resources?  Could they be launched in employee or customer newsletters?


When embarking on a microlearning program, it is also important to think small!  Consider the following:

  • Each microlearning should focus on one very specific skill or task, that can be a standalone chunk of content, even if it’s in support of a broader task.
  • Trying to fit too many related ideas into one microlearning will ultimately defeat the purpose.
  • If a candidate subject area or topic feels too big or too long, brainstorm all the possible pieces – tasks and actions. You may end up with a  collection of microlearning elements that can be positioned both together as a cohesive group and separately to focus on specific items.


Microlearning as Part of a Learning Strategy


Microlearning can be blended into a broader learning program – you’ll need to think from a broad information architecture perspective to determine how these short engagements fit within, or could effectively highlight, the preexisting structure material.


If you are thinking specifically about how to fold microlearning into preexisting training programs, employee development efforts or a training system – OR – how to identify microlearning opportunities from existing learning content, here are some additional items to consider:

  • How could you translate existing quiz or assessment questions into short interactions that repeat a main point and its importance, and assess learner retention of skills taught in training?
  • Could you extend existing training content by providing a new case study or exercise that supplements an existing lesson or that integrates two learning points together?
  • Could you create a real-world scenario that asks the learner to apply course content to a realistic work problem?
  • Could you create a microlearning that provides a preview of a training event (classroom or online) by offering an interaction that directly supports a relevant learning objective?
  • Once developed, could you index microlearning offerings in a table of contents in your Learning Management System, website or Intranet?
  • Could a unique package of microlearning be combined into a lesson or course itself in a Learning Center, to give people the option of earning credit for completion?


Microlearning is a great resource for previewing, extending or reaffirming previous or upcoming learning – considering the tool within a structured framework can identify new opportunities to fill content gaps or build out assessments.


Microlearning Governance

When it comes to learning and content, governance refers to the overall goals, roles, structure and processes used to manage materials for the long term.  Here are some points to consider:

  • How will you monitor, track and report on learner engagement and microlearning impact? As with classroom and online training, it is important to assess how microlearning content is retained and applied.
  • One goal of microlearning is meeting learners where they are, by delivering content in different settings. Tracking these micro-assets within a website or training portfolio, so they can be maintained, updated and curated is an important part of your content strategy.
  • Microlearning blurs the lines between traditional learning constructs like games and job aids. Assessing your portfolio of offerings will help you identify the content resources and gaps to maximize the microlearning impact.


Microlearning provides a great tool to build on and amplify your knowledge base – broadly considering the role of the tool and how it supports your organizational goals and audience is critical to long-term success.


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