Microlearning: Learn Big, Study Small

Microlearning: Learn Big, Study Small

Microlearning first burst onto stage in 2006. It was the buzzword that excited every L&D professional. Microlearning (or nanolearning or microtraining or microcourses) is the future, it was thought. 16 years later, it is still front and center in training practices, and even ballooned in perceived importance when the 2020 pandemic allowed for possibilities of self-learning while working from home.

So, what is Microlearning?

Here’s what usually comes to mind when people say microlearning:

  • Instructional videos on Youtube
  • Learning with flashcards
  • Mini training quizzes
  • Small nuggets of information received through email or SMS

Since “micro” is a Greek word that means “small,” the above list seems to be correct. And within the context of learning and development, many training professionals would propose that:

  1. Microlearning is short videos; or
  2. Microlearning is short courses.

These definitions are correct, yet incomplete. These pieces of content are micro-applications of learning, yes, but being short and quick does not automatically classify  learning material as microlearning. 

Microlearning is widely agreed to be more accurately defined as learning that is “right-sized” for the need. Experts argue that microlearning should not be tied to a length of time, instead, it should be “as long as it needs to be”—not a second longer, not a second shorter. Everything that goes into the microlearning material has to be absolutely intentional and practically beneficial.

Microlearning vs Macrolearning

Like every good idea, the concept of microlearning is constantly being challenged. Is it effective? Are trainees truly learning? How high is the retention of knowledge when the materials are often less than 10 minutes? 

In order to gauge its importance, we have to note that microlearning is a tool, not the be-all end-all solution to replace all other forms of learning. Adopting microlearning in your company’s L&D does not mean you have to ditch macrolearning.

Complex skills that require a certain level of depth, application, and feedback, simply cannot be taught in bite-sized formats. Macrolearning— time-intensive, instructor-led, often live and in-person lectures— continues to be the best approach to teaching complex skills.

Note, however, that there is a growing number of success stories combining macro and micro learning methods. There is no need to favor one over the other. The key lies in what learning material is on the table.

What is Microlearning best for?

  • It requires little effort to develop: Time is of the essence. People need help now.
  • Short time for participant consumption: Learners can view and go.
  • Narrow focus: One idea. One concept. No exceptions.
  • Immediately applicable: This is “just-in-time” learning, not “just-in-case” learning.
  • Flexible: Content that can be easily distributed across media— laptops, mobile, desktop, etc.
  • Easily accessible: Microlearning content must not be buried within the company’s LMS (learning management system). It must be placed where end-users can have immediate access when needed.

Here are a few example cases of microlearning topics:

  • Reinforcing a safety message
  • Preparing employees for an upcoming task
  • Providing quick access to critical knowledge to employees in the field
  • Increasing awareness on certain issues
  • Enhancing corporate messaging
  • Implementing new procedures

Ideally, each of these materials will have a single objective, delivered in chunks of knowledge that are easy to mentally digest.

Benefits of Microlearning

Now that we’ve established when to choose microlearning, let’s list reasons why many experts consider this strategy as the best in modern training:

  • Reduces cognitive overload. Cognitive overload happens when there’s too much information all at once. The hyper-focused nature of microlearning prevents this.
  • Boosts learner efficiency. Due to the condensed nature of microlearning, learners can quickly take it up and return to their workflow, ready to apply what they’ve learned to the task at hand.
  • Raises engagement. Well-written microlearning only covers the skills and knowledge that are absolutely necessary, sparing learners from having to spend time on irrelevant content.
  • Promotes better learner satisfaction. Typically mobile-first, microlearning is appreciated by employees who look for just-in-time answers to work-related problems.
  • Microlearning is trackable. Microlearning promotes interactions that can be easily validated. Since the content is broken down into distinct micro topics, it is possible to know exactly what information is being accessed.

The Challenge of Microlearning

During the pandemic, many corporate employees have taken it upon themselves to fill the seeming, sudden abundance of time with micro courses from learning platforms like EdX, Udemy, or even Youtube. Thanks to the algorithms of said platforms, anyone can get into a rabbit hole of learning new “stuff” with very little retention or lasting applications at work.

Picture yourself searching for a topic you’re interested in. You click on one video. When the video ends, it recommends another video on the same topic. When that ends, it shows you more, over and over and over again. 

This Youtube-like browsing often happens when companies roll out microlearning materials. The training materials feel like leaves that have fallen off a tree. Without being attached to a figurative “tree of knowledge”— meaning corporate context — microlearning will not be effective.

This is where training professionals come in. They make sure to sequence the learning chunks into a behavior-changing, business-impacting flow. They are needed to create thoughtfully curated learning paths, helping learners explore the company’s tree of knowledge, leaf per leaf.

Want to explore creative ways in bringing microlearning into your corporate training? ISC Resources has the expertise you need. Contact us today!